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Work / Photography

Conor Beary documents the strange tradition of Ottery St Mary’s flaming tar barrels

When these flaming barrels rolled into our consciousness, we were instantly intrigued. While it’s nothing new to see photographic documentation of strange customs and traditions (James Pearson-Howes, for instance, has captured British Folk traditions to brilliant effect), these images by Conor Beary are no less fascinating. The photographs document a 200-year-old tradition in the wonderfully-named village of Ottery Saint Mary in Devon, which sees the streets filled with fire and wild enthusiasm.

Conor explains: “I think the West Country is known for its torch light processions and this is the villages adaptation of that. I’m not sure where it comes from traditionally but it’s thought to have links to The Gunpowder Plot.

“Whatever it is, it’s completely nuts, for a few months before wooden barrels are prepared by lining them with tar and basically anything flammable. When the streets are sufficiently busy for maximum danger the barrels are lit, lifted and carried through the street, no particular order or place to go.”

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Conor Beary: Ottery St Mary

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Conor Beary: Ottery St Mary

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Conor Beary: Ottery St Mary

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Conor Beary: Ottery St Mary

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Conor Beary: Ottery St Mary

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Conor Beary: Ottery St Mary

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Conor Beary: Ottery St Mary