Matlock Bath Illuminations celebrated their 125th anniversary last weekend – a week later than planned.
The scheduled opening weekend of the region’s top autumn event was cancelled following the death of Queen Elizabeth II but is now underway with special tributes to Her late Majesty.
A minute’s silence was observed on Saturday and Sunday as part of the 8pm National Moment of Reflection, when, poignantly, the event’s famous illuminated boats on the River Derwent gathered in a circle and dipped their lights.
An image of the late Queen was also projected into the bandstand, from where Geoff Stevens MBE compered the event for a 54th year, assisted by his wife Jacquie.
Geoff told Saturday’s crowds:
“I had the honour of meeting the Queen in 2012 and she asked me if the Illuminations were still continuing. When I said they were she replied ‘Long may they continue’.”
The jubilee year of the Venetian Fete – as the event was originally known – was celebrated in 1953, coinciding with the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, who sent a message wishing the fete continued prosperity and success.
The annual festival dates back to 1897 when the people of Matlock Bath celebrated Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee by illuminating their village with fairy lamps and Chinese and Japanese lanterns.
The event’s unique parade of decorated boats took to the River Derwent for the first time in 2022 and will be the centrepiece of the Illuminations entertainment organised by Derbyshire Dales District Council every weekend until 30 October.
With the maximum numbers in Derwent Gardens reduced to 4,000 this year, already many of this year’s October fireworks nights are nearing capacity.
District Council Leader Councillor Garry Purdy paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth II in his opening remarks on Saturday and praised the Matlock Bath Venetian Boat Builders for their spectacular crafts, two of which pay tribute to the late Queen.
“This is a special year for the Illuminations and the tribute to Her late Majesty throughout the season will be moving.
“As always, we are proud as a council to make the Illuminations happen and provide a much needed boost for local businesses, effectively extending the tourist season here in the Derbyshire Dales. This historic event attracts as many as 100,000 visitors into the area during the Illuminations season.”
After the lights switch-on well over 2,000 opening weekend visitors were asked to cast their votes for their favourite of the nine boats on show. The winner of a £1,000 cash prize and the Arkwright and Centenary Cups will be announced at the Illuminations on Saturday 24 September.
Many other trophies are up for grabs for the runners-up and it's a friendly competition, with all non-prize winners receiving £600.
The traditional candle boat, which goes out before the main parade and is constructed by all the boat builders to show how the models used to look a century ago, is a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, featuring Union and Jubilee flags. It is lit with more than 70 night lights in small glass jars.
Themes of the spectacular main parade, all featuring as many as 800 LED bulbs, include ‘Jubilee Tree of Lights’, ‘Fred Flintstone (who needs fuel anyway’), ‘Peppa Pig’, ‘Wrecker’, ‘Black Buck’ (Vulcan Bomber), ‘Jet’, ‘Musical Box’, ’50 Years of Disney’ and ‘Nearly There Gromit’.
The boat builders are David Gregory from Matlock, who is competing for a 51st year, Paul Henshall, also from Matlock, competing for a 47th year, David and Rory Harrison and Matthew Hall, all from Ashbourne, Taylor Hambleton-Harrison, Ian Page from Cromford and Matlock’s ‘The Motley Bunch’ Christine Dence, Richard Wood and Pete Hartshorn.
It continues to be free for accompanied under 16s to attend the Illuminations and cheaper adult tickets can be bought online in advance at www.derbyshiredales.gov.uk/illuminations - £1.50 cheaper than on-the-night tickets. Concessions are available for OAPs and disabled visitors.
Park and Ride services from Cromford Meadows to Matlock Bath Pavilion will operate from 5pm-10.30pm on the fireworks nights every Saturday in October and the final night of the season, Sunday 30 October, which will feature a low-noise display.