Bridgwater Life began in 1966 for the Renegades Carnival Club. Roger Evans, David Elson, Jim Bartlett, Albert Ford and a few others, got together and discussed forming a carnival club. With the exception of myself, they all worked at the Wellworthy piston manufacturing plant in Bridgwater. The company agreed that the newly formed club could use its large car parking area as a site on which the club could build its float.
During the autumn of 1966, the members met at the King William Inn, popularly known as the King Billy. It was too late to enter the 1966 carnival but in plenty of time to start the fund raising for the following year. A weekly raffle held within the factory was organised and once a week Albert Ford sat in a cubicle of the gent’s toilets folding raffle tickets ready for the draw. Skittle weekends and jumble sales were the other main fundraisers. After the third jumble sale, most of the club members were suffering from flea bites and it was decided never to do a jumble sale again.
The club’s first entry was The Rainmakers. The theme was based on the Bantain tribe of New Guinea, a tribe who wore extremely high hats in the belief that they could reach the clouds and induce rain. Brown body stocking were used to give the appearance of natives. Albert Ford, however, as the tribal witch doctor, wore a costume of straw from head to foot. This proved too much of a temptation for one spectator in Bridgwater who tried to set fire to the straw whilst Albert was still inside. The club captain swiftly leapt off the cart, inflicted serious pain on the miscreant and the procession continued, the incident almost unnoticed other than by those in the immediate vicinity. As a theme, it proved relatively successful. On the stage, this new club took fourth place, an unexpected success against the more established clubs. The success was entirely down to the use of a choreographer – Madge Hewitt of the Pantomime Society. Other clubs were soon to realise the benefits of choreography and Wellworthy were only once again to reach that fourth spot. During that year there were two incidents which could have led to disaster but were simply hilarious at the time and they both came on the same night.
Our headquarters was a river side pub, on the West Quay, now known as the Royal Marine Club. The night in question, the river was in flood and broke over the banks, which were much lower in those days with no flood defence walls. The muddy waters crossed the road and continuing to rise, came up over the kerb and then over the step into the pub. Once over the front step, it was downhill into the bar and downhill into the yard out the back. Our changing room was across the yard and the river was beginning to flood it. In the centre of the yard was a drain cover which one member removed believing that a complete river of flood water would disappear down it. Of course it didn’t, in fact the drain led straight back into the river. So now the muddy water had found another way in. The cover wasn’t replaced when it came to the time to leave our changing room and head for the stage. One member gallantly offered to carry one of the glamorous dancing girls through the muddy waters so that they could leave the pub. As he crossed the flooded yard, so he disappeared into the open manhole, still with the dancing girl in his arms. Later that same evening as we returned, and the river was just starting to subside, we walked along the recently flooded quayside, now slippery with a layer of mud, wearing ballet style dancing shoes. The shiny soles of one of our male performers hit a slippery patch and he rocketed forward and flat on his back shot into the river. It was a bedraggled warrior that climbed out of the river with drooping ostrich feathers where once a headdress had been.
On the road, success came in a different form. It rained everywhere, torrentially. It was one of the wettest carnivals on record and The Rainmakers received friendly pantomime style boos all the way around the county circuit. The club was one of the first to have female members and perhaps because of that has lacked the strength and depth of other clubs established just as long as itself. In 1977, the Wellworthy title was dropped and the club became the Renegades, which it remains to this day. Under the new name, they produced A Night with the Teds, an energetic rock and roll performance which remains one of their most enjoyable. It was one of the many times that the Renegades won the most improved on stage cup. In 1985 tragedy struck. An arson attack resulted in the float being destroyed by fire with just days to go to Bridgwater Carnival. In true carnival spirit, the other clubs, both large and small, rallied around with all forms of support. Materials and lighting equipment rolled in. Engineers, carpenters and painters rallied around. As each club approached the finish of their own float, so members were released to the Renegades and the show went on the road to the cheers of the public who knew how close the club had come to disaster. Today the club remains predominantly a young club with a high proportion of female members. Over the years, it has acted as a training ground for newcomers who have then moved on to join the more successful clubs. In that capacity, it remains a significant club and one that has not lost sight of the spirit of carnival.