Allendale Tar Barrel Parade

Northern Traditions



New Years Eve in Allendale

By around 9.00 o'clock in the evening the village pubs were pretty well full, with a mixture of both local people and those who had traveled to Allendale for the New Years Eve celebrations.
 At around 10.30pm more people began to gather in the village market place, where a large bonfire had been stacked up in front of the Kings Head pub. Meanwhile men from the village, who were disguised as mummers with blackened faces or wearing fancy dress, were preparing the cut down wooden barrels, which were then taken through the large crowd to the village church. Around 11.30pm the contents of the barrels were set alight and to the accompaniment of a brass band, the men carried the blazing barrels above their heads, in a procession from the church and down to the village main street.


 The parade consisted of around 50 men, some carrying the burning barrels, while others held flaming torches aloft, with one group of village elders leading the procession. This large group then proceeded to march along the main street accompanied by the brass band, with the crowds gathered on each side of the road. With the approach of midnight the procession turned back towards the market place, where on reaching the bonfire, they set light to it by throwing the burning barrels and torches onto the piled up wood, which quickly became a raging bonfire with the fierce heat forcing the nearby crowds to retreat to a cooler distance. The barrel men tended the fire where some of the barrels were rescued from the flames so that they could be used next year.


 On the stroke of midnight a cheer rose from the crowd to welcome in the New Year, glasses were raised and people exchanged greetings while other groups linked arms for a sing song around the blazing bonfire. As an extra treat to mark the millennium celebrations a grand fire work display also lit up the sky with the colourful explosions shimmering through the heat haze above the bonfire.

 As the fire began to die down some of the people began to head back to their homes or to local parties, while others carried on their celebrations around the bonfire, in either case it can safely be said that a New Years Eve in Allendale is not soon forgotten.




This description of the New Years Eve custom which takes place in Allendale, Northumberland, is based on a visit to the village on New Years Eve 1999.




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