History of mendip vale carnival club
Mendip Vale Carnival Club is the oldest of four carnival clubs based in Wells (and one of the oldest in the whole of mid-Somerset). The club first entered as Mendip Vale in 1965 with a tableau entry ‘Madame Guillotine’. Original members included Bill Baker (now in Globe Carnival Club), Peter Slade, Mike Masters, Lynn Baker and Gwilym Harris (who remains in the club in 2005!). The club had actually entered as the YMCA Carnival Club in 1964 (based at the YMCA in Wells), with the entry ‘Mystery out of Space’, before changing to Mendip Vale. The club competes in the seven Somerset Guy Fawkes County Carnivals in the open feature class (Bridgwater, North Petherton, Burnham-on-Sea and Weston-super-Mare) and local feature class (Shepton Mallet, Wells and Glastonbury). Additionally the club attended the non-affiliated Midsomer Norton carnival up to and including 1986 when the float became too big to transport there easily. The club also went to the Bristol Carnival twice in the early 1980s. The club today builds to the limits of 100’ long, 11’ wide and 16' high. Mendip Vale Carnival Club remains one of the most well-known clubs on the Somerset county circuit.
Originally a tableau club, the first float, ‘Madame Guillotine’ was built on a farm trailer measuring 7’ 6" by 12’. It boasted 100 lamps and was powered by a 7.5 KVA generator, a sizeable entry for those days. The first float was largely made of cardboard, wood battens and sacking. From that less-than-technical first float in 1965, the entries have increased in size and complexity over the years. The 1975 entry ‘Cobra Kingdom’ cost just £4.50 to build! Mendip Vale grew to be one of the largest clubs on the circuit by the late 1970s. The club’s most successful entry was in 1979 when the spectacular ‘Crown Jewels’ was runner-up in the county cup competition, beaten by Regimental Glory by Hinkley Point Carnival Club (later Bohemian Carnival Club) of Bridgwater.
The float featured 700 60 watt lamps spaced 18’’ apart. A smaller version of the float was entered at Cheddar Christmas Carnival as ‘Royal Pageantry’. The club won 9 prizes in the tableau class in 1983 with the entry ‘Ride of the Valkyries’. The float attended the Lord Mayor’s Easter Parade at Battersea Park in London for the first time in 1984 on a low-loader with no roof or lamps.
All but two of the entries until the mid-1980s were tableau floats, but the club then changed direction by moving permanently from the tableau to feature class, a trend followed by many other clubs at this time, as this was popular with the younger members in particular. The club’s last tableau in 1985, ‘Manhunt’, depicted a futuristic fantasy where females dominate men. The first feature entry was ‘Tropicana’, with music from Wham! By the late 1980s, modern materials such as fibreglass were more widely used.
In 1987, the space fantasy ‘Ultimate Warlord’ had grown to consist of a 60’ long, 11’ wide float trailer with over 3000 lamps and a hired 200 KVA generator, along with a machine banging out plenty of smoke effects! The undecorated hire tractor remained, and the generator was still being carried on a lorry. In the late 1980s the club invested in its own tractor (a Fordson Major) which was first decorated in 1988, the first club in mid-Somerset to do so. 1988 saw many new members joining the club, doubling the membership, which helped the club achieve success with ‘Voodoo Magic’. The entry won 8 cups including 2nd place in the open feature class at Bridgwater, the only year to date that Mendip Vale has beaten the mighty Masqueraders Carnival Club, who presented Living in America. Designer Mike Andrews made his only float appearance on this entry, as the voodoo witch doctor on the front of the tractor.
To complement the decorated tractor, the club moved away from using a back-up lorry to a purpose-built generator float trailer in 1989, which was constructed on land next to the Slab House Inn outside of Wells. In addition, the club hired its first more powerful generator from Finning's Rentals in 1989 and the generator trailer was decorated, albeit basically, for the first time, six years after Gremlins Carnival Club set off the trend.
The 1990 entry ‘Halloween’ attended the 1991 Lord Mayor’s Easter Parade in London, the second and final time the club attended, and was transported there on a low loader, minus roof, tractor and generator trailer! ‘Cocktail Cabaret’, 1992’s entry was less than spectacular largely due to ongoing poor building conditions and the club having less than 20 members. Similarly, ‘Flash’ represented a more limited effort, but had 5000 lamps, a 475 KVA generator and flashing lights run by computer (until rain at Shepton Mallet!).
1994’s entry ‘Ole Flamenco’ symbolised a great improvement from the previous year’s entry, and was placed 1st in the local feature class at Wells carnival and 2nd at Shepton Mallet and Glastonbury. The float won numerous awards at the Mid-Somerset Gangs and Features ceremony. A potential high placing in Bridgwater carnival was ruined by a rare generator failure at Cornhill, although the entry still achieved 6th place in the open feature class (the club’s next major power failure didn’t occur until North Petherton 2004!). The entry featured flamenco dancers, bull fighters, tambourines and model bulls made by the king of model makers, Rex Ball. The float also featured in a Christmas parade through Wells and in the Street Christmas Carnival which was held a couple of times near Christmas in the mid-1990s.
