Remember, remember the Fifth of November The Gunpowder Treason
Now is the time for marching Now let your hearts be gay Hark to
Press Magazine Cuttings 2000 - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations
March 26, 2014 at 5:26 pm by v
Lewes On Fire…
What would Guy Fawkes think of the Internet? : He was a man interested in the future, enough to try to change the course of history. Would he be interested in the fuss that has been made about the unsuccessful plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605? He wasn’t the only one to come unstuck that day, but his is the only name we associate with that fateful November 5th. If he’s looking down or up from somewhere now, he might see all the excitement as some consolation, but no doubt he would prefer to turn back the clock and make sure he stayed in bed.
No, perhaps he wouldn’t like the Internet. He was interested in the future, but only because he wanted to change things back to how they had been in the past. He and his fellow Catholics planned to blow up the House of Lords, kill the King and throw the Protestant government into chaos. While the leaders of the country were in confusion, the Catholic plotters hoped to put their own King on the throne and restore the rule of Rome.
As we know, the failed plot caused horrific repercussions. During the next hundred years, a succession of rulers tried to restore Catholicism and countless people of both faiths suffered or were put to agonising death. Throughout, the Protestant stronghold of Lewes fiercely supported their own cause. They celebrated the failure of the Gunpowder Plot by making it a public holiday and giving birth to the phenomenon that has become the Lewes Bonfire Boys.
Over the centuries the Bonfire Boys have made themselves felt – not always for the good. As early as 1679, Pope burning processions were witnessed in Lewes. As years passed, the celebrations became an excuse for many to march around the town inciting disorder and frightening the peaceful inhabitants.
In 1779, a poster attached to the Market House warned: “All you that have the least hand in trying to prevent the fire and fireworks in this town will come best off for it is determined betwixt us to have a fire of some sort, so if you will not agree to let us have it in peace and quietness with wood and faggots we must certainly make a fire of some of your houses….”
The event did have peaceful aspects though. Despite the Riot Act being used to attempt to restore order in 1847, an extract from the Sussex Agricultural Express of 1839 had recorded: “The Fifth of November. The celebration of the popish plot, although attended with the usual ‘Lettings off’ and tar barrels dragged through the streets, was free from any serious accident or mischief. The inhabitants of the Cliffe lit up the Coombe with a blazing bonfire, which had a very pleasing affect in the distance.”
There could well be those in Lewes today who might be happy to see the Riot Act enforced again. While they prepare every contingency plan possible to keep the celebrations friendly and safe, the Police and authorities make frequent appeals to non-residents of Lewes to keep away.
It was a similar appeal that started me wondering what Guy Fawkes would think of the Internet. Having searched the Web for information on this year’s activities, I found a huge number of entries – one politely, but firmly, telling the likes of me to keep out of Lewes on the 5th. Other sites on the Web have been set up by the Bonfire Societies and if you can’t get to Lewes this year, they’re well worth a visit. For my part, I have every intention of going along next month – if the Bonfire Boys didn’t want spectators, they wouldn’t put on such a magnificent spectacle.
Magnet, October 2000
Brewer Who Became A Martyr For His Religious Beliefs…
Deryk Carver was burnt to death on July 22, 1555, outside the Star Inn in Lewes. He paid the ultimate price for sticking to his beliefs. It is partly in memory of his martyrdom that the town’s bonfire night first became such a major event. Carver was a Flemish beer brewer who had two missions in life. The first was to introduce proper beer, made in the Flemish style using hops, to his adopted homeland. The second was to spread the word of the Protestant religion.
But while the first mission brought him nothing but popularity and praise, his religious zeal would prove to be the end of him. The martyr, whose name is variously spelt as Derick or Deryk, lead a religious community in Brighton, which was then known as Brighthelmstone. The congregation met in secret at Queensbury Mews, on the eastern side of Regency Square in Brighton, where a branch of the French Reformed Church was later built. Carver was said to have founded the church in 1550, four years before he was arrested for his heretic beliefs.
The middle of the 16th Century was a turbulent time for England. ‘Bloody’ Queen Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter by his Spanish wife Catherine of Aragon, was a fervent Catholic who vowed to restore the supremacy of her church. She set about eradicating all traces of Protestantism, which had begun to sweep through England when her father broke with the Church of Rome. Under her reign, hundreds of Lutherans and other Protestants were executed.
