WEST Somerset’s much-loved Christmas festival Dunster by Candlelight is to be revived by a new committee of traders following a shock decision by the organisers to cancel the event.

Traders in Dunster were left shell-shocked last month when festival founder Hannah Bradshaw announced there would be no more ‘Candlelights’ after nearly 40 years.

Mrs Bradshaw said the festival had become too large, expensive, and complicated to continue to be put on by the long-serving committee members, some of whom were now elderly.

But now a standing room-only meeting of traders held in the village’s Luttrell Arms Hotel has voted to continue to have a Christmas event in Dunster on the first weekend in December.

The 2024 event is likely to have a new name and the organisers are holding a community-wide naming competition, with entries closing on February 4.

The lanterns procession at the 2023 Dunster by candlelight Festival.
The lanterns procession at the 2023 Dunster by candlelight Festival. (George Ody)

The new committee is 10 strong and comprises representatives of various businesses, villagers, and the National Trust-owned Dunster Castle.

Its first meeting will be on February 5, the day after the naming competition closes, when individual roles will be agreed.

The initiative was praised by West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger, who told the Free Press: “This is marvellous news.

“We have all enjoyed Dunster by Candlelight over the years.

“I am delighted that the traders are getting together to continue this wonderful West Somerset tradition.”

Last week’s Luttrell Arms Hotel meeting saw Made In Dunster shop owner Jeni Fender call a vote on how many people wanted an event to continue - and nearly every hand in the room went up.

Dunster Living shop owner Nina Dodd, who arranged the meeting, said it was an opportunity for business owners, event organisers, and village promoters to discuss face-to-face what to do next.

She said so many people turned up that many were left standing in the doorway.

Ms Dodd said: “The key question was, did the business owners want the event to continue or not?

“If the answer was ‘yes’, would they want to organise it themselves or call in a professional event organiser?

Mitchell and Vincent with their flaming torches during the 2023 Dunster by Candlelight festival.
Mitchell and Vincent with their flaming torches during the 2023 Dunster by Candlelight festival. (George Ody)

“Also, if the answer was ‘yes’, would it be just a one weekend event or spread across three to four weekends in December?

“I thought the meeting went really well, the overall feel was very positive.

“Even when opinions collided, the conversation stayed civil and constructive.”

The outcome was that Dunster will hold an event on the first weekend of December (6th to 8th), the details of which would be announced later as the preparations proceeded.

Ms Dodd said: “The new committee stayed behind after the general meeting was over and I have to say that I am really looking forward to working with these people.

Knights at the stocks during last month's festival.
Knights at the stocks during last month's festival. (George Ody)

“There was great enthusiasm and openness to new ideas.

“Naturally, the new committee is aware of the amount of work and financial resourcefulness that such an event will require.”

Ms Fender said: “Volunteers are already stepping forward since the announcement was made on Discover Dunster social media platforms.

“The new committee also wishes to involve the villagers and will work closely with different local organisations and groups to make sure that the Christmas tradition of visiting Dunster in December will not be lost.

“The committee also decided that if the event continues to be charitable, the beneficiary will be Dunster village charities and organisations.”

Festive fun in the centre of Dunster during the 2023 event.
Festive fun in the centre of Dunster during the 2023 event. (George Ody)

Ms Fender said the new committee had already launched a competition for local people to create a new name for the event.

She said: “Dunster First School has already been contacted and their students and staff have promised to put their creative hats on.

“The competition is open for everybody and the winning entry will also win a prize.

“The deadline is Sunday, February 4, and the entries should be emailed to [email protected].

“When brainstorming for the names, please bear in mind that the plan for the new event is to shift the emphasis more onto local creatives, music, performing arts, theatre, etc.

“The committee is also planning on making the event more interactive by introducing workshops, a variety of craft demonstrations, history walks, ghost story-telling sessions, and competitions for the best period costumes - just to name a few of the new ideas.

“The committee will also work closely with all Dunster village organisations and charities.”

Ms Fender said the winning name would be announced on Discover Dunster social media platforms during February, when a website and social media sites would be created for the event to help residents, visitors, and business owners keep track of how the plans were developing. 

Dunster by Candlelight began in 1986 as a way of boosting trade for businesses at a traditionally quiet time of the year for visitors, and over the years it has raised more than £200,000 for St Margaret’s Hospice.

Mrs Bradshaw said the cost of putting on the 2023 festival had risen to £25,000, all of which had to be raised locally by her committee members.

The festival closure was announced in the Free Press three days before Christmas, leaving some traders upset that they had not been consulted or given an opportunity to arrange a replacement event before the decision was made public.

Many of them said the ‘Candlelight’ event was an important source of income for them during the quiet winter months.