Posted: 08.10.20 at 11:47 by Andrew Moulding
With grateful thanks to John Jeffery, Geoff Enticott and Pete Perryman
My memory of the early years tells me that the carnival procession always took place on the Wednesday of Carnival Week, with the pram derby bringing out the crowds on the final Saturday. As years went by, it was better to hold the procession on the last Saturday, so that young children could stay up late, without worrying about school the following morning.
The pram derby was a riotous event! Pram pushing 'mothers' and 'babies' would all dress up, with a competition for the best-dressed pair. The circuit for the race went from Trinity Square, to the Western, to the Axminster Inn, and back to the New Commercial.
'Mother' and 'baby' both had to drink half a pint at each pub – AND complete two circuits – that’s THREE pints in total! It wasn’t unusual for prams to tip up, 'babies' to fall out, prams to collide – it often got a bit messy!
In an attempt to make it safer, instead of a pram derby we had a bed race, with basically the same rules – so that when two beds tried to get around the corner by the Axminster Inn, side by side, it didn’t work out too well!
The beds were acquired from the RD&E at Exeter and they were brand new! Axminster nurse, Eunice Beer was not happy as the beds for the race were far better than those in use at Axminster Hospital.
And so the the procession; as mentioned earlier, originally on the Wednesday, but in recent years, on the final Saturday, heralded by our town crier Nick Goodwin, who is around the town throughout the week, making sure we all come along to support the carnival on this special evening.
However, the carnival procession does not happen by accident. Carnival Week is managed by a committee- many of whom have been involved for donkeys' years!
I remember many of the committee members giving their time tirelessly for Axminster Carnival – John Jeffery, Geoff Enticott, Pete Perryman, Jackie Lack, Shirley Parris, Gordon Dendle and Ron Purvey, who were both treasurers for many years.
Speaking to John Jeffery and Geoff Enticott for this piece, it transpires that they have both been on the committee for over 50 years – a combined century of years for John and Geoff! And they both agree that over the years the best chairman of the committee was Peter Perryman. Many thanks and congratulations to all three!
The planning for the carnival procession takes months; invitations to competitors, sorting out the applications, arranging the order of the procession, marking out the route, ordering the prize certificates and trophies, selecting marshals, putting up the lights in the square, collaborating and communicating with the police and most importantly – having regard for health and safety.
Whilst taking advice from the police, the route for the procession has changed over the years. In early times, the procession went around the town two-and-a-half times, with prize winners displaying their awards on the final circuit.
In those days the procession was lined up from the market and right down to Musbury Road, almost as far as Gamberlake. The route went up South Street (the wrong way) around the George, through the square, down West Street, up King Edward Road and back down Musbury Road.
With police recommendation, we now line up in Trafalgar Way, from the roundabout and right back to the turning into Hunthay Lane. The route now runs up West Street, around the town, down South Street (the right way) along Musbury Road, around King Edward Road and back into the town.
The marking out of the procession has been carried out for more than 40 years by Geoff Enticott. It is a meticulous operation – making sure that the right tableaux are in the right place. I assisted Geoff for at least 20 years, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
The carnival has been arranged over the years in different order, depending on the availability of various personnel. We usually have the fire engine, with our marvellous Axminster Fire Brigade, followed by the band. For years it was the Axminster Town Band, led by Charlie Turner or Chris Filby. We have also had the Lyme Regis Brass Band, the Yeovil Boys Brigade, the Junior Leaders and others, including the Bournemouth Carnival Band, dressed as Spidermen.
The queen’s float always looks fabulous; for many years on a truck, loaned by the late Peter Baulch, from Chard, and Axminster Transport. The queen’s float takes weeks to decorate – lights, flowers, streamers and 'thrones' for the queen and princesses. This task was undertaken for many years by Jackie Lack, Ann Jeffery and Nicky Powell.
Following the queen, we usually have the town mayor, usually driven by car and fully robed. When I was mayor, I was driven by former mayor Graham Godbeer in his open-topped Mini convertible, which was great fun!
We then have walking groups and decorated bikes, prams and the like. I always remember Stan Trenchard with a decorated pram. The walking groups are usually evident with their collecting cans and the walkers such as Axminster Musical Theatre, who find the carnival a good opportunity to advertise their forthcoming event or musical show.
In former years we also had decorated horses – Lionel Reed and his shire horses were entered every year, until it became evident that the deposits left by the horses, was not ideal for other walkers, collectors and the majorette groups!
