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 2003 - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations

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Sussex Express Report 2003 »

Mayor guest at bonfire society dinner…

Lewes Mayor Cllr Barbara Riddihough was guest of honour at Waterloo Bonfire Society’s annual dinner at The White Hart attended by 120 guests and members on Saturday. Cups were presented to Maud Welfare (Tudor), best dressed woman, and Gary Feltham (Army officer), best dressed man. The achievement cup was presented to Waterloo Vice-President Julian Bell who painted a new Queen’s Jubilee Banner for the society.

Mayor Waterloo Bonfire Society Dinner Sussex Express 2003

Pictured front from left, Treasurer John Armitage, President Michael Chartier, Mayor Barbara Riddihough, Vice-Chairman Chris Armitage and Chairman David Quinn.

Sussex Express, Friday, January 31, 2003


Bonfire brightens the Town Hall…

A new bonfire painting is to hang in Lewes Town Hall. Artist Steph Norman presented it to the Mayor, Cllr Barbara Riddihough, during a short ceremony on Wednesday. Steph, a member of Borough Bonfire Society, decided to present the picture to the town after a successful exhibition of her work in October at the Lewes Gallery.

Bonfire Painting Brightens Town Hall Lewes Sussex Express 2003

Pictured, Steph and her painting with Cllr Riddihough and Lewes Gallery proprietors Frank and Isabel Warren.

Sussex Express, Friday, February 7, 2003


Comeback concert for folk family…

Family folk group The Motley Band are reforming for a one off ‘special’ in support of Commercial Square Bonfire Society. The family, who are all members of Commercial Square, have not performed together since 1998. The band were formed by Lewes couple Mary and David Motley when their four children were still at school. They were firm favourites on the Sussex folk scene for 10 years until differing interests and departures for university meant they had to call it a day.

Oldest son Ben (clarinet), Michael (fiddle and trombone), Andrew (percussion) and daughter Sally (oboe, fiddle and recorder) will all be performing on the night. Also, keeping it in the family, Ben’s fiancee Rebecca Loomes will be joining them on bassoon.

It promises to be a great night out for fans old and new! The reunion Barn Dance takes place on Saturday May 24 at the All Saints Centre, Lewes. Tickets are available from Lewes Motor Factors, Harveys Brewery Shop and the Lewes Arms public house priced at £6 (£7 on the door) to include a ploughmans supper. The event is supported by Harveys brewery.

Comeback Concert Folk Family Lewes Sussex Express 2003

Pictured in bonfire regalia from left to right; Mary, Ben, Rebecca, David, Michael and Sally.

Sussex Express, Friday, May 16, 2003


Fireworks: MP at odds with RSPCA…

Lewes MP Norman Baker will not support any Bill which would ban the use of loud fire-works on Bonfire Night. His comments follow an RSPCA bid for a ban on any firework louder than 95 decibels – about the level of noise of a book landing on a table. The animal protection organisation wants to include its proposals in legislation likely to come into effect this year.

But Mr Baker this week said: “It is right to use fireworks sensibly and to be aware of the stress they can cause to animals in particular. However, November 5 is a night of fireworks and it is reasonable to expect owners to make arrangements to safeguard their animals on that night. Having said that, there is a serious issue about the use of loud fireworks at times other than Bonfire Night.”

Fireworks MP RSPCA Norman Baker Lewes Sussex Express 2003

The legislation in the form of a Private Members Bill does not affect organised firework displays such as those in Lewes on Bonfire Night. It is likely to come into effect this year. An RSPCA spokesman said: “We believe urgent measures must be taken to stop distress and injury to animals. We do not want to ban firework night. We are not complete killjoys.

There is a voluntary ban on the fireworks industry selling fireworks louder than 120db but suffering to animals would be reduced if these fireworks were sold only to professionals for public displays, which should be organised according to strict guidelines. Also, we would like to see shops selling fireworks to the public required to have a licence.”

Sussex Express, Friday, May 23, 2003


Cliffe BS snaps up a new fire site…

Cliffe Bonfire Society has celebrated its 150th anniversary by purchasing its own Lewes Bonfire site on which to hold spectacular November 5 displays in the years to come. The 900 member society has purchased 10 acres behind The Meadows and Queens Road in Malling. Said Chairman Andy Freeman: “It provides a superb level area that meets and exceeds all we have been looking for with regard to positioning members, spectators and the fire, and of course the all important safety distances for fireworks.

Purchasing our own firesite has been an ambition of the Cliffe for more than 20 years. Such moves don’t come cheap but, while the committee may have been criticised in the past for its emphasis on the need to raise funds when we have been returning extremely healthy accounts, the results are now plain to see. “The society does not expect to use the new firesite immediately. It plans to continue at Ham Lane for two or three years while access and drainage work is carried out”. Said Mr Freeman.

