This photograph was included in the book by Homer Sykes Once a Year: Some Traditional British Customs (Gordon Fraser, 1977)
Homer Sykes on the depicted tradition:
The organizers and participants in the Allendale tar-barrel parade are known as 'guisers', or people who adopt a guise. Nearly all are local men, some of whom are chosen as carriers of the tar-barrels. Usually the latter are men over seventeen years of age, who have helped with the preparations, or whose father carried a barrel in the past. Traditionally a guiser wears fancy-dress, which he should have made himself. At one time this was nineteenth century dress - top hat, kid gloves and a white waistcoat. The tar-kits, as the tar barrels are known, are old beer or herring barrels cut in half. About fifteen inches is removed from each piece which is then filled with shavings and the broken-up middle section, and paraffin poured over it. Each barrel usually weighs about thirty to forty pounds. Recently, with the decline of the coopering trade, it has become increasingly difficult to obtain the necessary barrels so that of the forty to fifty carried in the proces sion only a few are thrown on the bonfire each year, so that the others can be used again. As elsewhere on New Year's Eve, celebrations start early in the evening.
On their way to town, the guisers visit friends and outlying neighbours, but by nine o'clock they have all gathered in the town to visit the five pubs and the two hotels. Shortly before midnight the Allendale band strikes up and those guisers who are carriers collect their tar barrels from the marshalling area beside the church. The band leads the way across the market place to the Wesleyan Chapel, where it turns, marches down the main road to the old town school, turns again and goes up Store Bank back to the market place and the bonfire which they circle and light by throwing down their tar barrels and singing 'Auld Lang Syne' as midnight strikes. When the flames have died down the guisers go 'first-footing'. When the celebrations were a local affair, first-footing used to take in all the villagers, who held open house for the guisers. Unfortunately, nowadays the number of open houses is much fewer due to a certain amount of drunken rowdyism, caused by the popularity of the occasion. However, there are guisers who still go first-footing and receive traditional refreshment, though at no time did all the guisers fulfill all the conditions necessary to do this, namely to be tall, dark and carrying a piece of coal.
The first record of the celebrations is in the Hexham Courant of 1884, although they were probably practised sometime before then. New Year's Eve, or Hogmanay, is of course a much more celebrated occasion in the north than the south, and Allendale 'would feel the influence of Scotland strongly. Fire festivals are another feature north of the border. One plausible account of its origin appeared in the Hexham Courantpi 1933: I had an idea that the late Mrs John Foster possessed knowledge of the beginnings of the affair. On Saturday night, round the bonfire Mr J. J. Foster gave me chapter and verse ... 'About seventy four years ago Miss Russell, as Mrs Foster then was, let her two brothers out to play in the band on New Year's Eve, she going shortly after to watch-night service in the Old Wesleyan Chapel. The night was so wild that the tallow candles to light the music stands, while band played the old year out and the new year in, would not burn. Some bright spark suggested a tar bar'l. It was got lighted and the band played round it.' At about that time the band was known as the Braes of Allen Band and it was customary for it to accompany Methodist hymn singers on New Year's Eve.