In more recent years, we have been delighted to welcome large numbers of majorettes – Karizma from Axminster and majorette troupes from Lyme Regis, Seaton, Honiton, Chard and further afield, twirling their batons and captivating the crowd with their fabulous marching routines. We also have visiting queens' floats, supporting each other’s carnivals – always good to see.
However, the main attraction are the floats or tableaux, displaying a range of themes and classes – original, trade, decorative, humorous, historical, musical, drama, etc. We have had some fabulous floats over the years – some from many miles away. However, the crowd always enjoy the local floats, the Young Farmers, Minster Carnival Club, the Poppe Inn, Whitford All Stars, Tis-Us from Musbury, etc.
The floats nowadays are worked on all through the year and each float has many hundreds of lights, making a fantastic spectacle as they trundle through the streets of our town.
The floats have to be scrupulously judged – often by invited representatives from neighbouring carnivals. In a reciprocal way, members of Axminster Carnival Committee are asked to judge other carnivals, including those on the famous Somerset circuit and Puddletown on the Weymouth carnival circuit.
At the end of the procession, we have a collectors’ float, provided by the Lions Club, making sure that spectators throw their last few pennies in. However, the bulk of the collection is done by a mass of walking volunteer collectors, with part of their proceeds going to Axminster Carnival funds, whilst some money is retained for the collectors’ own charity or organisation.
The collectors are invariably dressed up in an appropriate theme for their organisation. We will always remember the Axminster Music Man, Norman Welch and the late Douglas Hull, collecting for the carnival – often dressed in his famous 'Hobby-Hoss' costume.
The procession can sometimes be very long and there is a need for each walking group, majorettes, float, etc. to be urged to keep up with the competitor in front. For this reason, there is always a band of marshals, selected to ensure that this task is carried out.
The marshals are led by a chief marshal and in the fifties, sixties and seventies, the chief marshal was my grandfather George Moulding. As a former military man, he enjoyed dressing up in the marshal’s costume, which was hired in and was different every year.
When the time had come for my grandfather to retire from his role as chief marshal, he passed the job onto me, which I accepted – at first reluctantly, although by the time I had been in the role for over 20 years, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. However, we had our moments - particularly if we didn’t start on time (dead on the dot of 8pm) or if there was a huge gap between competitors!
The person who was keeping his eye on the chief marshal and his posse of marshals was the formidable Frank Rowe, who was for many years in charge of the procession. Frank would go berserk if there was a gap between floats and always set upon the chief marshal.
In one particular year, the marshals consisted of Jim Rowe (Frank’s son), Robert Seward, Terry and Philip Newbery, Andy Middleton and Brian Enticott. You would think that they were a fairly reliable bunch, all dressed as Hussars.
Frank was posted in his usual place – his office in R&C Snell, overlooking the square. There were huge gaps in the procession. Frank spotted me at the head of the procession and sent one of his retinue to admonish me and tell me that he was not surprised that there were gaps, as he couldn’t see any marshals anywhere! And what was I going to do about it?
So I worked my way back through the procession and couldn’t find a single marshal, until I reached the Axminster Inn, and there were the Hussar Artillery, half way through their second pint!
Other organisations have supplied marshals in recent years, including the Rotary Club, who I am sure were rather more abstemious!
The procession always finishes up in Trinity Square, where for many years Mervyn Symes has ruled the roost. Mervyn mans the microphone and keeps the festivities going brilliantly.
Carnival night doesn’t finish there. For years, we had pillow fighting on a pole, initially in the drill hall, but later out in the square. I also seem to remember yard of ale drinking – or was it yard of rough cider?
In more recent years there has been a disco at the Guildhall with the usual quiet presence from our police. What a great job our police have done during carnival nights over the years, particularly our specials. I remember Peter Rugg and Robin Cross in particular.
Axminster Carnival has been the jewel in the crown of carnivals – one of the oldest and most appreciated for the work it does in raising funds for good causes. The annual Old Folks Christmas Party, originally held in Gills Café and then in the Guildhall, was always run by the carnival committee. In more recent times the old folks had a summer coach trip followed by a cream tea, much appreciated by our older generation.
Over the hundred years of its history, the carnival has raised many thousands of pounds for the Axminster community.
Axminster Carnival – we missed you this year! Roll on 2021, when we can celebrate our next annual carnival.
Click here to read Part I of Andrew Moulding's Carnival Memories