Ellesmere Winter Festival Lantern Procession: Fizzgigs, Fantastical Vessels and Albatrosses

After the success of last years Ellesmere Winter Festival Lantern Procession there seemed little doubt we would do it again this year. With this in mind and the idea of staging other community arts events in Ellesmere throughout the year, a committee was formed and gained a name… ‘Fizzgigs – The Ellesmere Community Arts Group‘.
This is a group of enthusiastic people from in and around Ellesmere who simply want to make arts events happen in the town.
Firstly there was the all the required begging for funding which Cathy had bravely (or foolish) taken on.  This then also led onto a fund raising Ceilidh, and the first outing for the ‘Fizzgigs Ceilidh Band’! Once we had enough funding we could then set about planning, plotting and scheming for what we wanted do…
For quite a few years as part of the Winter Festival in Ellesmere, Father Christmas has arrived in the town and then paraded through the streets before settling down in his Grotto in the Market Hall. Last year the lantern procession accompanied him in this and guided him into the town. In past years he had also arrived by narrow boat on the canal which to us seemed quite apt.
This year we were given the opportunity to take on this part of the Winter Festival ourselves. It was decided early on that we would want to do something a little different. We wanted to avoid a traditional Coca-Cola type ‘Santa’ and wanted to take a step back and bring ‘St Nicolas’ into the town, but in an ‘Old Father Winter’ kind of way. As St Nicolas is often known the patron saint of sailors we eventually decided to go with a theme of boats’ ships and sea life.  A flotilla of boats to be led by an Albatross!


And so the building begins

Cathy and myself were both keen to build lanterns again this year and so Cathy volunteered to build the Albatross that would guide the procession.  Initially I wasn’t sure what I would be doing but our idea required a ‘Fantastical Vessel’ so after some deliberation of who might build it I volunteered for the job.

The problem was this would involve some skills that I simply do not have.  There seemed to be a distinct requirement for a good deal of welding and grinding in this Vessel!  I was lucky enough to enlist Peter Cartilidge as the ‘Fizzgigs Chief Engineer’!
I presented Peter with a plan for the frame for our Fantastical Vessel’.  I use the term ‘plan’ very loosely here as it has to be said it was a ‘not-to-scale’, ‘sort of this shape’, ‘sort of like that’, ‘you know what I mean’..ish type plan but Peter locked himself into his Garage and commenced with the grinding and welding.


The Fantastical Vessel ‘chassis’ and the ‘Fizzgigs Chief Engineer’

He produced a wonderful frame which would be the base of the Lantern.  The idea was that the withie  and paper lantern would cover all of the frame and be lit so that nothing of the frame is seen at all.  It would have a platform at the back for St Nicolas to stand and a central mast too!
Once this in the Market Hall I started to build the withie shape and attached it to the frame.  There were several small modifications required as we went along but Peter and Roger Garland (a.k.a. The Fizzgigs Engineering Department) sorted things out in their chirpy and happy way.


Workshops and withies

While this was going on the workshops seemed to be going well.  There were plenty of large lanterns and smaller ‘pyramid’ lanterns being built.  Cathy brought her Albatross down to the Market Hall and worked on it where possible but mostly she was caught up in helping with the workshops and so did most of her building at home.  As the Albatross had been designed to have removable wings it made transport possible but the Fantastical Vessel had now grown to around 14 feet long.
A mast was put together by Roger and Tony Boyes and Peter started to make a Crows Nest while Gavin Lewrey finished the swirl on the prow which I had feared I would have to sacrifice due to lack of time.  Lots of helping hands, always good!


Our lanterns both take shape

As time got short getting the lighting fitted into the lanterns and getting them papered became a bit more of a push.  I had several sets of cheap string lights inside the Fantastical Vessel which would normally each have their own switch and AA batteries but they were all modified and wired up to one battery pack thanks to Bob Richards (…’Fizzgigs Electrician’).
Hillary and John (a.k.a. H & JP) came along and started the papering while I finished the structure one evening but we had less than a week to go at this point.  Cathy had also started to skin the albatross but it was taking quite a while, no pressure then…


Tissue, latex and sticky fingers

There was a Wednesday night session to get the skinning of the Vessel finished after the workshop.  With the help of Rosemary, Tony, Peter and Hillary we got it done.  A big thank you needs to go out to Sophie Handy here for working until 1.30am with me to get the last bits done.
This year we commissioned Sophie Handy, a lantern artist, to lead the community and school workshops. She brought different ideas and lots of enthusiasm to the workshops which was great. We ran four community workshops in total. Cathy got involved in the running of these but I was tied up with the Fantastical Vessel.  We also ran some workshops in Lakelands Academy which I did manage to help a bit with.
There were a few finishing touches of greenery for the back of the Vessel that were added by Tony, Rosemary and Hillary and it was done!  Cathy managed to finish the Albatross on the very day of the procession and so we were ready to go.
The day itself was a bit damper than we would have liked and certainly a bit windier but all went well for everyone I think.  St Nicolas looked splendorous in his colourful costume and greenery that Mary Lewrey had produced.  He was quite a sight as he arrived at the Wharf on a narrowboat lit by flaming torches.

All I can say is a very big thank you to everyone that got involved in this and helped to make it happen.  Tony and Mary Lewery especially.  They have both put in a great deal of creative work and time to make this something special that happens right here in Ellesmere.  Mary created a great vision of our St Nicolas, both festive and seasonal yet removed from the traditional ‘Santa’ and Tony seemed determined to have fire torches in the streets of Ellesmere and it was all the better for it.  For Cathy and me it was good to see our creations from last year (Pikey & Jack Frost) out again and to add new ones this year too.

Thanks to Ian Wright we have some great photo’s of this event and Tracy Piper-Wright produced a film of the procession, links to both are here;

So, what’s next!   😀


The Fantastical Vessel. Finished!


…and in the procession.


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