Cliffe Bonfire Society New Fire Site Lewes Sussex Express 2003

“It is less prone to water logging than Ham Lane. It does flood occasionally but that is a risk we have considered and in co-operation with our neighbour we are reinstating a drainage ditch that runs along one of our boundaries.” The society is holding its official anniversary party in Ham Lane, Lewes, on September 6. The society is no stranger to the Malling area. For many years it held its firework displays at the top of Mill Road.

Sussex Express, Friday, July 25, 2003


A Bonfire Night in the cells…

Richard Urry, coal merchant, spent a night in the Lewes Police cells on November 5, some time in the 1890s, for helping to throw a lighted tar barrel into the river from Cliffe Bridge during the bonfire festivities. Descendant Peter Urry wants to know if this is the first recorded instance of a lighted tar barrel being deposited in the Ouse on November 5.

Sussex Express, Friday, 19 September, 2003

Bonfire Night Cells Cliffe Bridge Richard Urry Rouser Lewes Sussex Express 2003

A moving story of Richard and the Star of the Sea…

This is Richard Urry, the Lewes man, who, Rouser mentioned last week, once spent a night in the cells for throwing a lighted tar barrel in the river on Lewes Bonfire Night. He was a coal merchant and furniture remover with premises in Sun Street and North Street.

This picture shows a dapper Richard standing against his van outside a building called Star of the Sea… a name that rings no bells to Rouser. Where is or was it? Perhaps the van is blocking the first part of the name although Rouser rather doubts that. It can’t be that far from Lewes because small businesses in those days did’nt travel far in their dealings. It will remain a mystery unless someone can help.

Sussex Express, Friday, 26 September, 2003


Societies in clear on new firework laws…

New laws to reduce the noise, nuisance and anti-social use of fireworks have been given Royal Assent. And Lewes bonfire societies don’t seem to have a problem with he impending constraints. The new Fireworks Act enables the Government to impose a noise limit of 120 decibels on fireworks available to the public, ban the use of fireworks during anti-social hours and license people who sell fireworks.

It will also create a compulsory training course for operators of public firework displays. The DTI will be consulting next year on draft regulations which will be in place for the 2004 fireworks season. Consumer Affairs Minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, said: “When used sensibly, fireworks can be a popular form of family entertainment. But all too often noisy fireworks used at anti-social hours cause real disturbance in local communities.

Societies Firework Law Lewes Sussex Express 2003

Sussex Express, Friday, Date Unknown, 2003

These new powers will make a real difference in cracking down on the excess noise and nuisance that so often keeps people awake at night and causes misery to pets and other animals. These new laws will not apply to Bonfire Night this year but I hope retailers and consumers will act in the spirit of the new law so that everyone can have fu without causing others misery”.

Under a voluntary code of practice, the fireworks industry has agreed that fireworks should only be on general sale to the public for the three weeks leading up to November 5 and a few days afterwards and for a similar period around the New Year. Keith Austin, Secretary of the Lewes Bonfire Council, to which the town’s five societies are affiliated, said:”I can’t find fault with any of it.

The proposed noise limits do not apply on Bonfire Night as we are professionals putting on a professional show and therefore not members of the public in the sense of the Act. We, of course, support training courses for operators of displays. Our firework teams are national leaders in their field of expertise.”


Bringing peace…

“All too often noisy fireworks used at anti-social hours cause real disturbance in local communities”. The words of Consumer Affairs Minister Gerry Sutcliffe will find a particular resonance with many in East Sussex who accept the great tradition of bonfire celebrations in this county but object to the impromptu lighting of fireworks over the next two months and at other less justifiable times of year. Mr Sutcliffe was commenting after new laws to govern the use of fireworks were given the Royal Assent.

These should be in place by this time next year, and in general appear to be well thought out. Professionally staged displays will be excempt, so the major celebrations across East Sussex should have nothing to fear. The regulations will impose controls on the noise volume of fireworks sold to the public, and, it seems, address the problem of fireworks going off late at night.

Time will tell if the measures will work. In reality a prankster determined to let off a firework in a quiet pathway at 2am is unlikely to attract the special attention of the police. However, the controls will send the message that the best firework displays are those staged by the experts, and they should help bring respite to those who, literally ose sleep during the last three months of the year.

Sussex Express, Friday, Date Unknown, 2003


Lewes Life Aubrey Taylor…

Aubrey Taylor has a small workshop in his back garden. Many others in Lewes have one too, but Aubrey’s is a beautifully preserved air raid shelter, one of the few remaining in the town. What also makes Aubrey different from anyone else is the high rank he has held for 59 years in the oldest of the town’s bonfire societies. Since 1945 when the bonfire spirit rose again after being extinguished for six years by the Second World War, he has been Captain of Barrels of the Cliffe Bonfire Society, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.

