The Cavaliers are a band of men who do a lot of voluntary work in the community, organise fund-raising events, drink copious amounts of beer and have fun! Their name derives from the period of the Civil War when Torrington was a Royalist, or Cavalier, town. They are best known for the
structures they build on the commons every few years – buildings, ships, trains – which are set alight along with a fantastic firework display. Thousands of people come from far and wide to see these enormous bonfires and huge sums of money are raised for charity.
The Cavaliers were founded in 1970. Plymouth City Council was preparing to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower to America and many Devon towns were invited to join the celebrations. Torrington sent two floats constructed by a group of local men – Carnival Queen and attendants and also a historical tableau involving the parish church, and the men dressed in hired costumes as Cavaliers and Roundheads.
That event was the beginning of the Cavaliers and was marked, as all subsequent events have been, by imagination, hard work, a swashbuckling spirit and enthusiastic drinking. Some of their earlier antics and near accidents would horrify present-day Health and Safety Officers! These have included sword fights, flying machines, a human cannon ball, a water carnival on the River Torridge, a wrestling night at the Plough and a snail eating contest!
The Cavaliers support a lot of local events and do a great deal of unsung work in the town. They hang the bunting and erect the staging for May Fair each year. They organise a bonfire and firework display at the rugby club for Guy Fawkes night. They build Santa’s Grotto under the Town Hall at Christmas and hand out hundreds of bags of sweets to local children. They get a lorry into the square for concerts on New Year’s Eve and organise the march through the town to commemorate the Battle of Torrington each February.
Cavalier bonfires over the years have included:
1973 Battleship Bismarck.
1974 Viking Ship with sails made by girls at Sudbury’s glove factory.
1975 American Fort Dearborn.
1976 World’s Tallest Guy, over 100ft when on the bonfire.
1990 Houses of Parliament. Descendants of the Gunpowder Plotters – Fawkes, Catesby and co. – came down to Torrington to join in the event.
1991 Great Train Robbery.
1996 Torrington Church as part of 350th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Torrington when the church was partially blown up.
2000 Great Fire of London (Pudding Lane).
2005 Nelson’s Victory, a truly superb half-scale model of the ship.
2010 Medieval Castle symbolising the one which once stood on Castle Hill.
2015 Trumpton, the village featured in the children’s TV programme, popular in the 1960s.
Their next bonfire, in August 2020, will be a model of the Mayflower on the 400th anniversary of its sailing to America.