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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Press Magazine Cuttings 2002 - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations

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Societies Concern` Over Fireworks Bill…

Lewes Bonfire societies say legislation against the indiscriminate sale of fireworks will not affect November 5 celebrations. But there is concern that a complete ban on the sale of fireworks to the general public would create a black market and, even worse, encourage people to make their own fireworks at home. The RSPCA is backing a Ten Minute Rule Bill to control fireworks, tabled by Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North. The Bill calls for regulations to restrict the use of fireworks to specific times of the year and hours of the day, and also aims to ensure that trained organisers control public displays.

Societies` Concern Over Fireworks Bill

This week Lewes Bonfire Council Secretary Keith Austin said he understood the chances of the Bill getting through were remote. But he did not think any such legislation would affect the organisation of Bonfire Night in Sussex. Our societies in Sussex are trained and professional in every way, he added “They have enormous expertise”. “As for restricting the sale of fireworks to members of the public, we would not have a problem with that”. “The only thing that concerns me is a complete ban on the sale of fireworks to individuals as this could result in a black market or, worse still, home made manufacture with all its attendant risks”.

Sussex Express, Friday, March 22, 2002


Criticism Of Lewes`s November 5 Celebrations 1952…

Criticism of Lewes’s November 5 celebrations is not a new phenomenon, it seems. This extract from 50 years ago publicises a high profile attack on the religious aspect of the Bonfire Night extravaganza in the town. The article details a spat between Aytoun Ellis, criticising the ‘bigotry’ of bonfire, and WH Penfold, who defended the ‘historic’ traditions:

Criticism Of Lewes`s November 5 Celebrations 1952

“It is high time we cremated or embalmed and buried the religious aspect of bonfire”, said Mr Aytoun Ellis, a Vice-President of Southover Bonfire Society, pleading at the society’s second annual supper at Wyndham’s on Saturday for more carnival and less of the memories of religious intolerance. A staunch supporter of the Cliffe Bonfire Society of which he is Vice-Chairman, Councillor WH Penfold made a vigorous reply in an interview with an “Express-Herald” reporter.

“Unless they are kept alive, he said, historic associations are soon forgotten, and only the spirit of carnival remains”. Mr Ellis, toasting “Kindred Societies”, and the “Bonfire Council” said he used to live near Scriven Hall, Knaresborough, the home of Guy Fawkes. If anyone lit a firework or a bonfire there in the past they were likely to be ducked in the pond. “There was almost as much bigotry there as there is on the other side of Cliffe Bridge at Lewes”, he said. Councillor Penfold replies: “Our ‘No Popery’ banners do not refer to the present Pope. Some of our regular supporters are Catholics: obviously they have no misunderstanding of the situation.”

Sussex Express, Friday, January 25, 2002


Adding A Banner…

Waterloo Bonfire Society has yet another street parade banner to add to its November 5 collection. This one, painted by local artist Julian Bell, and made by retired signwriter John Geering, was presented on Tuesday to Waterloo Chairman David Quinn. It will be carried at the front of the smugglers section of the Waterloo processions.

Adding A Banner

Sussex Express, Friday, January 25, 2002


Sad Farewell To Matthew, 35…

Firework mortars were let off in the best Lewes bonfire tradition on Monday to mark the passing of Matthew Miles, 35, suddenly at his Queens Road home on June 4 from coronary artery thrombosis. More than 150 people attended Matthew’s funeral and cremation in Brighton, followed by a reception in the function room of the Dorset Arms, Lewes. Matthew, a builder, was a keen member of Cliffe Bonfire Society and a founder member of its Cliffe volunteer fire brigade section. Said Cliffe Chairman Andy Freeman: “He was a valued member who was always ready to lend a hand. He will be missed”.

Sad Farewell To Matthew, 35

His widow Linda, 33, this week told the Express that on the evening of June 3, Matthew an apparently perfectly fit young man, developed a stomach upset. “I had the same thing the previous day. It was a bug”, she said “The next morning he was still ill and I called the doctor out. He confirmed that it was a bug and told him to stay in bed and keep warm. Three hours later he was dead”.

It is not thought there was any connection between the sickness and Matthew’s death. A post mortem confirmed that he died from a massive blood clot in his heart. He leaves three children, Thomas 10, Jessica, 8, and Harry, 6. Thomas plays for Bridgeview junior football club and Matthew was a supporter. Shortly before the junior team went on a playing trip to France, he bought them all England soccer hats. Matthew was also a season ticket holder at Brighton and Hove Albion. Both clubs sent flowers.

Matthew attended Lewes Technical College and then started work with Philcox Brothers. Later he joined Cheesmurs as a carpenter. He became a site agent and then this year formed his own building contractors firm with a friend. He had a passion for fund-raising for Leukaemia Research and took part in walking, running, abseiling, rock climbing and bungee jumping events to raise cash for the charity.

Sussex Express, Friday, 21 June 2002


Hint Of Smoke In Harveys Bonfire Boy Ultimate BBQ Beer…

Harveys Brewery in Lewes held a celebration barbecue to mark its latest success in the beer market. At this year’s Beauty of Hops competition, Harveys Bonfire Boy was joint winner of the ‘ultimate barbecue beer’ category. Highly roasted malts are used in its production to give a slightly burnt quality and a hint of smoke.