According to Foxe’s Book of Martyr’s, Carver’s death was a righteous one. He languished in prison for eight months before he was burnt to death, restating his religious beliefs from his cell, and refusing to recant. Foxe’s said Carver threw his bible into the crowd, where it was caught and hidden despite the sheriff’s threats to execute anyone who kept it. His last words were said to be: “Lord have mercy on me, for unto thee I commend my spirit; and my soul doth rejoice in thee”.
The Argus, Wednesday, November 1, 2000 www.theargus.co.uk
The Reasons For The Rituals…
Every year, strangely costumed people performing even stranger rituals transform the streets of Lewes. The chanting blackened faces and burning effigies have a religious background. Some of the traditions go back four centuries to a time when Lewes, like most of southern England, was governed by the favoured doctrine of the day. While everyone remembers November 5, few people give much thought to its history. When Guy Fawkes plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill Protestant King James I in 1605, his aim was to restore Catholicism to England. Guy Fawkes and his conspirators were caught and eventually put to death.
But fifty years earlier, when Mary Tudor was queen, Catholicism was favoured while Protestants were persecuted. Many of the present-day bonfire ceremonies in Lewes, particularly the Cliffe Society remember the 17 Protestant martyrs who were burned at the stake during this period. Every year there is a ritual burning of effigies, chanting and the wielding of ‘No Popery’ banners, similar to the ones carried through the town’s streets hundreds of years earlier.
Historically, the burning effigies include one of Pope Paul V, who became head of the Catholic Church in 1605, the year of the Gunpowder Plot. In the past, local Catholic leaders have condemned the ceremonies as offensive. But the event is no longer about religion but is an integral part of the history of Lewes, attracting thousands of visitors.
The Argus, Wednesday, November 1, 2000 www.theargus.co.uk
Floods Won’t Stop Bonfires…
A flood-ravaged community is casting its woes aside to prepare for its biggest event of the year. Momentum is gathering in Lewes for this Saturday’s bonfire celebrations, which many believe will be an ideal tonic after the worst floods for 40 years. Although a question mark hangs over whether some of the firework displays will go ahead, the five societies involved are adamant the rest of the celebration will – albeit with a few minor alterations.
The Lewes Bonfire is steeped in old rivalries between the five societies, which each year vie to be the most spectacular. Preparations for the event stretch throughout the year, with an army of volunteers working behind the scenes on costumes, torches and the various processions. The centrepieces of each society’s show are lavishly decorated floats, which are crammed with fireworks and set alight at the end of the evening. They are made amid tight secrecy on a topical theme and are not revealed until the night of the bonfire.
The societies – Cliffe, Waterloo, Commercial Square, Borough and South Street – parade the streets of the county town in costumed, torch-lit processions before moving to their fire sites for fireworks and bonfires. Some fire sites, however, have been left sodden by the floods and there are doubts as to whether they will be able to go ahead.
Meetings are being held with the various agencies involved to establish what changes need to be made to the programme. Despite the floods, bonfire society members are in buoyant mood. Roger Crouch, of the Cliffe Bonfire Society, said preparations for the night were taking precedent over flood repairs in his household. He said: “We’ve got no electricity, no furniture and no insurance, but here we are making costumes for the night because at the end of the day that comes first. When you are a bonfire house, it takes over your life and you will notice that as soon as you enter one because their home will be like ours, a complete mess”.
David Quinn of the Waterloo Bonfire Society and Chairman of the Sussex Bonfire Council, predicted the night would prove a real community occasion after the floods. He said: “I’m sure it will mobilize the community after the disaster and really lift everyone’s spirits. We certainly need something like this”.
Lewes made its Guy Fawkes celebrations official in 1858 when the Cliffe and Town societies formed. The Town society changed its name to the Lewes Borough Bonfire Society shortly afterwards and a debate has raged ever since about which is the oldest group. But all the societies joined forces back in 1992 when the bonfire’s traditions were threatened by an attempt to tighten safety rules drawn up by police, district Councillors and emergency services.
They wanted to ban alcohol, put up crowd barriers and stop societies from lighting the set-piece displays while the floats were being towed away. The societies were especially angry because they were not consulted about the changes, although they eventually accepted the recommendations. This year’s event is being billed as spectacular as previous years. The night falls this year on Saturday instead of on a Friday in an effort to deter large crowds. Large crowds have posed a major problem for organisers who have to ensure the safety of thousands of revellers.
