Ancient tradition - Ottery’s burning barrels
- Credit: Archant
With Ottery’s barrel rollers poised to bring the fiery spectacle to the streets of the town, Resident takes a pictorial look at the tradition.
November 5 always starts with a bang in Ottery St Mary as rock cannon are fired at various locations in the town during the early hours of the morning.
This continues throughout the day until the main event gets under way, when the first tar barrels are lit and youngsters carry them on their backs.
From then on in, the barrels get progressively bigger, with men and women all taking their turn to maintain the tradition.
Many families have passed it down the generations, and onlookers visit the town to enjoy seeing the event unfold.
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It’s known that the tradition has been going for hundreds of years, but its exact origins are less clear, although it is thought that it is likely to have started after the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
Some say it was started to fumigate cottages and other have suggested it was linked to warning people about the approaching Spanish Armada.
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Other towns in the Westcountry have had traditions of rolling barrels in the streets but it is only in Ottery that it is combined with naked flames.
Whatever the origin, Ottery continues to maintain this unique tradition and draws thousands to the town on November 5.
The rolling goes on until around midnight, and the crowds disperse until the fiery spectacle returns the following year.
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