Hint Of Smoke In Harvey`s Bonfire Boy `Ultimate BBQ Beer`

And Harveys brought out quantities of the beer to test its mettle at a special barbecue at the newly refurbished John Harvey Tavern in Bear Lane, the brewery’s brewery tap. The ale went down splendidly well alongside spit-roasted lamb, Sussex hopped sausages, cajun chicken and ‘bonfire boy’ mushroom burgers. And the Expedient Jazz Band provided much appreciated music.

Sussex Express, Friday, August 2, 2002


Off With A Bang…

It would be interesting to know if it is now open season in Lewes as far as fireworks are concerned. Last night, Saturday 25, between 10pm and 11pm, there was a display in this area that was utterly irresponsible. The noise and the vibration rattled the windows, and the explosive flashes resembled an air raid rather than an entertainment.

Off With A Bang

I am sure it was a wonderful event for people involved, but I do not think that it is unreasonable to demand that firework displays of such magnitude are confined to open ground on November 5, so that everyone knows what to expect, as the Bonfire Societies do, and have done for years.

Sussex Express, Friday, August 30, 2002


Family Was Dressed For Bonfire Success…

The Penfold family celebrated a full house on Saturday with father, mother, son and daughter winning prizes in Waterloo Bonfire Society’s annual fancy dress competition at The Crown Inn. Paul Penfold, aged three, enjoyed a double success, winning the under-five trophy as a Tarter Warrior and, after a costume change, winning the comic class as a Strongman.

Family Was Dressed For Bonfire Success

Similar success was gained by 15-year old Gareth Bladon wearing a superb Tudor dress, who scooped first place in three classes, including best dressed child. Six-year old Bobbi Penfold and 12-year old Chloe Bladon were also trophy winners in the children’s section.

The adults section proved a minefield for the judges as they were faced with rows of pioneer costumes to choose from. Wayne Penfold (Tarter Warrior) and Kim Wells (Tudor) were chosen to lay the wreath at the War Memorial on Bonfire Night after winning trophies. Lorna Penfold joined husband Wayne in the mixed pairs, collecting the Lawson Shield for their superb efforts. Best dressed adult was Kevin Sexton as a Tarter Warrior.

Trophies were presented by society President, Cllr Mike Chartier, Deputy Mayor. A special presentation was made to one of the judges, Sally Bowes, in recognition of all the care she had given society members in the past. Due to ill health, she recently retired from the staff of The Crown Inn.

Sussex Express, Friday, October 18, 2002


Exhibition Of The Bonfire Society’s History…

The first 35 years. Tomorrow from 10am-5pm at 7 East Street, Lewes, entrance in Little East Street. Membership and programmes for sale, including sale of old Lewes Bonfire programmes. Free entrance, donation appreciated for society funds. A history, photos of the past and much memorabilia dating back to 1949 will also be on show and for sale, including merchandise and current years programme. A similar exhibition will be displayed on Badge Night at the supporters club.

Exhibition Of The Bonfire Society`s History

Sussex Express, Friday, October 18, 2002


Nevill Juvenile`s Membership Night…

Nevill Juvenile’s Membership night is on Monday at the supporters club of the Social Centre. Why not become a member of the society and join in the bonfire night celebrations. Adult membership £4, children up to 16 £2 and family membership £11. Regular newsletters are sent out by mail or e-mail.

Nevill Juvenile`s Membership Night

Sussex Express, Friday, October 18, 2002


Extreme Lewes…

Everyone who knows Lewes knows that the town never does anything by halves. On the one hand it is ancient and steeped in history. On the other hand it is bright and new, and busy. Colourful shops selling the latest in fashionable mod cons stand next to beautiful architectural relics, living together in remarkable harmony. Lewes has always been a town of extremes. It likes to do things properly if it’s going to do anything at all. The town once boasted 70 ale houses supported by nine breweries. These little pubs weren’t all like the public houses we know today, many of them would have been meeting places in the front rooms of private homes where friends would gather to compare the local brews.

Extreme Lewes Magnet

There are peaceful corners to be found here, along the riverbank, in the shadows of the old ruined Priory, by the bowling green, but these belie the town’s stormy past. After the arrival of William the Conquerer, the Rape of Lewes came under the protection of Earl William de Warenne, who built the castle that stands above the town today. He and his wife, Gundrada, established the Cluniac Priory on the open land to the south of the town. Dedicated to St Pancras, it became one of the most powerful institutions in the country and the people of Lewes were happy to celebrate the saint’s feast day on May 12th. They took to the streets, holding processions and enjoying themselves in rowdy fashion.

It was during one such feast day, in 1264, that King Henry III arrived in Lewes heralding the most important event in the town’s history. Simon de Montfort arrived soon afterwards and the Battle of Lewes was fought on the Downs to the west of the town. A bloody end to that year’s festivities, but Lewes people weren’t to be put off their celebrating. They were given another perfect excuse in 1605 when Guy Fawkes failed to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

Lewes was a Protestant town and the survival of the Protestant King James I and his parliament was bound to go down well. November 5th was made a public holiday and it proved an excuse for all kinds of disruption, demonstrations and general high spirits. The Lewes Bonfire Boys were born and they happily milked the occasion for all it was worth – they still do. By the end of the 18th century, the authorities had to employ the Riot Act to quell the Bonfire Boys enthusiasm for squibs, rockets and street bonfires. The first blazing tar barrel rolled through the streets in 1832 and it was the first of many.

