Tag Archives: Lewes Bonfire Society

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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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A fitting goodbye to the Bonfire King

Sadly, back in September, a man known in his local area as ‘The Bonfire King’ who had been part of the Lewes Bonfire Society for 50 years passed away.

It was only fitting that has been the driving force behind the Southover Bonfire Society that Keith Austin ashes should be scattered in some beautiful rocket bursts during the gathering of the biggest six of the Lewes Bonfire Societies on November 5th.

His friends were there in force and said that he would have agreed with the decision to scatter his ashes in this way in front of crowds of 30,000 and it would indeed have brought a wry smile to his face.

Following his passing, his coffin was carried through the streets to enable all who knew him to pay their respects.

It is becoming increasingly popular for families of lost loved ones to use fireworks to scatter ashes.

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Lewes Bonfire Society Carry On Their Traditions

Lewes Bonfire Night 2001

The Lewes Bonfire celebration is the largest event of its kind in the world and held annually on November 5th in the otherwise peaceful county town of Lewes.

The Lewes Bonfire Society has held processions through the Town since the 1800’s when following the dissolution of the earlier Guy Fawkes celebrations by Oliver Crowell 1649 – 1660, they were re-introduced by King Charles II in 1820.  The first recorded parade of Guy Fawkes, enemies etc was in November 1679 when the Pope, Guy Fawkes and others were paraded in picture form on long poles by young armed men in Lewes.

However, the Bonfire Boys of yesteryear were a little over-zealous in their celebrations and they generally deteriorated into fighting and riots and once again, the Police had to redress the balance.

By the 1850’s, celebrations were fully re-introduced in a very similar format to those of today and the parades of the Lewes Bonfire Societies were allowed back on the streets.  The original societies were Lewes Borough and Cliffe and the others, most of which continue to this day were initiated around the late 19th Century.

In 1901, a memorial was erected on Cliffe Hill by public donation to commemorate the 17 Martyrs burned in Lewes for their religious beliefs.  A service of thanksgiving is held annually for the lives lost in the name of religion.

Today, Cliffe Hill (the site of the memorial) is fully floodlit during the Lewes Bonfire celebration parade and the area is treated like a consecrated ground.

Nowadays, 25 to 30 visiting Bonfire Societies from across the County intermingle on the narrow streets of Lewes. Each of the societies begins the event by parading their quarter before joining together for the main ‘street parade’.  They carry burning torches, effigies of the famous and sometimes infamous faces from history including The Pope, Colonel Gadaffi, George Bush and whichever ‘Celebrity’ happens to be hitting the headlines at the time.

As a footnote, this is not a family event where you can pop along for a coke and a candy floss.  It feels almost like a really fancy political march but the history behind it remains fascinating as the gathered societies have a wonderful, if not a particularly safety-conscious time but when all said and done, these are adults exercising their right to free speech and long may it continue.

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