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 2004 - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations

« Sussex Express Supp 2004

Sussex Express Report 2004 »

Little support from local RCs for ‘ban No Popery’ campaign…

As a Catholic born of a Catholic family, a number of whom live and freely practise their religion in Lewes, I think I can safely say that Joe O’Keefe (Express December 26) is getting things out of all proportion. Talk of banning or censoring the bonfire celebrations is absurd and wrong. The fact is these celebrations commemorate a now (fortunately) long-past time when the hand of the Papacy was clearly visible behind the burning alive of the Protestant Martyrs in Lewes, the attempted Spanish invasion of England at the time of the Armada, and the later Gunpowder Plot.

Little Support From Local RCs For Ban No Popery Campaign

The celebrations bear no relationship or relevance to modern-day Catholicism, but are a commemoration of certain historical facts that affected Lewes and its surrounding areas very much at the time. They must not be confused with the bigotry in Northern Ireland. There are no Protestant gangs roaming the streets of Lewes (or any other town or village in England that I know of) hunting down Catholics to give them a good beating.

There are no protests outside the local Catholic school. There is no Protestant inspired vandalism against the local catholic church, nor threats to its Priest. Lewes is, in fact, a decent and very civilised town where there is absolutely no discrimination whatever against local Catholics either socially or in jobs, schooling or housing.

It is one mark of people in a civilised society that they do not go out of their way to gratuitously offend their neighbours. But it is also a mark of civilisation that one does take offence where none is actually intended. The latter point should be applied to the burning of the effigies of Popes from the past.

Having said that, I do believe that the Gypsy Effigies business was to say the very least, ill advised and in the poorest possible taste, as it singled out a particular group of people (and their children) who were already locally unpopular. It should not have happened, and the bonfire society concerned should realise that the celebrations are concerned with history and not local current affairs.

Mr O’Keefe claims that most Catholics feel the same way as him, and regard the event as offensive. That is nonsense. I would say the opposite; that most Catholics see the bonfire celebrations for what they really are – a fun-filled annual festival to which it is perfectly safe to take their children. So safe that my Catholic niece in Lewes felt quite free to join a local bonfire society, with her two young children, without for one second hiding her own religion.

Nobody in the society concerned turned a hair. It is also fact, not fiction, that many local Catholics are members of the various societies! As to a world-wide campaign? Americans and Australians, God bless them, know nothing of Lewes or its history. And the fact that Mr O’Keefe has to look abroad for support speaks volumes. For he has very little support from Catholics over here. Perhaps he should ask himself why.

Sussex Express, Friday, 9 January, 2004


Think again, priest tells anti-bonfire campaigner…

Lewes’ Roman Catholic parish priest believes Joe O’Keefe. the Newick man currently trying to get certain bonfire societies prosecuted for burning a Pope in effigy, should think again. Father Eric Flood, of St Pancras Church, this week said Mr O’Keefe should study the background to the November 5 custom in more depth. His remarks came as part of an important question-and-answer debate initiated with him by the Express in the wake of recent national Press reports on the legality of ‘No Popery’ in this day and age.

Think Again Priest Tells Anti Bonfire Campaigner

Mr O’Keefe wants to force a halt to the ‘effigy burning, anti-Catholic banners and chanting’ which is part of Bonfire Night tradition. And he has urged Sussex Police to take legal action against certain societies. But Father Flood, who was initially anti-bonfire when he came to Lewes several years ago, has come round to a more tempered view. We asked Father Flood what feedback he had had from parishioners to Mr O’Keefe’s attempts to have ‘Pope burning’ bonfire societies prosecuted.

He said few were interested in the issue. There was also a feeling that Mr O’Keefe was unaware of the true nature of Lewes’ predilection. Had he expressed an opinion to parishioners on the matter? “No, except to suggest that I had mellowed over the years and would be slow to interpret and judge”.

Question: “Our perception is that local Catholics view the Pope-burning element of bonfire within its historical context and, while finding it uncomfortable, probably do not feel intimidated. Would you agree?”

Father Flood: “I tend to agree. I’ve not heard of intimidation being felt”.

Question: “Mr O’Keefe views the no-popery element of Bonfire Night as a sectarian matter. Have you ever encountered sectarian feelings against Catholics in Lewes?.

Father Flood: “No except among those too old, ignorant or ‘wise’ enough to know any better”.

Question: “Have you had any feedback from other clergy in the town?.

Father Flood: “No, Rarely, if ever, do the clergy gather to discuss bonfire”.

Question: “Do you think Mr O’Keefe should reconsider his position?.

Father Flood: “Yes, seriously. Let him study the phenomenon at some depth”.

Question: “Feel free to add anything you wish to this debate.

Father Flood: “Bonfire, whatever that is, should try to be more sensitive to the expression of its mind. And committed Christians who have a toe in it for social purposes etc should be extra-sensitive to urge caution – even to cancelling what might be interpreted as ‘bad taste, to many non-Christians”.