The police who tried to intervene were always heavily outnumbered, but enjoyed a certain amount of success in some of the more riotous years. Arrests were made, fines were imposed and sometimes even prison sentences were given. Today, the police are still heavily outnumbered. When November 5th falls at a weekend and the weather is fine, crowds coming to Lewes for the festival can number 60,000. Fortunately, the event is peaceful these days and people come to enjoy the spectacle, the costumes of the bonfire societies as they process up and down the High Street, the firework displays and the extravagant tableaux constructed by the Bonfire Boys.

Of course, Lewes being the town it is you can expect controversy. Effigies of the Pope are regularly burned – as have been politicians, famous and infamous. It would be an unusual Lewes Bonfire Night if someone somewhere wasn’t offended in some way. But then, as I said before, Lewes does nothing by halves and why would we wish it to? Our wonderfully extreme Lewes is, and always has been, the proverbial one off.

Magnet, October 2002


Ten Feet Tall! Who Was This Bonfire Giant?…

In the pantheon of old Lewes photographs to be collected, bonfire looms large. Bonfire pictures are everywhere. Open any book of old photographs and there are November 5 snaps included from down the decades. But Rouser suspects that this one has not been seen before.

Ten Feet Tall! Who Was This Bonfire Giant?

It recently came into the hands of Lewes book seller Alan Shelley of Bow Windows and there is something decidedly odd about it. The caption of the postcard photograph, taken by an unknown photographer, reads: T. Wheeler Jnr, Lewes, November 5th, 1909. Height 10ft. Judging by the image, T. Wheeler is a pretty tall bloke, but 10ft? No way. Neither is the young lady he is escorting. Perhaps T. Wheeler marched in the procession with the dummy over his head!

Entitled Cliffe Staff: The Lewes Beauties, the striking postcard, was addressed to the same T. Wheeler of 15 Mount Zion, Brighton. There should be quite a story behind it. Can anyone help? Alan, by the way collects all things to do with Lewes… books, photographs, post cards and ephemera.

Sussex Express, Friday, October 11, 2002


Nevill Lights Up Sky…

Nevill Juvenile Bonfire Society lights up the Lewes bonfire period tomorrow (Saturday) with its festivities which start at 6.15pm. Due to increased membership, the number of torches has been increased this year to 2,500. Captain of torches for the twentieth consecutive year is Keith Brown. The firework display will consist of the effigy of Guy Fawkes, a set-piece, a tableau constructed by the junior team, a grand aerial display and the society’s main tableau. Nick Woollard is taking over as Captain of Tableau. Visiting societies are expected to include all Lewes societies and possibly Newick.

Nevill Lights Up Sky

Car owners are requested to clear the procession routes on the Nevill estate during the evening. Refreshments will be on sale by the society at the headquarters, St Mary’s Church Hall. Commander-in-Chief for the evening is Patrick Lee. Two new life members elected this year are Silvy Johnson and Anne Stevenson. Said Chairman and Captain of aerial, Kevin Miller: “I would like to thank our many supporters and wish everybody an enjoyable evening, please give generously to our collectors both on the streets and at the fire site. Finally, I can assure the crowd at the fire site that I will end the evening with a BANG!!!”

Sussex Express, Friday, October 25, 2002


A Giant In Bonfire Circles…

Tom Wheeler, mentioned by Rouser on October 11, was literally a giant of the Lewes Bonfire movement. He made his own effigies and then climbed into them to walk the darkened streets on November 5. He must have been a fearsome sight. Tom stood 10ft high with his outfit on. And he liked dressing up as a very scary woman. It must have given the local kids nightmares. Cliffe member Pete Martin found this picture from the Bartlett collection to show Rouser. It shows proud Tom, a Cliffe member, with his portable effigy of a woman with two children. The picture was taken about 1909.

A Giant In Bonfire Circles

Said Pete: “Tom went on to become a founder member of South Street Juveniles in 1913. He was active in South Street until the 70s, holding most offices including Secretary and Captain of tableaux and effigies. The costume pictured shows an early aptitude for such effigy making. He became South Street’s first life member in 1965 and is still commemorated each year with the award of the Tom Wheeler Memorial Cup in their costume competition. He died in 1977.” Tom in his early days ran a sweet shop in South Street. He always put an effigy of Guy Fawkes outside his shop first thing on the 5th and it became a local symbol of the start of the day’s celebrations.

Sussex Express, Friday, October 25, 2002


Lewes Bonfire Fancy Dress…

Borough Take Glory In Blaze Of Colour: Zulus mingled with Red Indians and Vikings chatted with Elizabethans at the world’s most colourful fancy dress competition in Lewes Town Hall on Friday. The event was, of course, the annual Lewes Bonfire Council competition involving hundreds of competitors from the town’s five societies. Eventual winners were Borough with 57 points, leading the way from Waterloo with 37. Cliffe came in third with 31.5, while Commercial Square tailed eight and South Street 2.5.

Lewes Bonfire Fancy Dress

Judges were Ann and Jonathan Thomas, Hugh Braithwaite, Willie and Carol Wicking, Marion Buff, Graham and Heather Lee, Keith Leech and Kevin and Elizabeth Duncton. The master of ceremonies was George Saunders and cups were presented by Di and Mel Watts and Mayor Cllr Barbara Riddihough. The Eric Winter Memorial Cup was presented to Borough (winners second pioneer group) by Marjorie Winter.

