Weymouth Carnival

Men in red uniforms playing instruments in a marching band with spectators behind

The new team behind Weymouth Carnival has big plans for 2024. They’re working to revive this major big festival, after a few years of it being dormant. 

For decades Weymouth Carnival was a highlight in the seaside summer calendar. It brought in funfairs, marching bands, the Red Arrows and, of course, thousands of visitors.

Carnival crowds last gathered in 2018. They lined the streets for the grand procession, turning out to enjoy baton-twirling majorettes, military re-enactors, community floats and, of course, the Red Barrows (not associated with the Royal Air Force display team of a similar name).

We’re all hoping that the planned revival in 2024 will go ahead, with Weymouth seafront again buzzing with carnival excitement in August.

Weymouth Carnival will be on Wednesday 14 August 2024.

So much variety in Weymouth Carnival

There’s been so much to see at Carnival over the years. In addition to the Red Arrows, the sky has been busy with other aerial displays including hot air balloons, wing-walkers, parachutists from the RAF Falcons and Royal Marines, and flypasts by Spitfires and the Lancaster bomber of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

Entertainment at ground level has been even more varied. Carnival queens, and sometimes kings, barrel-rolling, displays by search and rescue teams and the RNLI, water skiing demonstrations, fun runs, prize draws, trolley races and, at the end of it all, a firework display and the bright lights of the funfair.

In days gone by, Weymouth Carnival was an all-day event, traditionally held on a weekday in the middle of August. Old programmes show a packed schedule of activities and events, starting mid-morning and running on almost to midnight.

When did Weymouth Carnival begin?

Curiously, for an event that’s massively popular, drawing crowds of up to 70,000 people, it’s not easy to discover when Weymouth Carnival started. Old photos suggest it goes back to the 1930s, perhaps even the 1920s, and who knows whether it has deeper roots than that.

Some old carnival programmes survive from years ago, to remind us of what went on back then. Events they list include: tug-of-war contests (separate contests for men and women), fancy dress displays, search light displays (after dark, of course), sand castle competitions, and obligatory speeches by local dignitaries.

In this age of TikTok and instant messaging, some of what went on years ago can sound boring. But back then, for many people taking a seaside holiday was stepping into another world. Being in Weymouth during carnival week took them to another planet.

Nine red aircraft flying in formation trailing coloured smoke

Visitors love the Weymouth Carnival spectacle

 Over the years many towns have lost their fairs and carnivals because they don’t always fit in well with modern life. These big community events take time and effort to plan and deliver, and they rely heavily on volunteers. They’re also increasingly expensive to organise, meaning sponsorship and donations are required.

Weymouth Carnival has been a survivor, keeping going well into this century. One reason for that is the appeal to tourists. Thousands of people take their summer break in Weymouth, with many coming back year after year to enjoy the fabulous beach, water sports and the varied scenery. The local people who organise the carnival welcome the holiday crowds, and want to help make their time in the town extra special.

The carnival wasn’t the only event laid on to entertain both locals and visitors. When Weymouth had a larger fishing fleet there was an annual trawler race. Once the vessels were decorated for the day, it looked very much like the carnival, but on the water.

The harbour water still hosts another, increasingly popular event, which takes place on Christmas Day. Hundreds of people line up to swim from one side to the other, cheered on by the hundreds more who choose to stay warm and dry. Again, there’s a carnival atmosphere, with a good number of the swimmers choosing to make the crossing in fancy dress.

The future of Weymouth Carnival

The carnival took a break after the summer of 2018. Plans to revive it in 2020 were scuppered by the Covid pandemic. But there’s always been a crowd of carnival enthusiasts, keen to keep this historic tradition alive.

We’re looking forward to Weymouth Carnival 2024. When we get more news, we’ll let you know. To stay in touch, sign up to our emails or follow us on social media.