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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Argus Press Cutting 2003 - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations

« Sussex Express Report 2003

Sussex Express Supp 2003 »

Fiery spectacle seen by 35,000…

An explosion of colour lit up the Sussex sky as thousands enjoyed firework displays last night. More than 35,000 people, 10,000 more than last year, flocked to the biggest bonfire party of all to enjoy the celebrations marking 150 years of Lewes bonfire. The town’s bonfire societies marched through the streets in a blaze of torches and burning barrels. A giant skull and crossbones was paraded before the crowds of people who crammed into the narrow streets to watch the grinning 10ft effigy wheel its way to the flames.

Lewes Bonfire The Argus Report 2003

It was the finale to a spectacular procession which included burning crosses and people dressed as smugglers, vikings and knights carrying flaming torches and marching proudly to brass bands. The November 5 celebrations re-enacted centuries-old traditions, with the mild weather drawing more people than many previous years. The skull and crossbones was made by the Cliffe Bonfire Society, one of two of the town’s five societies. The monster effigy, which appeared to have a single yellow front tooth in its eerie grin, wore a red Santa hat with a white bobble. Under the skull and crossbones, the symbol of Cliffe Bonfire Society were the words “150 Glorious Years”.

Lewes Bonfire The Argus Report 2003

Last year Cliffe chose George W Bush as its public enemy number one, depicted in a 30ft effigy. But this year there seemed no apparent public enemy apart from the Pope, who took his usual place in the festivities. An effigy of an angry-looking Pontiff was paraded around the town before being taken to Cliffe’s ticket-only site, where hundreds gathered for the annual burning of the Pope. Lewes Borough Bonfire Society wheeled out effigies of Bush and Tony Blair, portrayed as the two joggers from the “We’ve got your number” directory enquiries adverts. With moustaches and tousled hair, they wore white and red vest tops, while their shorts were decorated patriotically with national flags.

Although people were urged not to travel to Lewes for November 5, thousands ignored the warnings to share the celebrations. By 7pm the streets were crammed and police were telling people to saty at the bottom of the High Street due to overcrowding. At least 14,000 people packed trains to the town and while the roads leading into Lewes were gridlocked, police praised the majority who decided to take public transport instead of their cars. People stood five or six deep, craning their necks or even scaling roofs or traffic lights to get a glimpse of the passing procession.

All five societies, which also include Waterloo, Commercial Square and South Street, put on a spectacular display to commemorate Guy Fawkes 1605 plot and the Protestant martyrs burnt outside the Star Inn in Lewes during the 16th century. This year’s event upheld the annual traditions, including prayers, wreath laying at the War Memorial and rolling tar barrels. The procession included a mark of respect towards Armistice Day, with four giant poppies and a green wreath carried by soldiers.

As the United Grand Parade walked down Lewes High Street, the whole town seemed to be ablaze with torches, fireworks and burning crosses. The sky was thick with smoke and the evening was not for the faint-hearted. People had to duck back as burning torches were waved near their faces or left at their feet during the procession. Fancy dress included nuns, jesters, witches and the usual hundreds of smugglers in their striped sweaters and red neckerchiefs. Onlookers cheered as one man streaked at Waterloo’s bonfire party, running round the flames after stripping off. As the night wore on people were bombarded with what seemed like constant police notices over loud speakers, telling them to step off the road and on to the pavements, which were already full to capacity.

Party HQ tries to snuff out trouble…

Lewes’s biggest night of the year is one of the towns Liberal Democrats will be hoping to forget. Fireworks have been exploding inside the party ever since the controversial torching of a spoof traveler caravan during bonfire celebrations at Firle nearly two weeks ago. By Tuesday the detonations had reached Lib Dem headquarters in London, which sent an ‘urgent message’ on the local party’s email list. The email said: Membership of a bonfire society is incompatible with membership of the party. And the message carried what seemed 24-carat authority – This has gone all the way to Charles- the email said, a reference to Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy.

Lewes Bonfire The Argus Report 2003

Lib Dem national chief executive Chris Rennard took the unusual step of telephoning The Argus to deny membership of a bonfire society was incompatible with being in the party. Later, a second message on the overworked email list said: There is no incompatibility between membership of a bonfire society and membership of the Liberal Democrats. Many Lib Dems took part in Lewes’s bonfire celebrations last night, regardless of the catherine wheels of confusion whirling inside the party. Lewes MP Norman Baker said: “The first email was absolute rubbish. The second email represents the party’s position.

But it did not stop most visitors enjoying the excitement and sense of anarchy. Susan Bell, from Brighton, at the event with her two children, said: “There’s been a lot of standing around and waiting but it’s been worth it. The children were quite scared by the bangers going off left, right and centre, though.” By 10pm the crowds were heading for one of the five bonfire sites around Lewes and police said the night seemed to have gone smoothly, with no major incidents. Fire crews also had a quiet night, with firefighters main job being to put out dropped torches.

Lewes Bonfire The Argus Report 2003

About 340 police officers from Sussex and the British Transport Police were on duty. Four arrests were made, for breach of the peace, for being drunk and disorderly, for minor assault and for posessing drugs. Chief Superintendent Paul Pearce, incident commander for Operation Peel, said: “Lewes Bonfire is the force’s largest operation of it’s kind and it was a great success from a police perspective. The number of spectators was up on last year and the number travelling into the town by public transport was also up, suggesting people heeded our calls to travel by train or bus”. Staff at the accident and emergency department at the Royal Sussex County in Brighton, had not received a single patient with firework injuries all week, said a spokesman.

Explosive posters on route…

Posters depicting a controversial image of Big Ben exploding like the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre greeted revellers to Lewes for last night’s bonfire spectacular. Called Blacksmoke: 5/11 Post-Terrorist Modernism, the work was created by artist James Cauty and 200 posters were pinned to street lamps on the way into the town. The image, which shocked friends and relatives of September 11 victims, was released to coincide with the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot.

The Argus, Thursday, November 6, 2003 www.theargus.co.uk

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