Lewes Bonfire Costume Competition Bonco

Boys Under 5 Years; 1, Paul Penfold (WBS); 2, Owen Sexton-Playford (WBS); 3, Lee Todd Smith (SSBS).

Girls Under 5 Years; 1, Grace Smith (LBBS); 2, Dani Penfold (WBS); 3, Shannon Rea (WBS).

Boys 5-9 Years; 1, Jamie Sexton (LBBS); 2, Jordan King (LBBS); 3, Harry Lacey (LBBS).

Girls 5-9 Years; 1, Martha Smith (CBS); 2, Frankie Moorton (LBBS); 3, Ellie Bladon (WBS).

Boys 10-15 Years; 1, Jason Stringer (LBBS); 2, Aaron Last (LBBS); 3, Scott Sexton (LBBS).

Girls 10-15 Years; 1, Amy Groves (LBBS); 2, Faye Williams (CSBS); 3, Amie Eason (WBS).

Mixed Pairs; 1, Paul and Bobbi Penfold (WBS); 2, Harry Lacy and Frankie Moorton (LBBS); 3, Daniel Mockford and Emily Geering (WBS).

Comic Class; 1, Paul Penfold (WBS); 2, Solomon and Martha Smith (CBS); 3, Harry Lacy (LBBS).

Adult Classe Lewes Pioneer Cup; 1, Lewes Borough; 2, Cliffe; 3, Commercial Square.

Pioneer Class Male; 1, Geoff Burrow (LBBS); 2, Roy Cleaver (LBBS); 3, Tony Fuller (CSBS).

Pioneer Class Female; 1, Jackie Arkwell (CBS); 2, Lorna Penfold (WBS); 3, Maureen Burrow (LBBS).

Mixed Pairs; Karl and Louise Smith (CBS); 2, Shaughn and Jackie Arkwell (CBS); 3, Paul and Joan Sexton (LBBS).

Second Pioneer Group; 1, Lewes Borough; 2, South Street; 3, Waterloo.

Second Pioneer Class Male; 1, Jonathan Tompsett (WBS); 2, Peter Kemp (CSBS); 3, Richard Bennett (WBS).

Second Pioneer Class Female; 1, Dot Tillstone (LBBS); 2, Marlene Wickham (LBBS); 3, Nora Wright (CBS).

Best Fancy Dress Male; 1, Geoff Funnell (CBS); 2, Karl Smith (CBS); 3, Milad Khoshfekr (CSBS).

Best Fancy Dress Female; 1, Louise Smith (CBS); 2, Jo Denyer (CBS); 3, Alison Simmons (LBBS).

Open Costume Class Male; 1, Raymond Richardson (LBBS); 2, Keith Norman (LBBS); 3, John Hunnisett (WBS).

Open Costume Class Female; 1, Kim Wells (WBS); 2, Sam Powell (WBS); 3, Trudi Furnell (CSBS).

Best Dress Of The Evening Male; 1, Geoff Burrow (LBBS); 2, Geoff Furnell (CBS); 3, Jonathan Tompsett (WBS).

Best Dress Of The Evening Female; 1, Jackie Arkwell (CBS); 2, Dot Tillstone (LBBS); 3, Louise Smith (CBS).

Comic Class Male Or Female; 1, Sally Bladon (WBS); 2, John Gocher (LBBS); 3, Dot Tillstone (LBBS).

Comic Class Group; 1, Lewes Borough; 2, Waterloo.

Sussex Express, Friday, October 25, 2002


Nevill Juvenile Bonfire…

Nevill bonfire will be held tomorrow, Saturday, from 6.15pm, with the first procession from headquarters, at St Mary’s Church Hall, Highdown Road, at 6.15pm. The second will follow an hour later with the grand procession at 8.20pm leading to the firework display near the motor road at 9.15pm.

Nevill Juvenile Bonfire

The final procession is at 10pm with bonfire prayers outside the headquarters at 10.15pm. All times are approximate. With a large procession and also many onlookers will car owners please keep the roads clear on the routes to be taken. Programmes are still available from Nevill Newsagency.

Sussex Express, Friday, October 25, 2002


Steph’s Stunning Bonfire Art Gets Ready To Sparkle…

Worthing artist Steph Norman is getting ready for her first big show, The 28-year old will hold a large exhibition in The Lewes Gallery to run alongside the traditional bonfire celebrations. The exhibition is inspired by the celebrations, something she has had an interest in since childhood – she and her brother belong to the Lewes Borough Bonfire Society and she still attends the annual event.

Steph`s Stunning Bonfire Art Gets Ready To Sparkle

“I tried to catch the feeling of the bonfire. There are six bonfire societies in Lewes and I wanted to catch a bit of each”, she said. Steph, of North Street, Worthing, took a degree in fine art at Northbrook College in 1998. The exhibition took her six months to prepare for. Her pieces are figurative and she likes to paint portraits: “My paintings are narrative. You can read through them”, she said. The work she will exhibit is full of ‘fiery’ colours – reds, oranges, yellows – and intricate details. The size of the paintings vary from a foot square for the smallest, to 6ft by 3ft for the biggest.

Worthing Artist Big Show Lewes Bonfire

“I tried to show all the different Lewes societies. They all wear different costumes. For each, the strip colour is varied. They are dressed like smugglers. I make up characters in my mind”. Last year, 8,000 people turned out at the bonfire event, held on November 5. Steph will show her work to a lot of visitors and hopes that some of them will contact her afterwards for commissions, as she would like to paint portraits of people in bonfire costumes.

