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The History Of Bakewell Carnival And Well Dressing

If you get the chance to be in Bakewell in July then you will not have failed to marvel at the wonderful Bakewell Carnival, which takes place each year, full to bursting with dance, music and laughter. It is now a regular fixture on the Derbyshire summer events calendar and has grown over the years with lots of new changes, developments in the range of events and generally improved each year by the amount of people who visit and take part. It is certainly one of the best attended events in the Peak District and certainly one of the best organised.

The carnival dates back to 1971 when the preferred procession first took place on the first Saturday in July. The well dressings and the associated events with it took place in the week running up to the climax of carnival week, the procession. The well dressings became part of carnival week when they were revived in 1971 and the two events were linked to maximise the promotion of the whole event but it also made such sense to link the two together for the whole town's enjoyment. 
In history, there are three main period of carnival activity in Bakewell recorded by local historian Laurence Knighton. The first recorded  carnival was before the First World War and then between the wars. The second was after World War II and began in the 1970s, with chairman of the Carnival committee Bill Kreuger being an essential part of the organisational support. Bill sadly died in 2007 but the carnival continues to be a great success and he is always honoured with the huge success the carnival has reached and which he helped to build.

There is documentary evidence that the carnival could have started in 1925, revolving around an old photo, which is in The Old House Museum's collection. The carnival definitely took place in September 1932, but by 1933 it was established to take place in June. There are no more records in the press, with no mention from 1937 until its revival in 1951, when the Festival of Britain took place. The whole country was having a mood change and Bakewell held the carnival in celebration. The programme design was based on the 1932 event and organised by the Bakewell British Legion Carnival society and it was thought that at this stage it was just one whole day rather than the week it has grown into.
From 1951 until 1962, the carnival took place in June and a pattern of events was then established which still take place today. The car show and cricket and football matches were introduced in 1952 and it was in 1956 when it was recorded that the carnival took place as a whole week of events. By 1960 the funfair was part of the entertainment.

With events changing with the era at the time, the Agricultural Business Centre opened at the end of the 90s  and records show the funfair moved from the marketplace. The Road Race became the Bakewell Pudding Race and Fell Races grew in popularity. Events involving the River, such as the greasy pole competitions and over the river pillow fights have sadly demised, but the Raft Race and Duck Race live on to this day.
In 1956, there was A Mystery Man who became A Mystery Woman but then both disappeared from the program -a mystery in itself!

The welly and wheelbarrow race took place originally and is still going strong and the floats and walkers in the procession too. Events reflect the fashion and culture of the time. Sadly there is no longer a video camera set up in the window of Farmers Electrical Shop to film the procession, but its history will forever remain captured in the happy memories of the participants and spectators, year after year.
See this year's up-to-date Carnival information at