Highbridge Guy Fawkes Carnival

Norma Emery Highbridge Carnival Queen 1950

Norma Emery Highbridge Carnival Queen 1950 with thanks to Lynda Mitchell

In 1945 at the end of the Second World War the first Highbridge Carnival was organised by the Welcome Home Fund for the forces.  The first consisted of a carnival procession, a giant bonfire,  and a squibbing display on the Town Square. It first lined up in the Huntspill Road going along Church Street to turn in the Old Burnham Road; returning down Church Street, down Market Street to finish at the “Coopers Arms”.  A few years later this changed, it still lined up on the A38 at Huntspill Road and went through the town to North Avenue, where a twenty minute break was taken to clear the traffic; returning through Highbridge. Carnivals were very different back in the late 1940’s; it was a torch light procession that attracted people; and the bonfire in a field by the “Coopers Arms” comprised a pile of thousands of cartons and cartridge cases. In the procession was a well-known car Y99, an 1896 two cylinder Daimler (Fiery Liz) owned by a Burnham man; it caused surprise to some American soldiers who saw it and wanted to take photo’s of it send to the folks back home.

In 1946 the total prize money awarded was £61.15s.00d.today that would probably cover fourth prize; it is now above £3,000, including appearance money. The Carnival Committee made a courageous decision in 1948 to revive the Carnival after it being abandoned the previous year. Unfavourable weather in November discouraged entries and it was felt that the public of Burnham and surrounding districts could help by reciprocating the support that Highbridge had given to their Summer Carnival.

Appearance money was started in Highbridge in the mid 1950’s to encourage more entries. In the beginning a variety concert was held, with local artists taking part to raise fund in order to provide more money for charities. In 1950 crockery was purchased to enable a Sub Committee of ladies to do the catering at dances and other events.  In 1951 the Committee was working well but would welcome residents from Burnham who might wish to join them. In August that year some members from Highbridge hired large carnival heads and entered the Burnham Carnival, which was a summer event.

Mrs Jackson’s Accordion band from Bridgwater was engaged in1952 and subsequent years when bigger dances were held.

In January 1953 Phil. And Irene Harris plus Pam and Dave Reed joined the Highbridge Committee and, in conjunction with the local Council we helped to organise a Coronation Day ball, which was a very successful and enjoyable evening. During 1954 a series of dances were held to find a Carnival Queen, two Princesses and eleven other girls as attendants. Young ladies were chosen to represent Bleadon, Mark, Watchfield, West Huntspill, East Huntspill, Woolavington, Puriton, Pawlett, Bason Bridge, Brent Knoll, East Brent, Burtle Burnham and Highbridge; a total of fourteen. Gentlemen of the Committee constructed the permanent cart; it had a throne, two seats at the top and an oval seat on which sat the other girls.  Two electric fires were mounted on the cart to give warmth to the girls; something that would not be allowed these days; it would not be necessary today because of the heat produced by all the bulbs. In those days they wore long dresses, which enabled them to have a piece of polythene wrapped around their legs and a hot water bottle on their laps.

Carnivals are a lot of hard work, also a lot of fun. For the girls there were laughter and tears, at one Carnival Queen selection ball, two of the girls arrived in identical dresses.  One had been bought in Bristol, the other made by a mother, the same pattern, material and colour; thankfully neither of them was in the first three. Nothing was easy in the early days.  We would, with helpers, transport a piano to Burtle and return in the early hours with a car and trailer.  The lighting consisted of a number of Tilley lamps with admission at 3/-(15p) we always hoped to make about £18.00 after paying all expenses.  Not all the venues were successful, but there was never a problem to get the girls to take part; sometimes there would be twenty entries.  Whilst the gentlemen were building the Queens float, the ladies made long purple capes for the Queen and two Princesses and short red cloaks for the attendants; it was impossible to obtain velvet and often difficult to get material at all, but after much searching, it was finally obtained.  A generator, to light the float was usually the last item to get and after much searching, one was found at Chippenham. Rex Emery and Dave Reed went to collect it, dismantled it and brought it back on a trailer.  The price was £42.10.00.  It was in need of a good overhaul, this cost 3/-(15p) per hour for a skilled engineer, including parts and labour the total came to £62.10.00. Today generators are very sophisticated produce up to a mega watt of power. The cost is running into thousands, some of the smaller clubs still had their own equipment but the larger clubs hired it for the twelve days of carnival, again at a huge cost. In 1955 W.H. (BILL) Tyler was elected as Life President of Highbridge Carnival.  The collection raised just over one hundred pounds.  In 1956 the donation to the Spastics Association was £190.00.