This put Aubrey in the forefront of 57 November the Fifth parades. He missed only 1960 – everyone else missed it too because the town was flooded. Aubrey, now a sprightly 82 is getting ready to parade his flaming barrel for the 58th time on November 5 and carry out the traditional pitching of it into the River Ouse from Cliffe Bridge. The origins of this ceremony are obscure. The most popular is that it commemorates the rough handling of a local JP, one John Blackman, an enemy of bonfire celebrations. Some of the then ruffian Bonfire Boys lit a fire outside his house and when he remonstrated beat him up on Cliffe Bridge.

Life Aubrey Taylor News Lewes 2003

He quickly acknowledges that his job is a team effort and that without Gilbert Smith, Mark Smith, his grandson Stephen McGinty and Les Wooton it couldn’t be done. Aubrey joined the Cliffe society by chance. In August 1945 some of the pre-war members decided to revive their traditions. Aubrey was around and was invited in. He was elected to the committee and made Captain of Barrels. Today he is working in his air raid shelter to prepare the barrels to be dragged through the streets and the one he will pitch into the river at this year’s parade.

He is helping, too, with making up some of the hundreds of burning torches to be carried in the parade. Aubrey is a Man of Lewes. Though born in Isfield in 1921 he came to Lewes when he was six. His earliest memories of the Cliffe society was in 1931 when, nine years old nd dressed as a farmer, he walked in the parade with his parents. His grandfather’s connection with the society goes back to the late 1800s. Aubrey knows that his grandfather was also a ‘Bonfire Boy’ so it is likely that his family’s connection spans the society’s whole 150 years.

The schools he went to no longer exist, Old Malling primary and then , when he was 11, Central School in Southover Road (now a doctors surgery). At 14, in 1935, he became an electrician’s mate at Kent and Douglas in Cliffe High Street for five
shillings a week, less tuppence (to use the then current slang for two pennies) for insurance. “That left 4s 10d,” he said. “I gave mother 2s 6d (half a crown) one week and 2s 4d the next. All scrupulously fair.”

War broke out in 1939, Aubrey then 18, was turned down by the army because of poor eyesight. After a year in farming he got a job at the East Sussex Laundry in Mill Road. There he met his future wife, Eve. By 1952 when earning £4 a week at
Stones the bakers, he and Eve married. His wages went up a whopping 25 per cent to mark the occasion, to £5 a week. They had three daughters, Annette, Christine and Lesley. Now 51 years later they have seven grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

Lewes News Aubrey Taylor Piper 2003

When Stones closed in 1953 Aubrey went to Stevensons corn merchants. From there he went, 1955, to Eastwoods Cement Works and 26 years later retired aged 63. He also played the bagpipes for 26 years as a member of the Eastbourne Scottish Pipe Band of which he is now a life member. Now, nearly 20 years on, he gives all the time he can to one of the grandest of the Lewes bonfire societies which made him a life member in 1976. The rest he spends with Eve and travelling with her to their favourite holiday home in Seaton, Devon – or in that air raid shelter. By Alan Brothers.

Lewes News, September 2003.


Burning ambition Lewes prepares to torch mystery effigy…

Time is running out for this year’s public enemy number one as a town awaits to burn him or her at the stake. There are just 19 days to go before the people of Lewes find out who’s effigy will be torched during their annual bonfire processions. The victim is kept a closely guarded secret until the moment the town’s bonfire societies march into the streets and the town becomes a blaze of fire light.

Organisers are promising this year will be no less spectacular but who will be singled out for ridicule? Will leader of the free world George W Bush be back to face the music again? Or, on a year when two of the town’s five bonfire societies celebrate their 150th birthday, will Lewes pull a special surprise out of the bag to mark the occasion?

Last year more than 25,000 people cheered as a 30ft effigy of the US President went up in flames as part of the town’s famous annual festival. Now the town is once again holding its breath as it waits to learn the identity of the latest Enemy of Bonfire.

Burning Ambition The Argus Lewes Bonfire 2003

Generally, a satirical comment on a local, national or international news story, only a chosen few are in on the secret so far. But the mystery tableau is just one of the unique sights and sounds which make up the UK’s most spectacular Bonfire Night party. Preparations are now almost complete for Lewes’ biggest event of the year.

The biggest single annual event covered by Sussex Police. Each year outsiders are urged not to travel to the narrow-streeted town on November 5 but each year thousands of first-time visitors ignore these warnings, attracted by the promise of a spectacle dating back centuries.