The Gazette, Thursday, October 31, 2002


Big Secret At The Fiery Night Of Fun…

He may be alive, he may be dead but speculation is rife – could Osama Bin Laden make a comeback at this year’s Lewes bonfire celebrations? Last year, 30,000 people cheered as an effigy of the terrorist leader, made of chicken wire and sitting on a toilet, was set alight as part of the small town’s renowned annual festival. Once again the town is holding its breath as it waits to discover the identity of the latest Enemy of the Bonfire. Generally a satirical comment on a local, national or international news story, the effigy is a carefully guarded secret known only to a chosen few.

Big Secret At The Fiery Night Of Fun The Argus

The mystery tableau is just one of the unique sights and sounds that make up what is surely the most spectacular, weird and wonderful bonfire night party in the UK. Preparations are now almost complete for Lewes’s biggest events of the year – and the biggest single annual event covered by Sussex Police. Each year outsiders are urged not to travel to the narrow streets of the town on November 5, but each year thousands of first-time visitors ignore the warnings, attracted by the promise of a spectacle based on traditions dating back centuries.

He Maybe Alive Lewes Bonfire The Argus

The town’s five bonfire societies rekindle their old rivalries and compete to produce the most sensational bonfire display of the night. Their preparations stretch throughout the year, with an army of volunteers working behind the scenes on costumes, torches and processions. On the night they will be decked out in everything from feathered Indian head-dresses to costumes from the American and English Civil Wars, the Mongolian Empire, the Greek and Roman world, the Tudor period and the Orient.

At the centrepiece of each society’s shows are lavishly decorated floats, crammed with fireworks and set alight at the end of the evening. The societies – Cliffe, Waterloo, Commercial Square, Lewes Borough and South Street – parade the narrow streets in torch-lit processions before moving to their fire sites for fireworks and bonfires. The large crowds attracted by the spectacle have long posed a problem for organisers, who have to ensure the safety of thousands of revellers. They have spent the past year in talks with the emergency services. Last year 21 casualties were treated, mainly for minor burns.

Roads entering the town close from about 5pm, not reopening until the early hours of the morning. Train operator South Central plans to run extra trains between Brighton and Lewes and up to Gatwick should they be needed but warns passengers should expect carriages to be crowded. Keith Austin, Secretary of Lewes Bonfire Council, which co-ordinates the event, said those planning to attend must take responsibility for their own safety. He said: “This is not an event for children. We would also tell people not to bring dogs, which surprisingly, some people do.

Bright Attraction Burning Crosses

We always tell people their safety is a personal thing and they have to look after themselves so if they find the crowds and the fire sites are not for them, they should leave. The event is not suitable for people with asthma and breathing problems. Alcohol and the Lewes bonfire don’t mix very well either. It’s not very nice to tell visitors they are not welcome and we know people are going to come anyway. So we just ask people to behave sensibly.There are about 31 processions, so visitors to the town can’t expect to see them all. But, normally, it’s a fairly happy event”.

Mr Austin said anyone who planned to come by car and leave before 1am should park on the outskirts of town and walk in. The pressure point tends to be the War Memorial. It gets very crowded so we would ask people to spread out along the street. This year’s event will uphold the usual bonfire traditions spanning four centuries and including prayers, wreath laying at the War Memorial and rolling the tar barrel. Everyone remembers November 5 but few give much thought to its history.

War Memorial Pressure Point

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. Fawkes was eventually put to death but 50 years earlier, when Mary Tudor was queen, Catholicism had been favoured while Protestants were persecuted. In Lewes, 17 Protestant martyrs were burned at the stake during this period and many of the present-day bonfire ceremonies mark this. Every year the ritual burning of effigies, chanting and the weilding of No Popery banners is simply recalling the scenes on the town’s streets hundreds of years earlier. Schedule of Events (approximate times)

5.30pm First children’s procession leaves the Elephant and Castle pub.
5.45pm Childrens procession up South Street led by 17 blazing crosses.
6pm Ladies barrel run from Cliffe Corner to Cliffe Bridge followed by mens barrel run at 6.15pm.
6.30pm Most societies will proceed to the War Memorial where they will lay a wreath.
7.40pm The Grand United Procession leaves St Annes Crescent and makes its way through the town.

8.30pm to 9.30pm Each society has their own grand procession on their way to its fire site. The fire sites are: Waterloo Society – Malling Brooks, Brooks Road, Commercial Square Society – Landport, South Street Society – The Railway Land, Railway Lane, Lewes Borough Society – Nevill, entrance to the old Lewes racecourse off Nevill Road, Admission to the Cliffe Society’s fire site at Ham Lane is ticket only. Tickets should be purchased beforehand.

10.45pm Rolling of the blazing tar barrel, from Railway Lane through the town to Cliffe Bridge, where it will be ceremoniously thrown into the River Ouse. 11pm As the crowds disperse, the societies have a final procession to their original sites next to the Law Courts, the War Memorial, Cliffe Corner and Commercial Square. Bonfire prayers will be said at the various sites. Leaflets to help people plan a safe visit are available from railway stations, Lewes Tourist Information Office and police officers on the night.

