Bonfire Prayers

Remember, remember the Fifth of November The Gunpowder Treason

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Bonfire Anthem

Now is the time for marching Now let your hearts be gay Hark to

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A Short History Of Our Parish - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations

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For the Consecration of the parish church at Lewes on 4th July 1962 the Holy Father sent the following telegram:

“The Holy Father is grateful for the devoted message and greetings on the occasion of the consecration of the parish church at Lewes, and cordially imparts to Your Lordship, the clergy, the religious and the faithful of the Diocese his paternal Apostolic Blessing” : Cardinal Cocognani Father Leonard O’Donnell, the parish priest, gives in the Lewes Catholic Quarterly, a short history of the parish from 1868, which we have great pleasure in reproducing as follows:

“A history of the beginning of the Mission of the Sacred Heart and St Pancras, Lewes, at Number 8 Priory Crescent, Southover, by the Very Reverend Canon Drinkwater, in 1868, who was followed by the Reverend Father Wood in 1869. It may be stated that the small Chapel, with room for about thirty people, was formed by the drawing room and a room at the back being thrown into one. From the back of the Chapel could be seen the ruins of the celebrated Priory of St Pancras.

In beginning this account, I hope I may be excused for giving a few particulars as to my conversion to the Catholic Faith. In the Spring of 1869, accompanied by two of my fellow workmen from the office of Messrs Baxter, I went one Sunday evening to the Service, which consisted of Compline, a sermon, and then Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Canon Drinkwater accompanied the singing, playing the harmonium, of course laying aside his Cope till Benediction was given. After a time we placed ourselves under instruction by Canon Drinkwater, and I was received into the Church on Friday, 13th August, 1869, making my first real Holy Communion on the following Sunday, the Feast of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady.

Of the other two, one went back to his native home in Scotland and the other, a Lewes man, became a member of the choir when our Church was built, having a splendid voice, And now, in beginning this account, I hope I may be forgiven for relating a rather droll incident which occurred on the 5th November 1869. The Borough Bonfire Society had a Southover procession, starting from The Swan, and it was accompanied by an effigy representing the Pope of that period, which was to explode opposite the Chapel.

But the Fates decreed otherwise. In spite of several torches being applied, the effigy would not go off, and there was great laughter, cheering and, of course, some swearing. It was alleged by the Bonfire people that some of the wicked papists had been at the effigy, but I never heard that any had, especially as they were few in number. A tableaux representing our little Church, which was then about half-built, was afterwards burnt at the fire opposite The White Hart Hotel.

In 1869, Father Wood’s father bought the property where our Church, Schools and Presbytery now stand, from the trustees of a gentleman named Cotton, who, it transpired afterwards, would not have let him have it had they known the purpose for which it was bought. Mr Wood also tried to buy The Shellies but, as it then belonged to a Quaker family, he failed. On January 25th, 1870, the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, the Church was consecrated by, I think, Bishop Coffin, and everything passed off comparatively quietly.

In the evening Compline was to be sung, with a sermon by the Bishop. Canon Drinkwater came down, Father McAuliffe, as he then was (Father Wood and he having been College chums), and Mr Coventry Patmore, with some of his friends, and Catholics from Brighton, Newhaven, and surrounding villages. Admission was by ticket, and Mrs Kelly and myself were at the door (Mrs Kelly was at that time a very strong and powerful woman and before the Mission was opened here used to walk to Brighton and back in all winds and weather to hear Holy Mass at St John’s, Bristol Road).

When the Church was opened, there was a crowd estimated at between 2000 and 3000, reaching some distance above Ireland’s Lane and down below The Pelham Arms, the pavements and road being completely lined with people who were singing bonfire songs, howling and jeering. Then some of the bonfire boys were let out of a window of The Pelham Arms into the passage between the latter and the Church, and made such a disturbance that scarcely anything could be heard, and the service was brought to a rather abrupt conclusion.

And then came the climax of the evening. Father McAuliffe, Canon Drinkwater, Mr Patmore and his friends, accompanied by Father Wood, who was going to the Station to see them off, were hustled and threatened by the crowd. But fortunately Dr Smythe, who lived at the house now occupied by the Y.M.C.A., seeing from his window the state of affairs, opened his door and they were able to depart in comparative peace.

As a result of the disturbance in the passage, eight persons were arrested and sentenced to six weeks imprisonment each, the Magistrates threatening to take away the licence of The Pelham Arms, which used to be the meeting place of the Borough Bonfire Society, which is now the Brewers’ Arms. After this came a comparative calm, only the door now and then being sharply rapped and the windows in the front of the Church broken by stones until they were covered by wire, as you now see.

The ways of God are truly wonderful, as you will see when I tell you that the wife of the landlord of The Pelham Arms took to coming to our Church, and then her two daughters, and that all three were received into the Church by Father Wood within two years of the disturbance, and that some years after the Mother had a holy and happy death. From the time of the opening of the Church, Father Wood received many converts,
including Mr and Mrs Hardwick and family.

The singing was extremely good in those days, four of the Misses Robsons being possessed of good voices, and four men, also with great ability. Our little Lady Chapel was added to the Church before Father Wood’s death. He was a most loveable gentleman and many a chat he used to have with me on the lawn at the back of the Church after it was locked up.

He frequently used to walk to Brighton to dine with his Father and Mother, who used to live in Brunswick Square. He was a fine looking man, strong and well proportioned, about 6ft 2in in height, and his death (caused by a clot of blood passing through the brain) at the early age of 42 was a great loss to his parents and the congregation. His Mother did much of the work on the ante-pendia and tabernacle veils. After Father Wood came Father Gaughran for a short time, and then Father Prendergast, who died in 1889.

And then we come to our later Venerable Canon, about whom I can say very little but what you already know or have heard or read. He used to bring me Holy Communion in 1889 at 11.30pm, the conditions then being that anyone not actually in face of death must have abstained from anything before receiving Holy Communion for half an hour.

When Father Wood used to have his month’s holiday every year, Father McAuliffe used to come to say Mass for him on the Sunday and Monday and I used to go to the Station on Saturday nights to meet him and bring up his bag, but he was very loathe to let me carry it. After Father Wood’s burial at Mortlake, Father McAuliffe was here for about a week, he being Father Wood’s Executor, and having a lot to see to. He used to say Mass at 6 o’clock and I used to serve it, as he had to be off to London by the 7.20 train every day.

And now, after the retirement of our late active and Venerable Canon, we come to the Reverend Father Higging, about whom it is unnecessary for me to say anything, as you were intimately acquainted with him, except that I think it was a great pity that our organ was done away with and the Sanctuary walls distempered instead of being cleaned, and the incessant begging and many collections in Church and at the Church doors. And, lastly, we come to our present Rector, the Reverend Fr Flanagan. With his advent the past Priests of…” [Here the Manuscript ends abruptly]

I am sure that we are all very sorry to discover that this little history of the parish stops, as it were, in mid air. However, I am sure that we are all most grateful to the compiler for giving us such an interesting account of the early days of our parish.

The Very Reverend Leonard, Canon O’Donnell

Taken From The Southwark Record (1962, Vol.35)

Posted in: Articles, Lewes Bonfire History, Religion And Popery Tagged in: , , , , , ,

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