Drizzly weather and police warnings kept crowd numbers down to its lowest level last year, leaving revellers free to enjoy the event without the usual problems of crushing. Every year the towns five bonfire societies rekindle old rivalries and compete to produce the most sensational bonfire display of the night.

Preparations stretch throughout year, with an army of volunteers working behind the scenes on costumes, torches and the various processions. At the centrepiece of each society’s show are lavishly decorated floats, crammed with fireworks and set alight at the end of the evening. They are made amid tight secrecy on a topical theme and not revealed until the night of the bonfire.

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. Both Cliffe and Borough celebrate their 150th anniversary this year, although records suggest activities date back even further. The formation of the societies was a move designed to curb the wilder excesses of the townspeople’s celebrations, which had degenerated into riots.

Then, as now, they were marking the events of 1605, when Guy Fawkes plotted to blow up the Houses Of Parliament. The bonfires and burning crosses also recall the fires that burnt to death Protestant martyrs outside the Star Inn, Lewes during the 16th Century. At this year’s event roads entering the town will once again be closed from about 5pm and will not reopen until the early hours of the morning. Organisers suggest anyone planning to come by car and leave before 1am should park on the outskirts of town and walk in.

Schedule of main events (approximate times) 5.45pm- Children’s procession up South Street led by 17 burning crosses. 6pm – Ladies barrel run from Cliffe Corner to Cliffe Bridge. 6.15pm – Barrel run from Cliffe Bridge to Cliffe Corner. 6.25pm onwards – Most societies set off for the War Memorial, where they will lay a wreath. 7.20pm – South Street Bonfire Society parades through the town, with a special firework display in Castlegate.

7.40pm – The United Grand Procession sees Borough, Commercial Square and Waterloo societies unite in St Annes Crescent. 7.40pm – Cliffe Bonfire Society sets off up Cliffe High Street to Cliffe Bridge where a blazing tar barrel will be hurled into the Ouse. 8.45pm to 9.30pm – Each society sets off on its own grand procession towards the fire sites. From 11pm – The societies have their final processions, ending proceedings with bonfire prayers, Auld Lang Syne and God Save The Queen.

The Argus, Monday, October 20, 2003


Lewes bonfire season launches with a bang…

Big crowds enjoyed Nevill Juvenile Bonfire celebrations in Lewes on Saturday, witnessing superb processions followed by fantastic fireworks. Pictures by Peter Cripps.

Nevill Juvenile Bonfire Celebrations Lewes Sussex Express 2003

Nevill Juvenile Bonfire Celebrations Lewes Sussex Express 2003

Sussex Express, Friday, October 31, 2003


Martyr tradition not what it seems…

A newly published book claims that the commemoration of the Lewes martyrs on Bonfire Night is not an ancient custom but a Victorian innovation. And it also suggests that most people in the town had never heard of the martyrs until the Sussex Express decided to revive their memory in 1850.

The book is called Burn Holy Fire: Religion in Lewes since the Reformation and its cover depicts the fire in which 10 people were burned alive in Lewes High Street in June, 1557. Its title is taken from a hymn by the American poet Frederick Lucian Hosmer, a descendant of one of the 10 – Alexander Hosmer, incorrectly named Hosman on the Lewes martyrs memorial.

Martyr Tradition Not What It Seems

The author, retired academic historian and former minister at the Westgate Chapel Dr Jeremy Goring, challenges the popular notion that Lewes has always been a notably anti-Catholic town. He claims that anti-Catholicism, although strong in Lewes in the century after the Reformation, had virtually died out by the early 18th century. “It was revived in the next century by militant Calvanists who were paranoid about Popery and wanted a stick with which to beat both Roman Catholics and High Church Anglicans,” he said.

The book, published by the Lutterworth Press, is the only detailed account of the religious history of an English town in the period 1500 to 2000. It was launched at the Westgate Chapel on Saturday by the Mayor of Lewes, Cllr Michael Chartier, and is now obtainable at local bookshops. Copies are also on sale at the chapel on Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings at a special price of £15. By John Eccles.

Sussex Express, Friday, Date Unknown, 2003


Burning issues of the past 500 years…

Historian’s new book examines past religious conflict in town. Fireworks over Lewes will be a fitting backdrop to the publication of a book describing 500 years of explosive religious conflict in the town. Historian Jeremy Goring has chosen to concentrate on his home town as a microcosm for five centuries of turbulent religious history. He has deliberately chosen to publish his book, Burn Holy Fire, on November 5 because of the hugely symbolic annual bonfire displays in Lewes.

