Bridport's Onion Jack festival's back for another year

Bridport's Onion Jack festival's back for another year

Published by George Sharpe at 12:01am 13th October 2019.

The event at West Bay celebrates an almost 200-year-old tradition of onions being ferried to the UK from France.

Boatloads of onions were carried across the Channel from Roscoff by 'Onion Johnnies'.

Who are the Johnnies?

Recognisable by their striped Breton T-shirts, berets and bicycles, Roscoff famers have been crossing the channel for nearly 200 years to sell their pink onions, garlic and other local products in shops and on street corners throughout the UK.

Where does the tradition come from?

In 1828, Henri Olivier, a poor man from Roscoff and orphaned at the age of 20, embarked on a journey that would soon play a part in Brittany's History.

He was struggling to survive from the land he inherited when a crazy idea came to his mind: why not sell onions in neighbouring England?

Onion Johnnies 2

British production at the time was not enough to meet consumer needs whereas the harvests of onions in the Roscoff region were in abundance. With three friends to help, he chartered a boat, filled it up with pink onions and they took to the sea.

He started by selling directly to the people and it was when the Johnnies' trade was born, expanding little by little to the whole Kingdom.

What's happening this year?

The Onion Jack tour comes to West Bay next weekend (18th-20th October) and will include:

  • Breton traditions and products
  • Parade of the Johnnies with Breton horses
  • Gigs and street art performers from Brittany
  • Activities and entertainment for children

To give you a taste of what the festival might be like, they've written a song:

Onion Johnnie and President of the tour Laurent Caroff said:

"At a time where the internet is the place to shop, we aim to take you on a journey back in time, by land and sea. 

"We will make our way to England, along with retired Johnnies to lend a hand, by sailing like old times - celebrating Henri Olivier's path, his bravery, vision and open mindedness."

Laurent added:

"We have always had a good relationship with people in Bridport. We know people there now and we've become a family."

'Green' onions

The 2019 tour is conscious of its environmental impact.

The Johnnies want to use the Onion Jack Tour to promote the most eco-friendly energies possible: human physical effort, passion and tradition. 

Onions will be harvested by hand and transported to the port of Roscoff, to then arrive in Great Britain where they will be unloaded and transported to West Bay by horses. 

Sailing boats will be dependent on wind power energy. 

You can find out more about the festival on their website.