Carnival in my day was really something to look at, not like it is now, all blooming cars and adverts. We had beautiful horses shining brasses, names and tails plaited with coloured braids. Some horses had brass ornaments on top of their heads with a bell hung on which around when the horse walked or shook his head. The carts and horses were hired for the day from firms like the Breweries, Kivels, Whites or Uprights. There were so many firms had horse drawn carts there was plenty to hire from.
The carnival started from the Falmouth out Buddle Lane and it was judged there. Prices were given for different carts , like funny or the prettiest, all sorts of classes. It took about half an hour to pass by and hundreds of people who were out on the streets enjoying it. When I was a boy I once carried on oil flare and walked in front from the Falmouth all around town and back to the Falmouth. We did it for fun.
It always passed the RD&E Hospital so that the patients could see I think the collection money went to the hospital. It was a long way to walk. Boards with oil flares are carried by two men; they normally walked beside the carts to light the floats.
Heavitree to my mind was always the best. The torches used to be carried, anything up to 15 on a plank, on their shoulders, and that used to light the tableaux up. And they'd walk each side of the lorries. It was a thing everybody put the heart in.
And they used to see some real funny individuals, such as Tommy Shilton. He used to come from Clyst St Mary. And as far as I can remember until he finished, I don't think he ever missed a Carnival. He dressed himself up like a gentleman, a fox hunter. He is to have this fox sat up on his shoulder. Sometimes he was on horseback, sometimes in a pony and trap.
There was Gerry Andrews – he'd carry a house of bricks on his head. And when it was put on his head it was there until the carnival finished. He always liked to get to the front of the procession. He'd carry a banner: "Your roof is my headache".
He used to be a tiler's nodded; he worked for my uncle. In those days you used to carry the slate on your head, just put them on your head and go straight up. Sometimes you used to have a rubber quoit in your hat and the tiles would go on top; maybe 24 small tiles. And Gerry used to nod the tiles up on his head. And with this he used to carry this house on his head through the streets of Heavitree. Everyone knew Gerry Andrews. Rain or shine, Gerry used to be there, carrying this little house with bricks painted on; about two foot six square , I suppose – a proper little house. He used to carry it for all the carnivals; getting on the act somewhere.
I met him years later and someone wanted to take a photograph of him up this big ladder and the ladder was whipping in. Well, Gerry got him to take a photograph with all these bricks on his head, and the ladder started to whip and all these bricks started to fall around Gerry.
Now Mrs Hoer kept the fish and chip shop down Buller Road. She was a character. We always used to have our fish and chips from there. She was a real comedienne, she was, no doubt about it a glorious character. She'd dress up as characters from the Old Music Halls. She was entertainment in herself.
When it came round Carnival time, I'd say to my friend in the road, "Now what shall we do this time?" And us would think of something and if we'd decide to do that then we'd work on it. We used to work on it for weeks: we'd dress the lorry in the yard opposite. Beach Brothers in Western Road used to have some lovely lorries. Mister Beach was very good.
and all the people who used to take part with me, doing the floats were my friends: what are your so-called my concert party.
We'd do Exminster, Heavitree and St Thomas. It'd be October – sometimes it'd be very cold. Heavitree and St Thomas were two different carnivals in them days. Heavitree would either do theirs first or we would do ours first. Say for instance I was in St Thomas they may write saying you may like to enter up into Heavitree Carnival they'd book us in. And Heavitree would come down to us.
We done Crediton too; we'd have some fun there. There was Simple Simon and once when us was all lined up ready to be judged, he said to me, "have 'um judged us yet?"
I said, "I don't know."
"And you don't care, do you?"
"No," I said, "we're here for the good of the cause, not for what you can get."
"Oh, I've got to have a prize," he said. "Cos I paid 7/6d for my costume. I reckon your bloody good, your Before and After Rationing."
The parade was led by Mr Elliott, the butcher, riding on his horse. The Cadet Band was led by a Mr Slugget; they rode in a charabanc which was an open top Leyland coach. One of the highlights was a man dressed as a huntsman riding on a beautiful horse and he always carried his live fox cub around his neck.
The fire engines were a glorious site, bright red, and shining brasswork with the ladders on top; the firemen in dark uniforms with shiny buttons, jack boots and lovely brass helmets – very smart crews they were. At that time the fire brigade was stationed in New North Road below the Theatre Royal. I believe the crews were mainly volunteers.
There were men who looked like old time peddlers – they carry trays around their necks and sold windmills, confetti and what Ken Dod now calls tickling sticks.
Vantage points to watch the Carnival for us were the Triangle, if we were a gang of kids on our own, but if we went with mother and father we were taken to Bedford Circus. There was a large bank on the corner of Bedford Circus on the High Street; the bank doorway had wide steps leading up to the front door and white marble windowsills. My brother and I would be put up on the windowsill, which felt a 20 foot high, as we were very young. People turned out in their hundreds and lined the routes all the way. It was a big night and the fun continued in Cowick Street and St Thomas into the night. My older sisters were allowed to go downtown and had to be home at 9 PM or else!
These memories are taken from the contribution of several Exeter citizens to the People Talking project that was created by Jenny Lloyd in 1976. The full transcript, and other People Talking memories are available at the West Country Studies Library or the Devon and Exeter Institution.
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