Burning Issues Of The Past 500 Years

Dr Goring’s book, subtitled Religion In Lewes Since The Reformation, explores the virulent anti-catholic protests which have dogged the town. They have their modern-day reminders in anti-Catholic banners and the burning of effigies of the Pope each November 5. The book also investigates other significant aspects of religious life in England, including the rise of Puritanism, the evangelical revival and the more recent decline of institutional religion. But the Protestant-Catholic clashes take centre stage.

Dr Goring, of Keere street, Lewes, said: “Religious conflict between different sects is really the main theme, along with the virulent anti-Catholic feeling that existed and was revived in the 19th century.” The book’s title comes from a hymn by Frederick Lucian Hosmer. He was a descendant of one of the ten Protestants executed by burning in Lewes High Street on June 22, 1557. The executions, during the rule of Catholic Queen Mary, achieved lasting symbolic value for organisers of the anti-Catholic bonfire events to commemorate the Protestant martyrs.

Dr Goring, 73, believes the martyrs had been largely forgotten until 1850, when their commemoration first became part of the bonfire night celebrations. He said: “The Sussex Express published a list of the martyrs, coinciding with a rise in anti-Catholic feeling. That particular year saw the restoration of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in this country. Catholic Bishops came back to England for the first time. There was a lot of fear of a Catholic takeover. That played into the hands of the extreme anti-Catholics.”

Chief among these were evangelical missionaries led by Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, who came first to Brighton before spreading throughout Sussex. Dr Goring said: “They were preaching a very virulent form of Protestantism, much more so than Wesley’s Methodism. Lewes was always a great home of religious dissent and nonconformity. The nonconformists outnumbered the Church of England, which made it very different from Chichester, where it was the other way round.”

“Westgate Chapel was a major centre of nonconformity and the biggest place of worship in the whole town.” The chapel, in the High Street, opened on November 5, 1700. The annual bonfire night festivities also celebrate the failure of the pro-Catholic Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

However, Dr Goring believes any true religious significance has now disappeared from the event. He said: “I’m usually there and I think it’s a wonderful spectacle. From time to time people do get concerned because of the No Popery banners but most realise it doesn’t mean a great deal any more. They’re not aimed at the present-day Catholic church or Pope. All the churches in Lewes now seem to get on very well together. The old animosities have almost all disappeared.”

Dr Goring used to be an honorary minister at Westgate Chapel, where he and his wife Rosemary helped found the Westgate One World Centre. He describes himself as “A member of no church and every church”. His book is published by The Lutterworth Press.

The Argus, Date Unknown, 2003


Good heavens – this is required reading…

Every now and again a really important book about Lewes appears in print – one that changes forever the way one perceives the town and its history. Burn Holy Fire – Religion in Lewes since the Reformation, by Jeremy Goring (Lutterworth Press ISBN 0 7188 3040 7) is just such a book. Jeremy Goring is the former minister at the Westgate Chapel in the High Street and helped set up the One World Centre in the same building.

Good Heavens This Is Required Reading

There is little he doesn’t know about the many Lewes churches and their history and denominations. In the introduction we read: “The roll call of the denominations that have at one time or another been present in the town is unusually long; besides six Anglican churches, the list includes Roman Catholics, Baptists (General, Particular and Strict), Presbytarians (English, Scottish, Irish), Methodists (Calvinistic, Wesleyan and Primitive), Quakers, Independants, Congregationalists, Huntingdonians, Salvationists, Unitarians and Free Christians.” Some list!

Dr Goring suggests that the word Lewes derives from the hlaewes or burial mounds that in the Iron Age dotted the land on which the town was later built. In other words Lewes has always been a centre of religious significance. And naturally, being  Lewes, the town has had some unusual clerics over the years. For some years Southover was served by Henry Paley who in 1586 was accused of neglecting his duty of catechising the youth of the parish and also of being a common brawler and haunter of ale-houses.

And Dr Goring tells us that the Friends of Truth (Quakers) were less quiescent than their counterparts today. It was their custom to interrupt the services held in the parish churches which they referred to contemptuously as ‘steeplehouses’. In 1659 one of their number, Mary Akehurst of Cliffe, went into St Michael’s at sermon time and put a question to the preacher who was probably Postlethwaite. Her action infuriated the congregation who threw her out of the church and made a strong complaint to her husband, a prominent merchant and former church warden at Cliffe who beat her and put her in chains. So much for religious tolerance!

There is plenty of sustenance in this book although it is sadly devoid of illustrations. Burn Holy Fire (£17.50 at local bookshops) takes a subject that few people would normally delve into and turns it into something perilously close to required reading. By John Eccles.

Experience Sussex, Winter 2003


Priest more benign on bonfire…

Roman Catholic priest Father Eric Flood has told his parishioners that he now feels ‘more benign’ towards Lewes bonfire. In his St Pancras parish newsletter he said: “After all, without too much condescension, they were doing their best to express, impress and entertain the very English multitude which, let’s face it, is none too open to amusement.