Sussex Police are urging people planning to visit the celebrations to consider going to events closer to home. Divisional Chief Superintendent Paul Pearce is keen to ensure only local residents attend the event. He said: “This event is legendary in Lewes and is part of the town’s culture. On that basis I would urge visitors to think twice before they come to Lewes”. Last year more than 10,000 people flouted ‘stay away’ warnings by travelling in from Brighton, Falmer and Eastbourne. Unconfirmed figures suggest about 35,000 people were on the streets.

The Argus, Thursday, October 31, 2002


Bonfire Anger Over TV Link…

Friction surfaced this week over a decision by Sussex Police to allow a Meridian film crew to follow the work of officers in Lewes on the Fifth. The Secretary of Lewes Bonfire Council, Keith Austin, said the decision to co-operate was a ‘breach of trust’ after years of police requests to bonfire societies to keep publicity to a minimum. Ironically, police have this week issued their customary annual plea for ‘outsiders’ to stay away from the celebrations in a bid to keep the crowds down.

Bonfire Anger Over TV Link

Mr Austin said that any exposure from television cameras would help attract increased numbers of people into the town and on to already crowded Lewes streets, and he feared that TV crews would exaggerate any dramatic incidents out of proportion. He said: “We have asked Sussex Police not to invite Meridian Television but they haven’t really taken much notice. They want Meridian to be there.”

“When we first joined this safety group (an inter-agency panel consisting of the police, ambulance service and fire brigade, plus Lewes District Council and East Sussex County Council) it would not invite any publicity whatsoever. We have more or less stuck to that. We’ve kept our side of the bargain but Sussex Police don’t really want to keep their side of the bargain. Publicity attracts more and more people into town. Sussex Police themselves have asked us not to do much publicity; they wanted to keep the crowds down so they could be managed more efficiently.”

“We’ve worked hard with the police to take the conflict out of bonfire but the bonfire societies will feel this is not going to be very good relationship-wise. We are very unhappy. The media don’t want to report all the lovely things that happen – they want the meat. We’ve lived with worse things but we don’t think it’s right. It’s a breach of trust”.

Sussex Police Chief Superintendent Paul Pearce said: “Sussex Police was approached by Meridian TV to film the police operation behind Lewes Bonfire. The programme makers have stressed the documentary will focus on how the police help to make the event as safe as possible. The media can and do film events held in public places without needing to notify anyone in advance. Meridian TV have, however, taken the responsible approach by contacting us outlining their filming intentions which will focus solely on the policing of Lewes Bonfire.”

“We consistently listen to the views of Mr Austin and the bonfire societies. Following their concerns, I personally sent a letter to all societies reassuring them of our position. Lewes Bonfire is one of the biggest events in the calender of Sussex Police and I am proud of the dedication, professionalism and commitment shown by all police personnel who play a part in making it a safe event. I believe Meridian TVs documentary represents an opportunity for us to show the hard work of all our staff at a large scale event”.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 1, 2002


Rocket To Premier Bonfire Court Drama…

Rocket Radio, back on the air and broadcasting on 87.8FM, is to present the premier of a new play for radio – The Trial of the Bonfire Boy – on bonfire night. It is based on an account of the historic events of 1906 by local author Jim Etherington, adapted by broadcaster Dilly Barlow with a certain degree of artistic licence.

Rocket To Premiere Bonfire Court Drama

The cast includes several well known present-day bonfire boys such as Paul Wheeler of Commercial Square and Mark ‘Moose’ Jarvis of Cliffe. Celebrities have also lent a hand. Lord (Dennis) Healey is the chairman of the magistrates and Peter Donaldson, the chief newsreader of BBC Radio 4, is the counsel for the defence.

Other cameo roles are performed by Radio One legend John Peel, comedian Arthur Smith, Professor Laurie Taylor and Felicity Finch, who plays Ruth Archer in The Archers. The whole adds up to a tense courtroom drama the bonfire boys versus the Brighton Bobbies with authentic historical detail and bonfire sound effects.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 1, 2002


Send-Off With Fireworks…

Lewes couple Victoria Farries and Kevin Seymour celebrated their wedding in style when the Commercial Square Bonfire Society provided a fireworks display for their reception party at Shelleys Hotel. The couple were married at St Peter’s Church, Offham. The bride, daughter of Ken and Sue Farries of Western Road, Newhaven, was given away by her father. The groom is the son of Ken and Elizabeth Seymour of Saltash, Cornwall.

Send-off With Fireworks Commercial Square Bonfire Society

The groom’s best man was George Keen, and the bridesmaids were Josie Latimer and Nikita Gendre. The bride wore an ivory dress decorated with pearls and crystals with a bustle and a long train. She carried a bouquet of ivory and gold roses. After the wedding the couple left for a honeymoon in Menorca.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 1, 2002


Flintstones Head Riot Of Colour…

Soldiers, witches, a mummy, Count Dracula, Elizabethans, Valencians, sporting maidens and fairies were among the marchers at the Nevill Juvenile Bonfire Night on Saturday as the weather proved reasonably kind despite the dire forecast. In a riot of colour they were joined by groups from Newick, Borough, Cliffe and South Street who included a Pearly King and Queen, cowboys and indians, a Grim Reaper, Cavaliers and Puritans.

Flintstones Head Riot Of Colour

With the Flintstones leading the way, the Newhaven Youth Marching Band, the jazz quartet Tragic and the Kingfisher Marching Band provided the music, while the fire was helped along by the strong winds and the fireworks were once again beautiful with the tableaux of Spiderman and Starship Enterprise.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 1, 2002


Nevill Juvenile Bonfire Night…

From the first early morning bangers giving a call to all those helpers, it looked like it would be a successful evening. With the forecast of a wet and windy time it held off until the second procession but then it relented and we had a most entertaining evening.

