Holsworthy Carnival, as we know it today, dates from the turn of the 20th Century when, every November, North Road would be filled with up to 1000 participants in all sorts of guises – some on tableaux or carriages, many on horseback and bicycles and others on foot. Headed by huge twelve-light flaming torch frame and with music provided by Bude Town Band, the procession snaked its way around the principle streets of the town to the delight of the many hundreds of spectators who lined the entire route.

The origins of the carnival however are much older – over 400 years older! And the timing of Holsworthy Carnival (and several other West Country Carnivals) close to Bonfire Night is no coincidence…..

Throughout the 17th, 18th and early 19th Centuries Protestant Holsworthy ‘went to town’ celebrating the failed attempt of Guy Fawkes and his accomplices to blow up the Houses of Parliament and bring down the Protestant Monarchy. In an era when community events drew massive crowds, Holsworthy’s Guy Fawkes celebrations were eagerly anticipated by young and old – and was a time when tar barrels were set alight in the Higher Square, and townsfolk made merry by the light of an enormous bonfire which was lit in the centre of the Square (long before the advent of health and safety regulations!).

By the mid 1870’s the religious origins of the event had been almost forgotten and the town’s Guy Fawkes celebrations had evolved into a procession around the town culminating in the burning of guys and tar barrels. The displays of fireworks and the showers of sparks from the bonfires in the square would often lead to the added excitement of impromptu fires starting in the thatched roofs of the houses and cottages throughout the town, and no celebration was complete without the breaking of at least a dozen panes of window glass by wayward rockets and fire crackers!

By 1901 the Guy Fawkes procession was renamed the Charity Carnival and, for the past 100 or so years it has been continued in the same manner – raising many thousands of pounds for many hundreds of causes. So, when you’re throwing your change into the buckets on Carnival night remember you’re ensuring the continuation of an event that dates back over 400 years!


By Shawn Dymond