Carnivals are a longstanding tradition in Teignmouth. Processions and parades have marked a multitude of events in the town’s history, from coronations to the opening of the railway system. Perhaps one of the most stupendous carnivals that Teignmouth has hosted was in the year of 1852, when the town became an independent port and was no longer answerable to the Exeter overlords.
The events were initially celebrated by a Royal Salute from the Den and the whole maritime community graced the festivities with their presence. From fishermen and river masters to music bands, each and every one followed the herald and his white horse as they made a circuit around the Den. In fact, it is convention that men of all trades get involved in the carnival, as it is ultimately a community spectacle, and traditionally each man would carry a tool derivative of his trade. It would not be an unusual sight to see a blacksmith proudly wielding his anvil and forge on the day of the carnival. As well as beautiful decorations around the town, an impressive dinner was laid out for some of those involved in the Assembly Rooms. The carnival tradition in Teignmouth was well and truly underway in the Victorian era.
The opening of the Local Board Offices, the Market Hall and public baths was another call for celebration in 1883. The Earl of Devon was in attendance, uniformed processions were organised and the Royal Prussian Band played. Nothing about the carnival is understated; the opening ceremony was characterised by the steam tug Pioneer firing 5 guns, along with the clamour of St.James’ bells. Tragically, it only took a spattering of Hitler’s aircraft to destroy the majority of these buildings on 13th August 1942.
Nowadays the carnival is as full of verve as ever. Traditions have altered slightly; large floats now replace what would previously have been horses being ridden by costumed children. Nowadays the carnival runs for a full week, with a children’s day, a service day and fully fledged competitions such as Teignmouth’s Got Talent. The position of Carnival Queen has not been lost, although it may no longer be the case that she earns her keep by selling raffle tickets in the lead up to the event, and there is now a full Royal Family elected each year. Each of these will then attend carnivals on the South Devon circuit. Music festivals and a procession day also feature, and quirkier aspects such as tattooists tend to crop up every now and then. Hoards of entertainers fill the streets of the town, colour dominates all and for a week the mundane quotidian is forgotten entirely.
In the Winter of 2003, the committee organised a Winter Procession named The Amber Coast Illuminated Carnival. Although this no longer runs, it proved very popular at the time. Community, volunteering and involvement could not be better personified, than by Teignmouth Carnival.
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