Nevill Juvenile Bonfire Night

With almost everybody gathered by 6pm at the society’s headquarters it was time for the judging of the fancy dress competition. So many were in fancy dress that it was quite a job to decide on the first three adults and children, a lot of those so attired belonging to other societies. However, six were chosen, although two of them disappeared after the first parade.

With the Flintstones leading the way and the society’s badges at the front it was an impressive sight as they made their way from headquarters along Highdown Road, Mount Harry, Windover, North Way, East Way, Hamsey Crescent and back to headquarters. They began with a rousing Sussex by the Sea by the efficient Newhaven Youth Marching Band, Tragic, a jazz quartet with all sorts of improvised melodies, and the Kingfisher Marching Band at the rear.

There was a large variety of costumes throughout the Nevill marchers including soldiers, witches, a mummy, a Count Dracula, Elizabethans, Valencians, sporting maidens (Trinians), fairies and others. With so many onlookers it was quite a job for Patrick and Robin Lee to get some sort of marching order, but it was all good fun, and the second procession took place. After a lot of sorting out and refreshments for all the band members and society officers the main procession was ready to move on. From headquarters the long procession took the route up Highdown Road, making their way to Hawkenbury Way where they were to disband before reforming for the long march to the bonfire site on the Motor Road.

We waited for quite some time in strong winds at the bottom of Highdown Road before the procession came into view, and again what an impressive sight, then some of the street fireworks were lit under the guidance of Captain of banners Roger Palmer. Other groups joined with Nevill including Newick, Borough, Cliffe, South Street and others. More costumes appeared including a Pearly King and Queen, Cowboys and Indians, a Grim Reaper, Cavaliers, Puritans, Scottish and others with undecipherable outfits.

With their blazing torches it was a brilliant sight. Hundreds gathered along the road to the fire and display which soon got going, the fire having been lit already and helped along by the strong winds. The fireworks were once again beautiful with the tableaux of Spiderman and Starship Enterprise. Who do we thank for organising such an event? There are a large number who do all the work for our benefit and it isn’t just on bonfire night. Work starts almost immediately on next years event and holding jumble sales and other fund- raising events is a year-long labour of love and we thank all those who work throughout the year.

The fancy dress competition winners were; Children 1, Fairy (Katlyn Burlock); 2, Valencian Boy (Henry Longdon); 3, Elizabethan child (Megan Loree). Adults 1, Valencian lady (Christine Lidbetter); 2, Dracula (Alan Chapman); 3, Mummy (Tina Deubert). This years street collections will be in aid of the St John Ambulance Brigade and the East Sussex Fire Brigade. The society would like to thank all those who braved Sunday’s weather to clear up both the streets and bonfire area. A job well done.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 1, 2002


Are These Unseen Pictures Of Bonfire?…

These four remarkable Bartlett photographs of the Lewes bonfire celebrations were taken some 80 years ago, and, as far as we know, have not been published before. They were supplied by Cliffe Bonfire Society member Pete Martin, a bonfire historian. The first (top left) shows a South Street Juvenile boy, probably about 1921. South Street was formed in 1913, stopped during World War One and re-started in 1921.

Are These Unseen Pictures Of Bonfire?

The second (right) is a macabre mock-up of the great comedian W.C. Fields wearing a Cliffe badge (note the bottle of gin). These were not effigies in the strict sense. Bonfire boys actually wore these costumes and masks and marched in procession inside them. And here (bottom left) is another bonfire boy in disguise – as a bobby! Last (below), Cliffe torch-makers at work outside the old shed that used to be behind The Dorset Arms (where the garage is now).

Sussex Express, Friday, November 8, 2002


Bonfire Is For Us: We Don’t Need Outsiders…

Referring to Bonfire Anger Over TV link (Lewes edition, last week). I must admit the article caught me by surprise as I knew nothing of the exchange. But then why should the Chairman of Lewes Bonfire Council be kept informed? Having said that I take nothing away from what Mr Austin is alleged to have said, and support him throughout. We, the Bonfire Council, and the societies, organise the Lewes Bonfire celebrations – no one else.

Bonfire Is For Us: We Don`t Need Outsiders

We have said in the past and still do advocate that we do not want attention or publicity by the media of any description unless invited by the organisers or Bonfire Council. We know how good we are – that is why we have survived so long without outside support and we do not need outsiders to remind us. If it goes well and with no problems we are about 3-5 on the list of people to be recognised behind the fire service, police, council and ambulance service. Then comes the pageantry of the societies.

But if it goes wrong we are first to be blamed for staging the event. In closing I would say we celebrate, to remember to keep a tradition alive and pay honour to men and women who gave their lives through two world wars. It is done for ourselves not for cheap publicity or a free side show. We are not the ones who make a profit though I am sure many in the town do on a commercial basis for a number of days.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 8, 2002


Rocket Radio, You Were Great!…

It was great over the past two weeks having our very own radio station (Rocket Radio) in Lewes. This gave community groups, musicians, and writers a chance to air their views and play their music. The radio station pulled all these different groups together and presented them in a very professional way. If gave a chance for listeners to hear all about the diverse issues in and around the Lewes area, from road safety to cycling, to building an incinerator.

