Running Flames through Guy Fawkes Night Streets

12th November 2018

The scene on the night of Monday 5th November in Ottery St Mary is always something to behold.

Men and women and youths run through the high street dressed in thick layers, their hands and wrists wrapped against the heat of flaming barrels of burning tar that they carry on their shoulders.

The barrel rollers each run, whilst safely carrying the barrel as far as they can before passing it, progressing through crowds who part and flow around them again as the barrel of fire moves on.

This is an incredibly exciting event, supposedly born from an ancient Westcountry tradition of rolling lit barrels of tar through the streets and houses each year for fumigation.

Gilbert Stephens are very proud of Deanne Cummings, from our Sidmouth office, and her daughter Zoe, who have now been ‘rolling the barrels’ for 37 and 18 years respectively. Deanne wore a bright green Gilbert Stephens t-shirt – the bright colours helps them to pick each other out in the commotion and see if they can help or get the barrel to each other.

Deanne tells us, “We had a great evening and it was a bonus with it being dry and mild. A lot of people attended but it was kept under control by having two tar barrels going at the same time and splitting the crowds.

The t-shirt colour was great. The film crews were out last night and filming the women’s barrels.

The event is special to myself and family as I have generations of family going back over the years who have rolled the barrels.”

Deanne explains the Tar Barrel lingo: “We do not roll the barrels anymore, only to warm them up. Then we pick them up from the front, up over our head, and put the barrel on our shoulders wearing special sacking gloves. Then we run safely through the town with them, looking out for each other. Fantastic fun and we were all worn out at the end of the evening!”

Those involved in the Tar Barrels work hard all year round to raise funds to help this event continue. Ottery St Mary is the only town left that has refused to let this tradition fall into history.

The arranging and insuring of such a unique and special event is no mean feat – like wielding the Tar Barrels themselves – and we hope that as many people as possible look out for and support the Tar Barrel Fundraising activities that go on throughout the year.

For more information, click here