The earliest newspaper records concerning Weston super Mare November Carnival go back to 1871. In those days it was usual for the Parade to start at the Knightstone Island and after wending its way through almost every street in the town, it dispersed on the beach, where bonfires were lit and effigies burned. These were not only Guy Fawkes, but any unpopular figure of local disdain or even international infamy.
The news also reported that the carnival was led by “Tin Pot Bands”. With blackened faces, the locals would go through the streets banging on tin pots and pans to make as much noise as possible. Even the London newspapers carried reports of Somerset and Weston Carnival during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so evidently visitors came down from the capital city even in those times of slow transportation.
The 2 World Wars caused the carnivals to be cancelled here and elsewhere in Somerset, and although the procession started up again a few years after WW1, it was not resumed in Weston after WW2 until 1969. Tom Churton, Dave Amey and Ron Phillips were members of the Lions Club who felt we should get back into carnival mood in November to cheer up the Autumn, and they even managed to get the town into the Somerset County Guy Fawkes Carnivals Association and become the 7th town on that circuit. Our membership at that point may have been due to the fact that “The County” thought Weston must be rich enough to fund the event. In fact it seems that the “Committee” had about £10 sponsorship at that time, so it was a huge effort to collect cash to cover the expenses. Once started the November Carnival was soon established as one of the most popular events of the year locally, and Weston won the hearts of Carnival Clubs who still entertain us today.
Animals are no longer allowed in the parade, but as recently as the late 70s there were entries with Huskies, Oxen and Horses.
This year approximately 100,000 spectators are expected to line the route around the town. There will be around 130 entries, of which 50 will be large illuminated floats up to 100 feet long and up to 17 feet high. The procession will come out of the Locking Road car park and start performing from the Tesco roundabout and pass along Regent Street past the Odeon cinema, back along the other side of ‘The Plantation’ through Alexandra Parade, Alfred Street, Boulevard, Waterloo Street, (South Parade which is the Rest Area so floats will not perform here), Royal Parade, Beach Road and Carlton Street. The route ends at the Town Hall. Our procession is preceded by a couple of Bands to get everyone in the carnival mood.
Coaches bring visitors just for the parade from Wales, the Midlands and from as far north as Yorkshire. Weston’s hotels are full of guests staying for a few days to enjoy our other attractions as well as the famous carnival. What is surprising, however, is the fact that, although this is a Carnival of international class and reckoned among the biggest illuminated carnivals in the world, we have only a few foreign visitors. Is it still the West’s best kept secret, or does our November weather discourage people? They don’t know what they are missing!