A carnival was not held in 1958 because of reconstruction work on the River Brue Bridge and the Bristol Road Bridge. 1959 firms like Weetabix and John Player were entering the trade class in the procession; the Electricity Board gave permission for the sodium street lighting to be turned off for the duration of the Carnival.  In January 1960 the County Carnival Ball was held in Highbridge for the first time and in August there were the rumblings of carnivals being wound up.  October found us skittling for a lamb carcass and a basket of fruit; a gentleman complained that the ladies were going to be included and they could win both prizes!  By November the collection was down to £71.13.00d.  The Burnham and Highbridge District Council asked the Committee if it would give some money toward furniture for Southwell House, it had foreseen this for some time and had put some money away for this purpose.  This turned out to be the last Highbridge Carnival.

On January 23rd 1961 at the A.G.M. the Treasurer reported a serious loss on the years workings of £181.  The question was: – “Can we hold a carnival in 1961?”  The Treasurer said we would need £300 in the bank before one could take place; a special meeting was called on the 20th February 1961 when it was decided that there was an absolute lack of interest in the town. Local apathy and poor finances and with most of the Committee from outside the town, a few members resigned; sadly it was decided that the Committee would cease to function.  The President, Chairman and Secretary being made trustees.

It was with much regret to local people that the last Highbridge Carnival was held in 1960


The Highbridge Carnivals saw the birth of a number of carnival clubs, following the first procession in 1945.  Fairford Road Carnival Club entered their first carnival in 1952. The theme for their float was called “No Workhouse” –(Next Best) Victor House and Bill Puddy came up with the idea of dressing a gang of lads as “Tramps” or “Men of the Road”.  Vic drove a clapped out “Y” registered Morris car, this towed a trailer carrying the “tramps” who were carrying out various chores – mending socks, alterations to coats/trousers and actually washing! Underclothes.etc.  Those not working played cards or drank ‘Zummerzet Cider’.  Their antics brought laughs and applause from the watching crowds.

Amongst the local Companies entering floats were John Blands, Highbridge Bacon Co., Hicks Bros. (Builders) and the Burnham & Highbridge Council Employees. Some pubs also entered – “The White Hart” “Top House” and the “Globe Inn”.

In 1952 the Skrimshire Challenge Cup was, in error, awarded to the” Globe Inn” club (a slight miscalculation of points in the results) instead of the “Top House” club.  However, the spirit of sportsmanship prevailed and Mrs. Dinham, the captain of the “Globe” club handed over the cup to Mr. Morey of the “Top House” with her club’s congratulations.

In 1953 & 1954 the Fairford Road Gang rested but in 1955 came back having decided to enter all the carnivals in the season, these included: – Bridgwater, Spaxton, North Petherton, Highbridge, Wells, Midsomer Norton and Glastonbury.  Their entry was again in the “Comic Mounted Section” and their aim was to win the County Cup.  This trophy was awarded to the club gaining the most points from all carnivals.

The gang worked hard throughout the year and the theme was “Roadsters Annual Conference” – Again depicting “tramps” but on this occasion a better ‘old banger’ a bigger cart and even an ancient wicker invalid chair.  The three-wheeled chair had ‘Grandad’ strapped in and was towed at the rear; unfortunately, when passing through Highbridge and the Town Clock, (which was then in the middle of the road) the wheelchair broke loose, the car and the cart went up Church Street, but ‘Grandad’ took off down Market Street.

Funds to pay for the equipment are always needed, so in 1956 a Valentines Night party and dance was held at the Highbridge Town Hall.  The proceeds would pay for the November carnival entry, and to carry on their 1955 success the party and dance became a “tramps ball” with a competition for the best-dressed tramp. Refreshments offered were cider etc. bread and cheese, the seating comprised of straw bales – music by the “Clubman Dance Band”.  Over 300 tramps attended, the best-dressed tramps being Arthur Duckett and Jack Saunders.  Hangovers were much in evidence the next morning.

The November’s Carnival entry was called “Safari” – ‘(But not too near).’

The car used had offset wheels and it towed a cart and a cage; with a warning.

“Stand back ladies and gentlemen, we accept no responsibility for damage inflicted by these terrible animals whilst travelling through your streets.  We have the greatest team of trackers known to man.  No animal too large or small.  Name the animal, we will provide it.”

In 1957 the clubs entry was very different, it was influenced by the news that Russia and the U.S.A. were to travel to outer space.  So a tractor was used to tow a large trailer, on which was mounted a rocket – their theme being “Off to seek new pastures”

During the 1950’s especially 55 – 56 – 57 the club had achieved tremendous success, winning the County Cup in the Comic Mounted Feature Section for three consecutive years.  This was quite a feat and a record, set by the Fairford Road Gang, which has never been equalled or broken to-date.