Joy and fire in an age of hard living and runaway costs. After seven years I have become more aware of problems in the expression of what is another age. We don’t need to fight too hard over Protestant/Catholic issues any more; we have to live in charity and make allowances for the present time.

Priest More Benign On Bonfire

Sussex Express, Friday, November 14, 2003


Society offers reward for return of banner…

Disheartened members of Newick Bonfire Society are appealing to the thief who stole one of their banners on Lewes Bonfire Night to tell them where it is. They are offering a small reward for information leading to its recovery with no questions asked about identity of the culprit. The wooden shield-shaped banner has the name of the society and a picture of Guy Fawkes painted on it.

Society Offers Reward For Return Of Banner

It was stolen from the society’s hired coach which had been parked at Tesco while the members were out enjoying the night. The banner was left behind in the coach because one of the men destined to carry it had hurt his back. The three other society banners were used in the processions. Said Newick committee member Glenda Saunders: “The banner is several years old, of no use to the thief but important to us. It is possible the thief realised it was of no use to him and dumped it. If that is the case then we will offer a small reward simply to find out where it is and pick it up”. Glenda can be contacted on 05111605.

There was stunned silence when Commercial Square Bonfire Society committee members learned how much money had been raised from their November 5 street collection. The grand total was £1,605 – the same numerals as the year of the Gunpowder Plot. Commercial Square fancy dress winners were; best dressed junior Jonathan Fuller (Indian dancer), best dressed man Nick Furnell (North American Indian), best dressed woman Gill Hobden (Sioux Indian), best dressed junior in children’s procession Sam Jones (Indian), alternative costume Mandy Lomoriello (Death in Venice).

Borough bonfire winners were; best Zulu Geoff Burrow, best male Tudor Nigel Lewis, best female Tudor Ann Marie Goacher, best original costume Derek Hastings, best boy Gerry Lewis, best girl Charlotte Allsobrook. Borough collected £660.97 on the night for the RNLI, Lewes YMCA and St John Ambulance.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 14, 2003


Face behind the 118 adverts…

I noticed that at least twice in last week’s Express the Borough Bonfire Society tableau (the 118 runners) was said to be based on David Bedford. This has been strongly denied by the creators of the 118 adverts who say that the model for the skinny, moustached athlete was not David Bedford but in fact American middle-distance runner Steve Prefontaine. Many have ridiculed this claim, saying that the white vest with the red hoops is exactly the kit Bedford wore when running for Great Britain in the 1970s.

Perhaps one reason for the incredulity is because Prefontaine (or ‘Pre’ as he was  popularly known) is hardly a famous name in the United Kingdom. Pre was one of the brightest athletics prospects of the early seventies but was killed in a car crash at 24. However, he played a significant role in the history of sport – as the muse of Nike founder Phil Knight he became immortalised within the company’s culture, and the story of Pre is still told and retold within the world’s biggest sports company even today (see for example

Sussex Express, Friday, 21 November 2003


Celebrating our freedom…

I was rather amused and a little saddened to read in an article in last week’s paper that John Webber, a past Mayor of Lewes and a Vice-President of the Borough Bonfire Society, refused to judge the Borough’s fancy dress competition due to the circumstances in Firle.

Celebrating Our Right To Freedom

I realise that these decisions are a personal resolve, but does John really think that judging a fancy dress competition for Borough has anything to do with Firle? Maybe John does not realise it, but the Mayor of Lewes, Councillor Mike Chartier, who is also the county Councillor for Lewes and district Councillor, is President of Waterloo Bonfire Society. I myself am a past Mayor of Lewes and I am very proud to be the President of Cliffe Bonfire Society. Indeed, I was pleased to witness our MP Norman Baker, buy a Cliffe Bonfire programme in the Cliffe Precinct.

Amongst members of Lewes Town Council and Lewes District Council there are several at least that have an interest in bonfire, either as members or as Vice-Presidents. Belonging to a bonfire society is not something to be ashamed of, with membership of at least 3,000 people the town’s bonfire societies are the biggest organisations in Lewes. Bonfire celebrates our right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, something any politician should be proud of.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 21, 2003


‘Prosecute those who burn the Pope’…

Burning effigies of a long dead Pope have sparked a Newick man to take legal action against Lewes bonfire societies. But the societies say they are doing nothing wrong. Joe O’Keefe has written to Sussex Chief Constable Ken Jones asking him to prosecute the organisers of bonfire societies over their yearly burning of effigies of a 17th Century Pope because he believes it discriminates against his religion. Mr O’Keefe says he wants ‘legal parity’ with the situation in Firle where bonfire organisers were arrested after burning a caravan containing effigies of gypsies.