Sussex Express, Friday, January 9, 2004


“I shouldn’t have to be doing this”…

I Shouldn`t Have To Be Doing This

Mr O’Keefe 52, was away this week speaking to Roman Catholic groups and politicians in the North about the bonfire situation in Lewes. He told the Express: “Anything that celebrates division, racial or religious, I feel very strongly about and, being a practising Catholic, I was appalled at what I saw on Bonfire Night”. He added: “I shouldn’t be having to do what I am doing. But the No Popery banner sends a message that Catholics are different and not really part of our society because of something that happened in the 17th Century”.

Sussex Express, Friday, January 9, 2004


Why we celebrate the Fifth in Lewes…

An unofficial Cliffe Bonfire Society webpage has this to say: “We hold our celebrations of remembrance in light-hearted vein, but do not allow this to distract us from the fundamental reasons for our celebrations. By our activities on the Fifth, we desire to remind people of the religious antagonisms of a bygone age and in particular to spotlight specific events which were the outcome.

By our bonfires and our 17 blazing crosses, we recall to mind the fires that burnt to death the Protestant Martyrs outside the Star Inn, Lewes during the Marian Persecutions of the 16th Century, fires that burned into people’s hearts a hatred of tyranny which has ensured for us our freedom of thought and conscience.

Why We Celebrate The Fifth In Lewes

And by the Fifth we remember the discovery on 5th November 1605 of the Jesuit-inspired Gunpowder Plot to destroy England’s Protestant King and Parliament. No less important, the landing at Brixham on 5th November 1688 of William, Prince of Orange, who gave England freedom of worship for Anglican and Non Conformists alike and established the roots of that British tradition of tolerance and understanding which sets an example to all nations.

Ours is not a spirit of intolerance (except of tyranny), but rather of gratitude and remembrance. Of gratitude to those brave men and women who gave their lives in the fight for our freedom. Of remembrance of that alien political system which has ever been England’s bitterest foe and of which the Book of Common Prayer says: “The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England”.

Sussex Express, Friday, January 9, 2004


A misguided fight…

Mr Joe O’Keefe has attracted considerable national publicity and apparent support for his campaign to prevent Lewes bonfire societies from including vivid ‘no popery’ messages in their celebrations on November 5. Mr O’Keefe is not the first person, Catholic or otherwise, to be shocked by the parading of banners, and the burning – to a chorus of chants – of an effigy of a Pope. Nor is he the first to interpret the spectacle as a demonstration of modern-day anti-Catholic feeling.

A Misguided Fight

The suggestion that the robustly Protestant aspects of The Fifth are akin to sectarian demonstrations in Northern Ireland are a woeful misreading of the traditional event. Certainly anti-Catholic feeling, grounded in a loyalty to the 17 martyrs, was once an aspect of Lewes life – even into the early parts of the last century. But, progress education, understanding and tolerance has eroded that bitterness among all but a tiny and marginialised minority.

So today the raging against Papism that we still witness on bonfire night is a homage to the resolve of those in the 17th century who ensured Britain’s independence from unwanted political and religious interference. Local Catholics, while perhaps feeling some understandable discomfort, largely put the religious incorrect context where they belong.

Mr O’Keefe is clearly a stout defender of his faith and deserves respect for speaking his mind. And it may well be that the debate he has sparked will lead to some more general reflection among the bonfire fraternity over the way their great pageant is perceived by the outside world. His attempt to bring the force of law against the bonfire societies is ill judged however. The irony is that, were he to be successful in curtailing the offending displays, Lewes would probably experience its first grumbles of anti-Catholic sentiment for very many years.

Sussex Express, Friday, January 9, 2004


Anne is joining burning effigy protest…

A Tory MP has backed calls to stop effigies of the Pope being burnt at Lewes’s annual bonfire celebrations. Anne Widdecombe described the 150-year-old tradition as inappropriate. The former shadow home secretary has backed Catholic grandfather Joe O’Keefe’s campaign to stop anti-Catholic symbolism at the annual event. Mrs Widdicombe, MP for Maidstone and The Weald, said: “I think it’s inappropriate and I wish it didn’t happen. If you cannot see why burning an effigy of the Pope is not appropriate, what can I say?”

Anne Is Joining Burning Effigy Protest

Mr O’Keefe welcomed the support of Ms Widdicombe, who is well known for her strong Catholic beliefs. He said she was just one of hundreds of well-wishers who were backing his campaign from all over the world. He also received support from Labour MP Kevin McNamara, a former shadow Northern Ireland secretary. Mr O’Keefe said: I am amazed I even have to argue this in this day and age.

Any decent person of whatever creed, should be absolutely appalled that we can see taxpayers money being used to festoon a town in such poisonous graffiti each year. Even the Orange lodges in Northern Ireland don’t do some of the things they do in Lewes – because they’re not allowed to.