Maintaining 1994’s good form, the club’s 30th anniversary effort in 1995, ‘Clowns on Parade’, designed by Mike Andrews, won 3rd place in open feature at Bridgwater, and Bones got his lights flashing at last! The float also featured three 9’ high, 7’ wide giant model clowns, again made by Rex Ball. Mendip Vale’s 1997 entry, ‘Devil’s Dance’ was another high-standard feature entry which incorporated Griffens-style costumes on a Wills-style float! ‘Psychedelia’,
The 1998 float, didn’t make it to Bridgwater carnival as it wasn’t finished in time. An appearance would arguably have gained a top 4 placing in the open feature class. The float was a light and colour fantasy portraying a contemporary interpretation of a famous, fictional picture of natural life painted by Michael Valer!
2000’s ‘One Tooth Willy (The Scourge of the Sea)’ was a particularly problematic year and the float was unable to attend Bridgwater and Burnham-on-Sea carnivals as it was not completed in time (it went around at North Petherton however!).
‘One Tooth Willy’ was played by founder member Gwilym Harris making his first appearance on the float since 1986. The newly purchased Massey Ferguson tractor, to replace the less powerful Fordson Major, wasn’t fully decorated in time so the club had an undecorated tractor in the processions for the first time since 1987. Lack of time meant that the generator trailer was decorated in only a basic way. 2001’s ‘Christmas Magic’ represented a much better entry than the previous year’s effort and performed reasonably well in the seven carnivals. The story was "after researching Greek mythology it has come to light that Santa delivers his presents by sleigh and a hot air balloon!!" A new generator trailer was also constructed this year to cope with the larger, more powerful units which were needed to increase float lighting, speakers and moving parts. It was decorated at speed in the three days prior to Bridgwater carnival.
A recent high point was in 2002 when the club was placed 4th at Bridgwater carnival (open feature) (despite nearly not making it!), 1st at North Petherton (optional feature) and 2nd at Shepton Mallet and Wells carnivals (local feature), with the original and popular ‘Skool's Out’ entry.
The 2003 entry ‘Jester Show’ had over 40 moving parts, around 15,000 lamps, an 11-kilowatt sound system, 8km of cable and a 1 megawatt generator. The float took around 10 months to build after a major change in the float’s structure. It won two county cups for Best Dressed Tractor Driver and Typical Carnival Music.
2004’s ‘Palm Beach’ was a desert island fantasy featuring parrots, palm trees and moving suns, and boasted 15,000 lamps and a 1 megawatt generator, quite a contrast from the first float in 1965. Success was limited to two Best Dressed Tractor Driver prizes, three 4th positions in local feature classes and Chairman’s Choice at Wells.
2005 was the club’s 40th anniversary, 41st float entry and 22nd feature entry. Work got underway on the float in late November, and the main float and tractor were stripped completely and the tractor driver was moved to the front bottom of the tractor. A few feet of length was also removed from the back of the float to add to the length of the tractor. The entry ‘Fremont Street’ was a gambling theme, named after the famous street in Las Vegas, with the music of Madonna’s Gambler specially remixed for the entry.
The club had a successful year as the float achieved 5th place in open feature at Bridgwater (the club’s highest placing since 2002) after only just making it again, 2nd in the optional feature class at North Petherton (11th in 2004!) and 3rd, 2nd and 3rd places respectively at Shepton Mallet, Wells and Glastonbury carnivals in the local feature class. The club also won 4 other cups at Wells carnival and 3 at the Mid-Somerset Gangs and Features presentation, taking the total to 10.
The Club selected a design for a 2006 entry, However, by July it became clear that the Club was unable to enter the carnivals for the first time in the Club’s history. The Club’s shed became too unsuitable and unsafe in which to build a float and the shed was dismantled. The Club decided to participate in the carnivals through marshalling, judging, collecting and commentating on the official DVDs. A number of members also entered as individual masqueraders at Glastonbury and Weston-super-Mare carnivals.
In 2007 the club became residents at the butler carnival park in glastonbury, which is where they remain to this day, initially building outside for the first year and then taking another year out of carnival whilst preparing and building their new shed. it's safe to say that between 2006 and 2009 it was very much a case of taking each year as it comes, some years were better than others regarding the speed of building and shed building process.
since 2009 the club has entered every year with an entry, when time and money have been against them then its been a slightly smaller entry, but for 2014 the club was back to where it wants to be, a 100 ft entry called "attractions" which was a step up for the club and a much needed moral boost. winning 1st in north petherton optional feature, 1st in shepton mallet local feature, and 2nd in wells & glastonbury local feature.
Between 2014 and 2019 the Guise brothers were our main designers, Ashley planning such carts as Sherlock, Venice , and Troy, and Liam designing The Windmill Club in 2019
For 2020 Ashley had planned the cart and design, which no doubt we'll see in 2021.