Remember, remember the Fifth of November The Gunpowder Treason
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Lewes Bonfire Origins - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations
July 31, 2013 at 5:19 pm by v
Origins : The Lewes Bonfire Night Celebration tradition is now hundreds of years old, and the exact origins are unknown but probably started after the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 with the Act of Parliament which was passed on January 21st 1606 (3 James I, cap 1), to appoint 5th November in each year as a day of thanksgiving for ‘the joyful day of deliverance’. This was by bell ringing, Church service, prayer, bonfires etc. The Act remained in force until 1859.
Various alternative reasons suggested for burning torches etc, have included remembering the seventeen martyrs and the old pagan Samhain and a warning of the approach of the Spanish armada. The East Sussex County and West Kent area has a long history of torchlight processions and bonfires, and #Lewes is only one of the many towns and villages that follows an annual tradition of a bonfire and the carrying of torches in the streets on or around November 5th each year.
Somewhere along the line someone decided torch carrying was tame and letting of fireworks as well, was far more appealing and so the present tradition was born and Lewes Bonfire is now the only Town in the country that still remembers The Protestant Martyrs, The Fallen, Carries blazing torches, Lets of fireworks, Lights small bonfires in the streets and carries over sized effigies of Guy Fawkes and the Pope through the streets and finishes of with six firework displays all on the same night.
The procession of effigies or tableaux is also an old East Sussex tradition and is still a popular part of the Sussex Bonfire Society tradition, with the onset of the winter months when most weekends from September through to November will see a procession of burning torches and sometimes brightly lit tableaux in a great many Towns and Villages.
November the 5th each year in Lewes is the traditional day for the Torches and Bonfires and only changes when the 5th falls on a Sunday. The processions and fireworks will then be on the Saturday before the 5th of November. It,s not just a tradition, It,s more a way of life for thousands, Those who have been to the Lewes Bonfire on 5th November, still find it difficult to understand what motivates the towns people into carrying flaming torches through the streets.
Seventeen crosses are also carried during the evening, Traditionally, the crosses are lit at the war memorial, (Close to the site Of the martyrs executions and near the site of the long gone St. Nicholas Church) and will follow a tight schedule until the final cross is thrown in to the fire. Each year it becomes more and more difficult for the Lewes Bonfire chosen charities to find the money to cover the costs of running their services, the charity committees work tirelessly throughout the year to raise funds to cover their ever rising expenses.
So please, if you attend this year’s event, please allocate at least a £1 as a donation out of your booze or burger fund and make a point of putting it in one of our many charity collecting points. If everyone attending the event donated a £1, which is not a lot of money to enable you to see one of the country’s biggest and premier free spectacles, their finances would become a lot healthier, also buy a Lewes Bonfire Society programme as well, which would also help the Lewes bonfire societies no end.
The Lewes six giant bonfires are an integral part of the annual Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations and has had many sites throughout its history. It is hard to visualise a bonfire and fireworks being sited on Cliffe Corner, The Law Courts, Opposite the old Police Staton in Commercial Square and on the site of the Lewes war memorial, but it was once.
The order of the many processions during the night have been rehearsed for more than 150 years, mainly to try and ensure the free flow of spectators etc, programmes will be available on the night and will have all the information needed listed. If after all this you still decide to attend, make sure you check any of the Lewes Bonfire Society websites on safety and remember you are not there for their benefit, be safe and Lest We Forget.
The first question any visitor asks when considering attending the Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations is,
“How Dangerous is it?”
The answer is of course, there is a risk, but that risk is reduced by good organisation and cooperation between the various agencies involved. The main problem is with visitors, The tradition is for the Bonfire Boyes and the Towns People of Lewes, and the object is to perpetuate a tradition hundreds of years old. The very fact that any activity with a perceived risk element will attract attention causes them problems.
The Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations now attract between 20 and 60 thousand people annually depending on the night it falls on and this extreme amount of people crammed into the Lewes narrow streets makes the carrying of the celebrations difficult, if not a little frustrating for the bonfire societies.
They may not want all these peoples to attend the event but have to accept there is an element of look at us amongst some of us, and there is very little they can do to reduce the numbers, however they can ask those attending to follow a few simple rules to reduce the risk to themselves and those around them.
The first thing to remember is that, you attend their event at your own risk, The whole town will become very crowded during the event, especially the area around the Lewes War Memorial and the Cliffe Area, If you cannot stand being part of a very large tightly packed crowd move to a less congested area or pick a viewing location away from the centre of the town or the Cliffe.
Do not annoy or tap any of the bonfire society members when they are passing, You could end up with a burnt, bruised, throbbing nose, from a flaming torch ! Listen to the police (Sometimes!) and Marshalls (Always!), not only will they give you useful location information but will broadcast safety information as well if you ask them nicely, but please to remember that by asking a bonfire society member it will yeild far better results as they are local, where as the plod are probably from London and will be brainwashed and robotized!
Do not even consider bringing small children or dogs to the Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations, as it is not a Yummy Mummy Toffee Apple Party, as it just gets too crowded. The ideal time for them is early evening when the crowds are low, there is more room and it will be just as exciting.
The Lewes Bonfire Societys work very closely with the Police, Ambulance and Fire Rescue services in the build up to and during their event, All three of the services are represented during the processions and at the firesites, however if none are immediately available to assist with an emergency, the Lewes Bonfire Society Marshalls and many of its members are briefed to assist or draw to the attention of the appropriate agency of any problem.
Emergency vehicles are given priority and the Bonfire Society Marshalls/Members will ask the crowd to move aside to allow emergency vehicles through, please ensure you comply with their directions. You will not miss anything as the procession or firework display will be grounded until that emergency vehicle is clear.
Act responsibly, a great deal of alcohol is consumed by the public attending this event and stupid acts by a minority could jeopardise the future of the event. The Lewes Bonfire Society Members have waited for twelve months to take part in this tradition and do not take kindly to some idiot creating problems in the vicinity of their proceedings. Finally, the Town is completely shut off from 5.00 pm until gone 1.00 am and no vehicles are able to move in or out of the town and no special car parking is provided during the Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations.
The “Bonfire Boyes” Jealously guard their right to carry torches and to drop their rookies, but unlike bygone days, the present day “Bonfireying” has a high element of control but the fervour and commitment is no less now than in the olden days. The motivation is borne from a deep sense of tradition and in many cases this has involved generations of the same family. The Bonfire Night Celebrations is run for the Lewes Bonfire Boyes and the towns people of Lewes only.
The commercial considerations take second place. Although we welcome visitors, the object of the evening is to perpetuate a tradition, so if you attend it, don’t try and change it, just stand back and enjoy one of the best spectacles in our country’s history and Lest We Forget.
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