Rocket Radio, You Were Great!

Everyone who worked on Rocket Radio gave their time and expertise free of charge and many Lewes organisations and businesses supported this station financially. Rocket Radio also produced a fantastic play about the Trial of the Bonfire Boys, based on a true story from 1906. It also gave us hours of interesting chat, news and music. Let’s all support this project in the future and hope that Lewes can soon have a permanent Rocket Radio station here in the town. Thanks again to everyone at Rocket Radio.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 15, 2002


Bonfire Boys Best Means Of Crowd Control…

I feel I must write concerning the November 5 celebrations. I am a bonfire member and was dressed up on the Fifth, however I cannot agree with the general supposition that the police did an excellent job. They do not seem to have grasped the fact that most of the crowd are not local and therefore have absolutely no idea where they are standing!

Bonfire Boys Best Means Of Crowd Control

For instance…. the grand procession reaches the bottom of School Hill and after crossing the Cliffe Bridge will be walking back to turn into Friars Walk. The loud speakers outside the National Westminster Bank are spouting, ‘Will everyone move on to the pavement as the procession will be entering Friars Walk’. Naturally no one moved as no one in the crowd knew where they were – so very few being local! The police standing across Friars Walk just turned round to face the crowd. They said nothing and did nothing.

However, when a society marshal tried to get people to move in the old time-honoured way of holding two torches above her own head, she was told by two policemen that she was being dangerous and they moved her out of the way! Needless to say someone else continued with a torch shouting to people that the procession was about to come round the corner and to step back on to the pavement. Strangely enough they all listened to that person and moved.

Probably the torch, the costume and looking directly at people helped. Which, just goes to show that the bonfire boys are the best means of crowd control just as we all were before the police started attending in so many numbers that they sometimes outnumber the crowd. There were several other instances but I thought that this one demonstrated the most useless of the police tactics at the moment – the loud speakers. What a waste of taxpayers money!

Sussex Express, Friday, November 15, 2002


Fireworks Too Loud For Too Long…

May I write in support of various correspondents who have complained about the ill-considered letting off of fireworks in Lewes, late at night or early in the morning, for several weeks around November 5. Presumably this is done by young people who have not thought about the consequences for small children or pets or indeed the rest of us woken up by the noise. (At least I assume they are simply thoughtless young people).

Fireworks: Too Loud For Too Long

The bonfire societies do a wonderful job with magnificent, organised displays at fixed times when we can take suitable precautions with animals etc. What I object to is the casual use of fireworks in the streets at odd moments of day or night. Isn’t it about time that our councilors and MPs thought about legislation? No fireworks to be sold except to organised groups operating with a licence? In these times of heightened alert for terrorist attacks, is it not irresponsible to carry on with the noise of simulated bomb attacks, explosions and rifle fire as is indulged in on Lewes Bonfire Night?

Surely a wonderful display and marvelous set pieces could be achieved without this anti-social selfish indulgence? Bonfire Night is always a time of anxiety. It brings utter panic to animals, both wild and domesticated, some of which have been known to injure themselves trying to escape. Ill people, small children and those trying to get babies to sleep, all suffer. The benefit of raising money for good causes could be achieved without the noise.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 22, 2002


Oops! W.C. Fields Was Ally Sloper…

The early photograph right of W.C. Fields on Lewes Bonfire Night (November 8) was not of him at all. John Beck of Mill Road has written in with the following: “The character is in fact Ally Sloper who was a comic character appearing in Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday, published from 1884 to 1923.”

Oops! W.C. Fields Was Ally Sloper

“I enclose a drawing of Ally (below) and draw your attention to his dress, umbrella, stovepipe hat, gin bottle and red nose. He was often depicted in a well oiled condition”. Oh well, he had something in common with W.C. Fields then!

W.C. Fields Cartoon

Sussex Express, Friday, November 22, 2002


Winnie Has Many Fond Memories Of Bonfire Characters…

Winnie Woollard, 82, from New Zealand remembers Lewes bonfire boy Tom Wheeler who keeps cropping up in this column. Tom and his wife Bet were her uncle and aunt and she was unofficially adopted by them when she was six. Winnie (nee Foster) has written to Rouser to let the world know that Tom was an excellent pastry cook. The family had a small general store at 51 South Street. Tom bred pigs for the market and had a small market garden in the same street.

Winnie Has Many Fond Memories Of Bonfire Characters

He then took up conjuring and Win was his assistant. “He was a very good magician”, she said, “I was his assistant in a long white net dress and silver shoes. I knew all his tricks, but he’d never divulge the five rings one”. Tom had no children of his own, but brought Win up to be a staunch bonfire girl. She remembers Ernie ‘Toddy’ Christmas who lived at 35 South Street and always helped build the tableau. “One year the fireworks got damp. Toddy climbed on to the tableau, a firework exploded and he ended up at the Victoria Hospital”.

Winnie Lewes Victory Parade

Banana Bill Penfold also lived in South Street. “He came into Tom’s shop on a hobbyhorse on Bonfire Night in 1926 when I was six, wearing a mask and pointing a gun at me. He said: “Your money or your life”. Never having experienced a 5th of November before, I was terrified and it was a long time before anyone could console me. Winnie married Ginger Woollard in February 1946 They have two sons, including one in Uckfield.

Sussex Express, Friday, December 6, 2002

#lewesbonfire #bonfirenight fifth of november 5th

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