Published November 20th, 2013 | Features
A giant success
Known for their strength and size, giants aren’t normally what you’d expect to see whilst doing your Christmas shopping! If you head down to the Forum Shopping Centre in Chester on 5th or 12th December this year though, that’s exactly what you’ll find!
Recreated in the 1990s by the city’s council, the Winter Watch Parade is now a spectacular event in its own right. In the frantic run up to Christmas, it offers late night shoppers a break from the hustle and bustle, queues and wrapping paper. The Winter Watch Parade is a small evening parade, consisting of a variety of impressive characters including Karamba Samba, The Lord of Misrule, Cooks Band, Devils, Dragons, Angels and the Tree of Life.
By getting the community involved, it adds a more emotional side to the parade
The artistic director, Russell Kirk, has led the parade for the last eight years, taking over from Mary Lewery who previously led it for ten years. Famous for her street theatre in London during the 1970s, Mary brought the combination of willow, bamboo, sponge and latex paper mache to life. Nowadays the puppets are Russell’s interpretation and he is keen to bring students and children into the preparation for the parade.
“By getting the community involved, it adds a more emotional side to the parade. We want people to get involved, especially children.”
Audience participation is encouraged and the artists welcome children getting involved with the puppets.
“We want the children to be a part of the parade and they love it, especially when they get special attention from the giants!”
Russell and his small team of artists have taken their ideas and creations into local schools and colleges developing the parade into a more community-led project.
Through funding from The Arts Council, Russell has also been able to work with a group in Carlisle. Wishing to recreate a parade of their own, Russell helped with the initial idea development, puppet creation and community involvement. His traditional yet modern techniques will allow the Carlisle group to continue with their parade for many years to come.
So how did it all begin? In Medieval and Tudor times, Chester’s magnificent Midsummer Watch Parade was renowned throughout the country. First held in 1498 it was organised by the City Guilds and is one of Britain’s oldest festivals – a tradition reflecting 500 years of the city’s history.
The outstanding features of the show were the Giants – enormous structures made of buckram and pasteboard and carried by two or more men. Giants were a common feature of Tudor pageantry in England and Europe, but Chester was unique in that the city paraded a whole family of Giants – the Father, the Mother and two Daughters.
There were also fantastic giant Beasts including the Unicorn, the Elephant, the Camel and the Dragon. Originally the Dragon was beaten by six naked boys, but this practice was banned in the late 16th century.
When and where?
Starting at The Forum Shopping Centre at 7pm, 5th & 12th December 2013, The Winter Watch Parade continues around the city centre including St Werburgh Street, Northgate Street and Bridge Street. There are performances including dance, fire breathing and sword fights in Eastgate Street, outside Brown’s of Chester and in the Town Hall Square.
Last year’s parade