Prosecute Those Who Burn Pope

Mr O’Keefe said: “There is more here than just a tradition. It is full of hatred and encourages people to concentrate on the negatives. They could be burning images of black people or whatever next. When I went to Lewes it was like something out of the 1600s. There were large banners saying No Popery and I found it insulting. It should be a fun occasion but I don’t feel I can bring my grandchildren down there. I want this effigy burning removed from the bonfire celebrations and I know a lot of other Catholics who wouldn’t go to Lewes because of it. They are just dredging up an age-old war that isn’t of interest to anybody any more. It should be about fun and this is just full of hatred and venom. It is a cauldron of poison. These people need to get into the 21st Century.

I just want Ken Jones to enforce the law. Apologies aren’t good enough. This law has never been used. If they do use it now it means that they will be forced to stop this religious discrimination and will put an end to it in the future. I applaud the police for their action in Firle but I ask that they use the religious discrimination act in the same manner. I resent paying my rates money for them to give it to people to insult my religion. If I wanted to organise a march where we closed off Haywards Heath high street burning an effigy of the Archbishop of Canterbury and carrying banners saying No Protestants Here, I can tell you now that I wouldn’t be allowed. I would also expect them to arrest me within 24 hours”.

Cliffe and Commercial Square are the only societies out of the five in Lewes to annually burn a Pope. Keith Austin, Secretary of Lewes Bonfire Council said: “Mr O’Keefe is welcome to pursue what he wants to pursue. The celebrations are not about hate or bigotry but a reminder of when people did not have the freedom to choose their own religion. I wish Mr O’Keefe well in his own religion. As we have said countless times, we don’t burn THE Pope but Pope Paul V who was the Pope of Guy Fawkes’ day. We are not harassing anyone. People are free to come or not. I don’t know what Mr O’Keefe is getting screwed up about”.

Mr Austin said societies would be watching future developments keenly. Last week, Lewes’ Roman Catholic priest Father Eric Flood told his parishioners that he felt ‘more benign’ these days towards Lewes bonfire. He said in his newsletter: “After seven years I have become more aware of problems in the expression of what is another age. We don’t need to fight too hard over Protestant/Catholic issues any more. We have to live in charity and make allowances for the present time”.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 21, 2003


‘Distressed by bonfire ritual…

In your article ‘Prosecute those who burn the Pope’ I thought the reference to burning effigies of a long dead 17th century Pope could be construed to trivialise a serious issue. As I am sure you are well aware, many of the issues confronting us today have their roots in history. We can look to the recent bombings in Istanbul and the statement by the Turkish Prime Minister that they had a religious motif and the comments from the alleged perpetrators that this was a message to the crusaders of hundreds of years ago.

Distressed By Bonfire Ritual

We can look to the Balkans with the religious, ethnic and political divisions, which have caused the deaths of many people. I think that within our own British Isles we can look to Northern Ireland and the current phase of hostilities that date back to the civil rights movement and the persecution that Catholics were suffering under a semi-autonomous Protestant state. This brings me to the Lewes Bonfire and what I witnessed. The burning effigies of a Pope, the No Popery signs, the burning crosses and the chanting of No Popery are an assault on many Roman Catholics who witness this form of bigotry.

To say that I was alarmed and distressed would be an understatement. I am an Englishman. My father and grandfathers fought for this country. Do I not have the right to walk down an English street without feeling intimidated because of my religion? It is not good to say ‘stay away if you don’t like it’. Having served public office, I was astounded to think that such demonstrations of bigotry could be allowed by the local authority who issue licences for the parade, the police and local MP who turn a blind eye and the councilors of a so-called liberal nature.

I am sure that some of your readers will suggest that it is just a bit of bonfire night fun and pageantry, but not according to Mr Austin of the Lewes Bonfire Council, who talks about freedom and the burning of Protestant martyrs in Lewes. I think the word freedom in the context of Lewes has been greatly misused and the argument might even be believable but for the long-term involvement of the Reverend Ian Paisley and the Orange Order.

The burning of effigies in Lewes has always been to send a message. What message are they sending to Roman Catholics? What the people of Lewes should consider is that the message they are sending to the rest of Britain and abroad is that this town is a hot bed of extremism. Please remove your offensive effigies and banners and enjoy bonfire night like everyone else across Britain.

