Ancient tradition - Ottery’s burning barrels

PUBLISHED: 07:00 03 November 2018 | UPDATED: 09:28 07 November 2018

Ottery Tar Barrels 2017. Picture: Alex Walton Photography

Ottery Tar Barrels 2017. Picture: Alex Walton Photography

Alex Walton

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.

Ottery Tar Barrels 2017. Picture: Alex Walton PhotographyOttery Tar Barrels 2017. Picture: Alex Walton Photography

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.

Ottery Tar Barrels 2017. Picture: Alex Walton PhotographyOttery Tar Barrels 2017. Picture: Alex Walton Photography

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.

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.

Ottery Tar Barrels 2017. Picture: Alex Walton PhotographyOttery Tar Barrels 2017. Picture: Alex Walton Photography

The rolling goes on until around midnight, and the crowds disperse until the fiery spectacle returns the following year.

For more East Devon Resident features, click here.

Ottery Tar Barrel Night 1997. Picture: Sidmouth Herald archiveOttery Tar Barrel Night 1997. Picture: Sidmouth Herald archive

Ottery Tar Barrels 2014. Ref sho 9822-45-14AW Picture: Alex WaltonOttery Tar Barrels 2014. Ref sho 9822-45-14AW Picture: Alex Walton

Tar Barrels 2013. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref sho 7841-45-13AW. To order your copy of this photograph go to www.sidmouthherald.co.uk and click on Photo OrdersTar Barrels 2013. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref sho 7841-45-13AW. To order your copy of this photograph go to www.sidmouthherald.co.uk and click on Photo Orders

Ottery Tar Barrels. Ref sho 5917-45-15SH. Picture: Simon HornOttery Tar Barrels. Ref sho 5917-45-15SH. Picture: Simon Horn

Ottery Tar Barrels. Ref sho 5909-45-15SH. Picture: Simon HornOttery Tar Barrels. Ref sho 5909-45-15SH. Picture: Simon Horn

The barrel rollers get ready for this year's festivities. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref sho 5181-44-10AWThe barrel rollers get ready for this year's festivities. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref sho 5181-44-10AW

Ottery Tar Barrels 2016. Ref sho 45-16TI 1583. Picture: Terry IfeOttery Tar Barrels 2016. Ref sho 45-16TI 1583. Picture: Terry Ife

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