Carnival History

Cary Carnival Origins

Castle Cary’s carnival dates from 1919, a carnival procession was planned for 1920 to celebrate the return of soldiers (Tommy’s) from the First World War. The carnival here continued as torchlight processions until the recession in the 1930s. Then after the Second World War, it was resurrected (in 1945) by the “Welcome Home Committee” to raise funds for returning service personnel. This was not a torchlight carnival, but formed in the Castle Cary vicarage, with a procession around the town centre returning to the vicarage lawn for a firework display.

The fireworks were kept in Thomas The Builder’s canvas-top lorry. However, in 1947, the fireworks were somehow ignited accidentally in the lorry: a child of the Newport family and others sustained serious injury from the explosions and it was decided that the carnival should be discontinued.

The Modern Carnival

In 1976, Maureen Higgins approached the Town Council, Hazel Merrifield, Sue and Gordon Stockman, with a proposal to resurrect the carnival to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. It was such a success that since 1977 it has grown each year. It is now the major event of the year each October, attracting thousands of spectators to Castle Cary & Ansford.

Cary Carnival and the Wessex Grand Prix Circuit

The Wessex Grand Prix Carnival Circuit, now in its 25th successful year, was the brainchild of Keith Berry of Frome Carnival Association and Gordon Stockman of Castle Cary Carnival Society. Seeking to support and encourage local carnivals, Keith Berry had made approaches to Shaftesbury and Gillingham carnival committees in the early 1980s, with a proposal to form a new circuit of carnivals.

Keith respected that each carnival town had its own character, and that this needed to be preserved. At this time, the formation of a circuit was regarded as no more than a pipedream. In 1985, Keith Berry met Gordon Stockman whilst judging the Midsomer Norton carnival. Gordon was inspired by Keith’s concept and together they arranged consultative meetings with local carnival committees.

The circuit was conceived on a Formula 1 Racing principle, so that it would not affect existing local carnival town awards and judging. It would be a supplemental competition, over and above local competitions – to encourage clubs and carnivalites from each town going into the circuit to compete for another range of awards. The circuit was set up with three basic categories classes of competition: Tableaux, Feature and Comic.

In 1986 the Wessex Grand Prix circuit was established with the carnivals of Frome, Shaftesbury, Gillingham, Castle Cary and Wincanton. All the circuit members pooled resources for publicity and sponsorship. Such was the success for the circuit that Mere carnival joined, followed by Warminster and Trowbridge shortly after. Sturminster Newton carnival also joined the circuit in the last decade.

Today, the Wessex Grand Prix is a thriving community, with its own Wessex Queen, regular meetings and a wide range of prizes and awards for entries ranging from large floats to individual walking masqueraders. And, twenty five years on, Keith Berry and Gordon Stockman remain two of the Wessex Grand Prix’s leading lights.

Castle Cary and Ansford Carnival’s 30th Anniversary

2007 marked Cary Carnival’s 30th Anniversary and to mark this, a DVD of the procession was filmed by Geoff Sherring and his team of the MovingArt company.

Geoff Sherring is a freelance cameraman, film editor and producer. Based in Bridgwater, Geoff has worked all over the world and volunteers to help people in developing countries (notably, African nations) to use visual technology. The Castle Cary & Ansford Carnival DVD includes all of the Carnival Procession, commentated by Andrew Tallon and Andrew Bennett, plus the judging results, interviews with Carnivalites and a taste of the history of the Carnival. A percentage of the proceeds from this souvenir goes to local charities—so everybody wins!

The DVD is officially out of print but we can source further copies, if you would like one: contact Carnival Secretary Sue Stockman (01963 440472 and