According to notes made by Mr S Johns, who was carnival secretary for many years, Hatherleigh Carnival was first started in 1903 and was held on the first Wednesday in November as a set off to the old November 5th celebration when it was originally called the Hatherleigh and Meeth Hospital Association Carnival, its aim was to raise money for residents hospital care, before the days of the NHS! That year it resulted in a donation of £4. 4s. To the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. This tradition has been maintained and the profits made are donated to various national and local charities.
Extracts taken from an article in the “Flying Post” dated 1904 describes how the ‘annual carnival took place on Guy Fawkes Day and everything was carried out in fine style’ and how ‘the procession was of unusual length and interest including several new and novel items, special prizes were offered for the best ‘get-up’ and the competition was keen’ it goes on to say how ‘the procession contained of guys carrying torches, banners, etc. headed by the town brass band, the carriages, bicycles, perambulators etc. mingling with the torch bearers’ the carnival has changed so little that they could have been describing any recent year!
The following excerpts from Mr Johns’ notes show how popular Hatherleigh Carnival was, (although maybe not with the Bank!) and how generous the spectators have always been.
The record year was November 6th 1929 when the total takings amounted to £202.39 and this was the first time they had hit the £200 mark, the previous year bringing in £171. On November 12th 1929 the Hon. Sec. Mr S.J Johns and the Hon. Treasurer Mr J Monaton, conveyed the cash in a wheelbarrow to the bank. The Bank Manager said this was the first time he had witnessed such an event!
The flaming tar barrels however date back much further than 100 years, some say pagan times when effigies of townsfolk who had erred in the previous year were made and then burnt! The Friday night celebrations have maintained some of the pagan essences when locals impersonate other townsfolk in a light hearted manner. Hatherleigh Silver Band lead the unlit tar barrels, pulled by the children of the town, to Oakfield Road (ready for the off at 5am the next morning!) but not in their usual smart uniforms, instead in an array of unusual costumes as ‘Hatherleigh Jazz Band.’ A small band of men spend their time in the run up to the Carnival assembling and tarring the barrels in the traditional fashion, making torches for the fantastic frame that heads the procession and torches for people to carry (beside the crepe paper floats), all that work just to go up in flames!
In recent years the day of the carnival had to be moved from a Wednesday to a Saturday, which is more convenient for work and school, and the actual route of the Carnival procession has been slightly altered but these are about the only changes over the past 100 years.