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29th October 2018


Jacqui & Mike Down with Patrick McCaig from Otter Brewery.

This November, Devon’s leading brewery will be helping to support one of the most iconic events in the East Devon calendar.

Every year on November 5th the world famous ‘Flaming Tar Barrels’ are carried through the streets of Ottery St Mary to the delight of thousands of townsfolk and visitors.

Continuing their support of local community events, Otter Brewery are once again a main sponsor for this amazing visual spectacle and are also brewing an official beer to help support the event which is co-ordinated by Mike and Jacqui Down, Landlords of The Volunteer Inn.

This year’s Tar Barrels has been the most challenging yet to organise. To cover all the necessary insurance, security, toilet hire and car park lighting, a minimum of £30,000 has to be raised. This is done entirely by the local community throughout the year via communal activities and individual endeavours.

Several new developments for 2018 will see the addition of two official outside bars – one at the main bonfire site and one at the Catholic Church – to streamline how refreshments are sold. A reusable cup is also being introduced for the first time to help reduce waste and make the event safer.

Mike Down explains: “Even though the Tar Barrels has become its own entity and draws in thousands of visitors, every year the paperwork increases and it becomes more difficult to pull off. The town has really gone above and beyond again to help with the fundraising – from sponsored bike rides and long-distance runs to special themed nights in the various pubs. With our position on the committee, Jacqui and I try to help the event move with the times. This year we’ve introduced reusable plastic souvenir glasses which will massively reduce litter, reduce trip hazards and save money. Crowd safety is paramount. We also want to safeguard this event for future generations – we both ‘barrel roll’ as do our two sons. The new outside bars that are being run under the umbrella of Ottery Carnival will really help the money generated on the night to stay in the town and then help with the following year.”

Patrick McCaig from Otter Brewery commented: “The Tar Barrel tradition around here is hundreds of years old and the village of Ottery St Mary is right on our doorstep. All of this glorious mayhem happens in no small part due to the huge efforts of two of Ottery’s ‘rolling’ veterans – Mike and Jacqui. As part of our work to help support the local community and its pubs we’re proud to be on board once again this year – we think events like this should be preserved. We’ve also brewed an official beer for the event – Flaming Ale – that will be available in local pubs. We just hope the flames don’t singe our whiskers!”

For more information on the event please visit:



Notes to Editors:

Traditionally the barrels are set alight at various public houses and hotels around the town and follow a tight schedule until the final barrel is carried in the square around midnight. They range in size from small for the “boys”, medium for the women and youths, up to “gert big unz” for the men.

In the months before hand the barrels have their internal surface coated with old-fashioned coal tar at a secret location. The barrels are then lit outside each of the pubs in turn and once the flames begin to pour out, they are hoisted up onto local people’s backs and shoulders. The “Barrel Rollers” jealously guard their right to carry barrels and their motivation is borne from a deep sense of tradition. In many cases this has involved generations of the same family.

Some examples of the town’s 2018 fundraising efforts include: Mike & Jacqui’s son Connor Down and his friend Jack completed a 200 mile run raising £2,000. Another young Ottery resident, 10 year old Charlie Nancekivell, cycled 110 miles between Barnstaple and Plymouth and raised £1,000. The Volunteer itself raised £4,000 through various raffles and themed evenings.