Flaming Tar Barrels – Bonfire Night at Ottery St Mary in Devon

Imagine a crisp November night.  It’s cold and dark, but you’re out in the town square and it’s so full of people it’s almost warm: people drinking beer and talking, craning their necks and waiting for something to happen.

Around the corner is a bonfire, probably the biggest you’ve ever seen, because this is Bonfire Night, the 5th of November, when in 1605 Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up Parliament.  And this is Ottery St Mary, in East Devon, where Bonfire Night is the biggest event of the year.  So the bonfire, the fair and the fireworks are all here, but there’s something unique to Ottery as well, and people come from miles around every year to see it.

Suddenly, a shout goes out, and the crowd starts to push forward and cheer, as some of the local people haul flaming tar-soaked barrels onto their backs and run around the square and through the streets.  Each barrel is sponsored by a local pub or hotel, and is set alight there and carried through the streets. Boys have the smallest barrels and start in the late afternoon, followed by women and youths.  Men have bigger barrels, with the biggest one, weighing 30kg, being carried around the square at midnight.

It’s a great honour to carry the tar barrels.  Some have been carried by generations of the same families, and the Guy for the bonfire has been made by the same family since 1958. But why do the people of Ottery do this?

Ottery St Mary has kept its tradition of flaming tar barrels for hundreds of years now.  It’s probably connected with Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, but the origin of the tar barrel tradition is unknown now.

In fact, here are some of the wildly differing reasons that have been suggested for it:

* Warning of the approach of the Spanish Armada

* Fumigating the local cottages

* Scaring away the Black Death plague rats

* Pagan rituals to ward off evil spirits

* Ridding the streets of the devil

Historically, the Westcountry has long traditions of torchlight processions and rolling barrels, which the residents of Ottery may have taken one or two steps further.

And it’s good that they did: winter is cold, and the nights are dark.  Every child in Britain learns to ‚remember, remember, the fifth of November.‘  Why not remember with a fiery celebration, and flaming tar barrels carried through the night in the heart of Devon?

The Ottery Tar Barrel processions are held on the 5th of November every year, or on the 4th if the 5th is a Sunday. 

Immobilienmakler Heidelberg

Makler Heidelberg



Source by Heather Woodland

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