The fine art of calculating the numbers at Bridgwater Carnival

A figure of 150,000 people attending Bridgwater Carnival is widely circulated by Visit England and Somerset Live while the organisers of Somerset’s most famous illuminated carnival have suggested a figure of 100,000 to the local press. When I worked for the Bridgwater Mercury as a reporter some of those involved with the carnival said 250,000 visited the carnival. How do we know these are accurate figures when there are no tickets issued for the thousands who throng the streets on a chilly November night?

Firstly there’s the number of grandstand tickets sold, the numbers of people using the park and ride, the number of coach parties, officials, residents who live on the route and those in the carnival itself. Using the Jacobs Crowd Formula* pioneered by the professor of journalism in America there is a way to estimate the numbers in the crowd lining the route. His formula is to allow a yard for each person and times it by the distance and depth.

The carnival is known for its illuminated carts each depicting a theme

The streets were lined all of the route with crowds on either side ranging from two deep to around 25 deep in places. If you accept the figure of 10 deep then over two and a half miles you get a figure of 88,000 people although the crowd is rarely more than six or seven deep meaning a more likely figure is 70,000. Yes the route is up to seven miles but that includes the long sections for assembly and departure where fewer people watch the carnival. Add to those behind the crowds in the pubs and streets, in the Town Hall and other vantage points and those working on the night such as cabbies and drivers and it is realistic to add another 5,000 people or so taking the number to around 75,000. That figure includes the 2,500 grand stand tickets and corporate and trade stands and the many who watch the parade in one place and then move to see it again from a second vantage point meaning 75,000 is a more likely number compared to the 150,000 given out by the media.

That of course doesn’t take anything away for the greatest carnival in this country outshining its rivals by its long history, creativity and fabulously exotic entries.

Harry Mottram

The next Bridgwater Carnival is on Saturday, November 7, 2020, starting at 6pm. For details visit

*Herbert A. Jacobs (April 8, 1903 – May 20, 1987) was a journalist for the Milwaukee Journal and later a professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.  U