The founder members of the club were well-known Highbridge men and who, over the years, had an association with carnival. They included: – Vic House, Bill Puddy, Norman Butt, Baden Cann, Ray Davey, Fred Faulks, Doug. French, Ernie Crandon, Alec Dite, Bill Fisher, Dave Brewer, Ray Cross, Bob Millard, Wally Evans, Pete Hale, Archie Dean, Brian Rich, Bob Carnell, and Wally Dudley.  Bill Puddy was the club Chairman, Vic House Captain,

Major changes took place in 1958, the gang had always used Vic House’s yard, Fairford Road with its limited access and facilities had given the club problems and caused concern when building carnival trailers.  Fortunes changed when Jack Gaffney, landlord of the “Cooper’s Arms” in Market Street offered the club the use of the car park at the rear of the hotel. The Carnival Queen was at the head of the Carnival and was followed by one of the oldest competitors namely, Tom Speed who was 77 years old, he was dressed as “Admiral Slim” also at the front was a replica vessel manned by  ‘Jack’ Hatcher with his crew of S.Woodberry, C.Haines, L.Cantrill, F.Fisher, B.Williams, H.Norman and R.Whitcombe; Kimber’s Boatyard had made the vessel.

The 1958 entry called “Television Mixture” was the last for the Fairford Road Carnival Club; in 1959 it became the Coopers Arms Carnival Club with their entry called Cooper Baby Motors,was based on the Cooper Car.

(Much of the information covering the Carnivals and Clubs has been provided by Fred Faulks, a member of the Fairford Road gang, and Mrs. Reed)

Robert Pelham Caswell Millard

Bob was born on November 6th 1927 in Church Street above the Bon-Bon sweet shop, the only child of Pelham and Maude Millard. His parents moved to Springfield Road, known as Gas House Lane in those days, and went to Sexey’s Grammar School; upon leaving school he worked as a farm labourer at Watchfield.

This was probably where he took a great liking for cider; this was to have a bearing on the rest of his life. He always kept a ‘pike’ barrel (sixty gallons) in his old shed at the back of his house. When he first started work on the farm he would drive the horse and cart back home at the end of the day, and this journey always entailed a visit to the Coopers Arms for ‘lubrication’. On many occasions Bob would fall asleep in the cart in the car park, only to wake up and find the horse still patiently waiting; this routine was obviously in both their systems.

In 1970 Bob bought a donkey that he named Bambi. Bob was regularly seen walking the donkey to the top of the road and back, locals who would visit the orchard to see it and often fed the donkey.  Bambi grew bigger and stronger, becoming quite a handful, often known to kick and bite if you were not too careful. On one occasion Mrs Millard was hanging out some washing in the orchard, bending down to take washing from the basket Bambi seized the opportunity to mount her; luckily a plumber who was working in the house came to her rescue when she screamed.

Bob was a member of the carnival club and a keen local skittler; when visiting a country pub to play skittles Bob was told by a landlord that his language was disgusting, Bob replying ‘so is your beer’. Workmen were keen to visit Springfield Road as there was always a warm welcome and a glass or two of beer or cider, Bob would have a friendly chat, probably for a couple of hours. He was sincere, friendly and an old softie at heart with hardly a bad word about anyone, a cheery ‘How be on yer’ would greet everyone.

He was best remembered for his daisy upright bicycle with a sack over the handlebars, his trilby hat and his pipe full of Condor tobacco, with smoke drifting down the road behind him. In 1985 a funeral business was founded in his name and Bob helped to some degree but was never really cut out for that type of work. He always made it clear that when his time came, he would lie in state in his own front room before heading for the church. Those wishes were carried out to the full when he died on the 27th February 1988. Many thought he was older than his 70 years. In summary he was a wise man who lived his life to the full, never interfering with anyone; his main philosophy was ‘ as long as you have a roof over your head and food in your belly, you want for nothing.’

(Article supplied by Andrew Holley)


The Clyce Road in Highbridge, held two carnivals of its own, these were during the summers of 1965 and 1966. In 1965 the Carnival Queen was Diane Lock, who had two princesses in attendance, their names being Jennifer Ladd and Tracy Mitchell.

The second carnival in 1966, Jennifer Ladd was elected as Carnival Queen and her two princesses were Shirley and Erica Lynham.  Jennifer’s prize as Carnival Queen was a Rupert Annual that she still has.

Most of the residents took part in the events in fancy dress costume.  The late Freddie Fay judged both carnivals and Mrs. Johnson who owned a hairdressing salon in Highbridge, presented the children with their prizes.  After the fancy dress parade the children and grown ups joined in a lovely tea party in the open air at the top of Clyce Road.  All had a great time and have happy memories of our two carnivals.

(Information provided by Mary Ladd)

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