Planning manager Ian Hodgeson said the Lewes Bonfire night was the single biggest annual event for Sussex Police to cover. More than 250 officers and civilians are involved in ensuring the event runs smoothly. Mr Hodgson, a former police officer, urged people from outside Lewes to stay away for safety reasons. He said: “It is a huge commitment but our aim, as with all the other agencies involved, including the bonfire societies, is to ensure the public’s safety.
The societies and ourselves recognise that when you have got tens of thousands of people crammed in confined streets with large processions and flaming torches, space is at a premium and from a safety point of view we would prefer to keep the numbers down. We would encourage members of the public to stay away and attend their local bonfires because the more people that attend the more difficult it is to maintain safety”. An information hotline has been set up on 01273 484108
The Argus, Wednesday, November 1, 2000 www.theargus.co.uk
Bonfire Society Forced To Cancel Fireworks…
Lewes Bonfire Society cancels firework display in interests of safety. The railway land nature reserve site used by South Street is under water and organisers want to keep visiting crowds to the absolute minimum. South Street will instead hold an extra procession for its membership. At the Express, time of going to press yesterday (Thursday) there was no news of other societies altering their plans. But yesterday the Sussex Police and Lewes District Council issued a joint statement appealing for the usual crowds of visitors to Lewes on Bonfire Night to stay away this year.
Connex has also decided not to run any special trains into the town. A police spokesman said: “The town has simply not had time to recover from the devastating effect of the floods and more rain is expected over the next few days. The ground is so saturated that one society has had to cancel its display. Some street lighting is still out in important areas”.
Societies might be forced to restrict the numbers allowed to watch their displays, police added. A council spokesman said the celebrations should go ahead to give Lewes people a much needed boost, but safety was paramount. The council supported the plea for a reduction in visitors who could add unwanted pressure on the difficult position Lewes was already in. Any references to the South Street firework display in our Bonfire Special Supplement should be ignored – it was printed before news of the cancellation.
Sussex Express, Friday, November 4, 2000 www.sussexexpress.co.uk
Bonfire revellers defied stormy weather forecasts and went all out to make the Lewes celebrations burn as brightly as ever. Despite floods that swamped the town just over two weeks ago, some 15,000 people filled the streets to watch the torch-lit processions. Hundreds of figures, ranging from Cavaliers, Cowboys and Indians, to Aztecs, Egyptians and Zulu warriors, were out on parade. Burning crosses recalled the dark origins of the annual celebrations, dating back to Guy Fawkes and his foiled Gunpowder Plot.
Effigies played their traditional part, including one of the Pope and another of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, portrayed as the face of a school teacher. The festivities began with children’s processions and the famous barrel runs. Each of the five societies, including Cliffe, Commercial Square, South Street, Waterloo and Lewes Borough, paid their respects to the town’s war dead by laying a wreath at the High Street Memorial.
As each procession came to an end the action switched to each of four sites dotted around the town for bonfires and fireworks. At the Waterloo site at The Brooks, a breath-taking display was watched by thousands. The only society hit by the floods was South Street, its riverside pitch being too water-sodden for use. But the members were out in force for the procession.
Simon Newman, Chairman of Commercial Square Society, felt the flood disaster had little impact on the event and that there were as many people there as ever.”We had a brilliant night. It just gets better every year”, he said. Marching with Commercial Square was the percussion band from Lewes’ German twin town of Waldshut-Tiengen, which played during the procession and at its site afterwards. Eliott Thomas, 29, of Ditchling Rise, Brighton, who works in Lewes and has seen at first hand how the town has coped with the flood, felt this year’s celebrations were particularly eventful. “I think it’s a great occasion and this year was even more special because of what the people of Lewes have been through”.
Police said the night was a success. Supt Simon Parr, divisional Commander for the Lewes area, said: “The bonfire passed off peacefully with far fewer injuries than in previous years and only a handful of arrests for minor offences”. The weather gave Lewes a break, with a still, clear night. But organisers in surrounding areas were more cautious. Celebrations at Brighton’s Withdean Stadium and at Lindfield were postponed.
Mid Sussex Leader, Thursday, November 9, 2000
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