Category Archives: Bonfire Societies

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Bonfires and fireworks have been used for a Millenia to celebrate all manner of things including victory and deliverance and the Bonfire Societies of Sussex have been at the forefront of such events for most of them. Following on from the failed plot of 1605 by Guy Fawkes, Robert Catesby and co, King James ordered that henceforth Bonfires were to be lit but the history of the Bonfire Societies go back a further 50 years to the reign of Queen Mary 1st (aka Bloody Mary) who mercilessly persecuted Protestants under the guise of being heretics killing several hundred during her reign. As a devout Catholic, she was wholly unimpressed by the changes to the church by her father King Henry VIII and she was resolute in deciding to punish all those who had decided to change to the less formal Church of England.

The Bonfire Boyes and Belles started in the early 17th century but by the late 18th century they were pretty much forgotten but by the 1820’s large contingents of Bonfire Boyes were rioting and causing havoc throughout the region.

Annually, Lewes Bonfire Society carry 17 burning crosses through the town before a wreath is laid at the War Memorial in the centre of town and burning tar barrels are then thrown into the River Ouse both in memory of those who lost their lives in the name of religion and in defiance of authorities who had in the past tried to stop the Bonfire Boyes from their mildly anti-religious/anti-political ministrations.

1/9/18 – UCKFIELD CARNIVAL SOCIETY

8/9/18 – CROWBOROUGH BONFIRE AND CARNIVAL SOCIETY

15/9/18 – MAYFIELD BONFIRE BOYES AND BELLES

22/9/18 – BURGESS HILL BONFIRE SOCIETY

29/9/18 – ROTHERFIELD AND MARK CROSS BONFIRE SOCIETY – EASTBOURNE BONFIRE SOCIETY

6/10/18 – HAILSHAM BONFIRE SOCIETY

13/10/18 – HASTINGS BONFIRE SOCIETY

20/10/18 – NORTHIAM BONFIRE SOCIETY – SEAFORD BONFIRE SOCIETY – NEVILLE JUVENILLE BONFIRE SOCIETY – NINFIELD BONFIRE SOCIETY – FLETCHING BONFIRE SOCIETY

27/10/18 – LITTLEHAMPTON BONFIRE SOCIETY – EWHURST AND STAPLECROSS BONFIRE SOCIETY – NEWICK BONFIRE SOCIETY

3/11/18 – BATTLE BONFIRE SOCIETY

5/11/18 – LINDFIELD BONFIRE SOCIETY – EDENBRIDGE BONFIRE SOCIETY

5/11/2018 – EAST HOATHLY AND HALLAND CARNIVAL SOCIETY – ROBIN HOOD BONFIRE SOCIETY

10/11/18 – SOUTH HEIGHTON BONFIRE SOCIETY – CHAILEY BONFIRE SOCIETY – ISFIELD BONFIRE SOCIETY

17/11/18 – ROBERTSBRIDGE BONFIRE SOCIETY

24/11/18 – HAWKHURST BONFIRE SOCIETY

If you are of a mind to keep a tradition of acknowledging the history of the Sussex region for both its community spirit and to help to raise funds for charities.

Charities like You Raise Me Up which provides much-needed funding to support families who have lost a child between 16 and 25 who know first-hand the pain of such loss, and Rainbow Bridge Equine Rescue which rescues and rehomes horses and ponies from across the region. There are usually two nominated charities each year for the Bonfire Societies so plenty of support being given.

There aren’t many celebrations of yesteryear left thanks to the ‘politically correct’ joy removers in our nanny state who have already cleansed us of games of conkers, competitive sport in school and climbing trees so if you would like a new and wholly community centred pastime which supports both the community and worthy causes, get in touch with your local bonfire society for more details.

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SUSSEX BONFIRE SOCIETIES

Bonfire Night is not limited to one day for these flamboyant historians but rather a way of life. Annually, 35 Bonfire Societies, some of which can trace their origins back hundreds of years, even to before the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 take part in celebrations around Bonfire Night and particularly in recognition of the loss of life of some of their own townspeople during the Marian Persecutions of the mid 16th century.

who's got the marshmallows?

The people of the town of Lewes were incensed by the actions of Mary Tudor, Mary I of England who refused most emphatically to accept the Church of England or Protestant faith as her own and proceeded to put to death any non-catholic’s as punishment. Married to Philip II of Spain, a devout Catholic and widower, she was unstoppable. Having taken the crown from Lady Jane Grey, who only managed to keep the throne for a matter of days, she wanted to quickly and resolutely return England to Catholicism by any means necessary.

By the end of 1554, the Marian Persecutions had begun in earnest and anyone found to be non-catholic was thrown into jail and kept in appalling conditions. Bearing in mind that the prisons were already packed to the rafters, the women, children and Protestant clergy were all treated disgracefully but she paid them no regard. The biggest name amongst those who persecuted the Protestants was Bishop Bonner who eventually met a richly deserved end as a prisoner of Elizabeth I.

Anyone caught reading the Holy Bible, not in Latin were immediately seized. Sadly, one such group of men were having one such meeting when they were caught taking part in Bible study. They were detained and transferred to Newgate Prison in London to await the hearing. When they appeared before the courts, their fate was already sealed and sentence was passed; the four men would be burned outside the Old Star Inn in Lewes, before their friends and families to make them even more fearful than before.

Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations : A Raging Fire At The Cliffe Bonfire Society (CBS) Firesite

On 22 July 1555, Dirick Carver, John Launder, Thomas Iveson and William Veisey went to the place of execution. Dirick Carver was clutching his Bible when the executioner grabbed the bible and thew it into one of the tar barrels on the fire before the men were also dragged onto the pyre. Carver retrieved his bible and launched it into the crowd. His last words were defiantly in praise of God. The bible was hidden and remains preserved to this day in the Lewes Museum still bearing the blood of Dirick Carver.

These were just a handful of the hundreds of men, women, and children who died at her hand during her reign of a mere 5 years but whilst it was literally hundreds of years ago, these souls are still remembered with an annual torchlit parade which attracts up to 80 thousand people to the area annually on 5th November. I would add that this is not a family event as there are flaming torches and barrels of tar all around but if you want to learn a little more about the historical impact of this period to all of the area, it is certainly worth adding to your bucket list.

Today, whilst still remembered and acknowledged, the Bonfire Society’s main aim is to bring about forgiveness, acceptance and of course freedom to everyone whatever their religious or political standpoint. That said, the Bonfire Societies take no prisoners when it comes to their anti papism stance and indeed over the years, they have had more than a few digs at the pope and other political figures. But as the law states that the country should all be Protestants, they stand their ground that freedom of expression and the choice of which religion to follow should be a human right and not as allowed by the ruling factions.

The Bonfire Night tradition started in earnest in 1606 upon the first anniversary of the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot when King James I decreed that Bonfires should be lit in every part of the country in celebration of it.

Whilst Lewes may be one of the better knowns of the Bonfire Societies, there are as mentioned currently 35 of them which vary from the adult only to the family-friendly Carnival Societies. Originally there were almost 100 societies but today, wholly dependent on fundraising and local community support, this number has seen some improvement since the numbers were below 20 at one point.

All of the societies have their own traditional fancy-dress theme and these are integral to the event. In fact, in some cases, if the fancy dress is not quite in meeting the requirements, the wearer may not be given the opportunity to join in the festivities.

Some of the themes are:

• PIRATES
• ROMAN GUARDS
• SMUGGLERS
• CONVICTS
• PEARLY KINGS AND QUEENS
• COWBOYS AND INDIANS
• TUDOR ROYALS
• VIKINGS

There used to be a crowd of the Lewes crowd who were Zulu warriors which had been using the theme since the mid 1940’s but they were asked a couple of years ago, in the interests of political correctness to stop this practice as it was causing offence to the dance group performing alongside them, who were all of African descent. They may instead go with green face paint instead as the message remains the same ‘express yourself safely and without retribution’.

Bonfire View #17

If you do live in the Sussex or Kent areas, and would be interested in joining in, get in touch with your local Bonfire Society (details are available online for anyone with a yearning to set fire to stuff) and I am sure that they would welcome the help.

The events are planned almost on an annual rolling basis with a Bonfire Night being held almost every week from mid-September onwards but again, we recommend that you check out the Sussex and Kent Bonfire Society’s website for more details.

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Sussex Bonfire Societies

The Sussex Bonfire Societies are responsible for a series of Bonfire Festivals around Central and Eastern Sussex along with Surrey and Kent between September and November.

The societies hold celebrations to mark both Bonfire Night for Guy Fawkes’ capture and in recognition of the deaths of the 17 protestant martyrs who were burned in front of the Star Inn between 1555 and 1557, some 48+ years before Guy and his co-conspirators tried to take the lives of King James and the whole of the British parliament and supporting advisors including Judges and any number of Lords. The original structure still stands to this day and is now used as the Town Hall. Sadly, this is not the first or last death in the name of religion or ‘faith’ but let’s hope that there are lessons learned.

The societies are dotted about the region but by far the biggest celebrations take part in Lewes where they have 7 separate Bonfire Societies including Cliffe, Commercial Square, Lewes Borough, South Street, Waterloo, Neville Juvenile and Southover. Most of the members of the Lewes Societies hold their events on the 5 th November as is tradition other than the Neville Juvenile Society who hold theirs the Saturday a couple of weeks before hand.

The Lewes Bonfire Societies origins can be traced back an act declared by the King, thankful for the foiling of the plot to take his life declared that from henceforth, an Act entitled ‘An Acte for a publique Thancksgiving to Almighty God everie yeere of the Fifte day of November’ was passed in January 1606 that proclaimed the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot should ‘be held in a perpetual emembrance’ which the societies continue to celebrate to this day.

Now don’t be under any illusion that the Bonfire Society events are anything less than spectacular but they are certainly not a family night out. They burn an effigy of the Pope rather controversially and of course, a Guy Fawkes who was an ardent follower of the Catholic faith as seen in his attempts to kill of the representative of the Church of England, King James. The celebrations include huge parades through the streets carrying all manner of things including torches, burning crosses, letters spelling out the initials of their particular organisation, skull and crossbones and the Cliffe society carries massive flags saying ‘no popery’ which incidentally ‘the establishment’ tried to prevent in the 1920’s and again in 1933 the Mayor of the town wrote a very nice letter asking the society to stop such practice. Needless to say the society wrote back declining the request and again in 1950’s the other societies attempted to stop them in continuing this practice and to this day, they march alone on the ‘fifth’.

For anyone with a taste for fireworks and excitement, based around the Gunpowder Plot and the history of the Sussex area, these societies offer a fascinating insight and a never before seen way of celebrating life and long may it continue.

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