Sussex Express Friday, November 28, 2003


Ignorance of our tradition…

Excuse me, Mr O’Keefe, but I hardly think you can blame the Bonfire Societies for ‘dredging up an age-old war’ between Catholics and Protestants. The 20th century events in Northern Ireland have, alas, kept the ‘age-old war’ only too firmly in the public mind. If you are a Sussex man, Mr O’Keefe, then shame on you for your ignorance of Sussex traditions. If you are not a Sussex man, then may I suggest you find somewhere other than our lovely county to live. We are obviously not to your taste.

Ignorance Of Our Tradition

Sussex Express, Friday, November 28, 2003


No bigotry in bonfire fun…

I read with interest your article last week on the call to prosecute those who burn Pope Paul V with sadness and dismay. As a practicing Catholic who had to escort visiting foreign Councillors to the Lewes celebrations some five or so years ago, I was amazed to see what a fun event it was. I did not see any bigotry or anti-Catholic behavior. In the 1600s there was wrong on all sides and that needs to be left in those times. I take my practicing Catholic grandchildren to this event without fear or intimidation. It is a well known fact that any public figure can be the effigy of the event. Personally I think you have made it if you become that effigy.

No Bigotry In Bonfire Fun

This year I went to Barcombe Bonfire, another good family occasion (as I was unable to get to Lewes). After the so called Bonfire Prayers the cry went up ‘what shall we do with him’ (Guy Fawkes). I quickly shouted ‘Free Him’ and everybody laughed. Mr O’Keefe, I strongly recommend you taking your grandchildren to Lewes where there will be other families. Forget the past, go and enjoy yourself. To the Chief Constable I would say do not waste your valuable time on this one. Oh, by the way, if you do not believe I am a practising Catholic come to the 10.30 Mass on Sunday in Peacehaven and you will see me there. I will be pleased to meet you.

Sussex Express, Friday, 28 November, 2003


Crackdown on the idiots…

With reference to B. Abb’s letter (Express November 14). There was a lot of hanging around at Lewes but as usual the overall effect of the event was spectacular. As we all know Bonfire is a family thing. So I did not think twice in involving my young son. However, November 5 is making me re-think that decision. Not because of any society or its members but because of the lack of respect, good judgement and basic common sense of the members of the public/crowd. My son is only 21 months old but he loves the whole thing. He sits in his buggy waving and smiling at people and he loves the fireworks.

Crackdown On The Idiots

As our society passed The Volunteer at Lewes a member of the crowd tossed a banger into my sons buggy. Thankfully, quick thinking by myself and my husband saved him from any injury. Bonfire Boys and girls will know the damage bangers can do to little ones at close range. My boy was lucky. Why would anyone think that throwing one at a defenseless sleeping child is a good idea is beyond me.

The best part is when help was sought by a nearby WPC she simply replied ‘sorry there’s nothing I can do’. How about checking the crowd, showing a presence or at the least, asking if my son was unhurt. So its not the societies, effigies and fireworks you need to worry about, its the select number of idiots watching and the lack of control over them.

Sussex Express, Friday, 28 November, 2003


Catholic keeps up burning effigy fight…

A Newick man has pledged to keep up pressure on the police to take legal action against Lewes bonfire societies which burn effigies of a 17th century Pope on November 5. And the leading Catholic newspaper The Universe has taken Joe O’Keefe’s side, claiming its readers have sent in dozens of letters of support. The Universe on Sunday said readers could further Mr O’Keefe’s campaign by writing with their views to local MP Norman Baker to Sussex Police HQ or to East Sussex County Council.

Catholic Keeps Up Burning Effigy Fight

And it added on its front page: “Since we publicised the efforts of Joe O’Keefe to force a halt to the effigy burning, anti Catholic banners and chanting which mar the annual November 5 Lewes Bonfire, dozens of readers have taken time off from their busy Christmas preparations to send in personal letters offering their unqualified support to Mr O’Keefe’s move to ban what many Catholics see as an odious and repulsive scenario. And Mr O’Keefe said he had received many more letters of support direct to his home as the battle to end what is almost universally regarded outside Lewes as a long outdated and inappropriate practice is stepped up”.

Mr O’Keefe this week told the Express he had received several hundred letters, the vast  majority in support of his stand. A group of women had even volunteered to come over next Bonfire Night and say the Rosary during the celebrations, he added. This is no longer a local matter but a national one, he continued. “If it is within the law then this idea of no malice intended turns the law on its head.

There is a culture of bigotry in Lewes that runs right up to the Town Hall. We will go all the way to make sure the law of the land is enforced.” Mr O’Keefe wrote to Chief Constable Ken Jones some five weeks ago but is still waiting for a detailed reply. A bonfire spokesman pointed out “As we have said countless times we don’t burn THE Pope, but Pope Paul V who was the Pope of Guy Fawkes day”.

Sussex Express, Friday, 26 December, 2003

#lewesbonfire #bonfirenight fifth of november 5th

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