Firebrand MP Backs Calls To Stop Anti Catholic Displays In Lewes

I know Ian Paisley is not supposed to be very well but his son still makes visits to Lewes. Maybe it is to go to meetings or to church, but you have to wonder, why Lewes? We need the support of people like Anne Widdecombe and of ordinary, decent people to stop this event, which is reminiscent of the Klu Klux Klan”.

Mr O’Keefe received more than 100 letters of support in one month for his stance, including the offer of legal support from a solicitor. He has also written to Sussex Police Chief Constable Ken Jones for support. His campaign began after last year’s controversial bonfire celebrations in Firle, which included effigies of travelers being burnt. Ten people were arrested. All have been questioned on suspicion of incitement to racial hatred and bailed until a date later this month.

The Argus, Saturday, January 17, 2004


We aren’t against Catholics…

Organisers of the Lewes bonfire celebrations have hit back angrily at claims the annual ceremony is anti-Catholic. The Lewes Bonfire Council,which co-ordinates the town’s six bonfire societies, has vowed to continue burning a controversial pope effigy. It claims many Catholics are backing the ritual.

The Argus reported on Saturday that Tory MP Ann Widdecombe had backed Catholic grandfather Joe O’Keefe’s campaign to stop ant-Catholic symbolism at Lewes’s bonfire celebrations. The former shadow home secretary described the tradition as inappropriate. She said: “If you cannot see why burning an effigy of the Pope is not appropriate, what can I say?”

But angry Keith Austin, Secretary of the Lewes Bonfire Council, accused Mr O’Keefe of orchestrating a smear campaign while ignoring the facts. He said “We are not anti-Catholic. We are interdenominational and we have Catholic members. What we do is remember when there were divisions between the Catholics and Protestants in Lewes, in the 1800s. The bonfire has been going 400 years next year.”

We Aren`t Against Catholics

Mr O’Keefe, from nearby Newick, angered members of Lewes’s bonfire societies when he said the celebrations were “reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan” and should not receive taxpayers money. He told the Argus: “Even the Orange lodges in Northern Ireland don’t do some of the things they do in Lewes because they’re not allowed to. I know Ian Paisley is not supposed to be very well but his son still makes visits to Lewes. Maybe it is to go to meetings or to church but you have to wonder: Why Lewes?”

But Mr Austin said: “We are nothing whatsoever to do with Northern Ireland and we are nothing to do with Ian Paisley. He has been to the town twice as far as I know. Talk of the Ku Klux Klan is crazy. We have 17 burning crosses which each represent a martyr burnt at the stake in Lewes between 1555 and 1557”.

Mr Austin said the pope burned during the ceremony is an effigy of Pope Paul V – not the current pontiff, Pope John Paul II. He added: “We have received calls and letters of support for our celebrations and most have been from Catholics. Mr O’Keefe is whipping up support and not telling people the real truth.” Mr O’Keefe started his campaign after ten people were arrested following the burning of traveler effigies in Firle last November.

The Argus, Friday, January 23, 2004


Time to celebrate tolerance…

I’ve no particular religious axe to grind, and thoroughly enjoy the bonfire celebrations, but as one with a keen interest in history, I must take issue with a number of comments in the Cliffe Bonfire Society article published in the Express on January 9.

Time To Celebrate Tolerance

1. The fires that burnt to death the Protestant martyrs during the Marian Persecutions did ‘not’ burn into people’s hearts a hatred of ‘tyranny’ and had little to do with freedom of thought and conscience as the article states. The 16th century was not an age of religious toleration, either by Catholics towards Protestants or Protestants of Catholics.

It will be recalled that Elizabeth put to death hundreds of Catholics, to say nothing of the thousands put to death by both on the continent. Indeed, moderate Protestant churches felt justified in executing members of extreme Protestant sects, and many of the Marian martyrs (for example members of the Anabaptist congregations) would have been under threat under mainstream Protestant churches.

2. The Jesuits had nothing to do with the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Even if Guy Fawkes was behind the plot, and many historians have challenged this assumption, no serious historian would claim that he was linked to the Society of Jesus.

3. The Bishop of Rome has not ‘ever been England’s bitterest foe’ and to refer to his authority as an ‘alien political system’ is to trivialise centuries of complex church-state relations in England’s history (not least the 1,000 years before the reformation, of course).

If we wish to genuinely celebrate tolerance, then this must be extended to all Christian churches, and, presumably in the modern age, towards non-Christian faiths too – blazing crosses, sadly are more associated with the violent bigotry of the Ku Klux Klan (particularly when accompanied by white hoods and robes) than with Christian martyrs.

Sussex Express, Friday, January 23, 2004


Country Is Officially Anti Catholic…

Country Is Officially Anti Catholic

Recent upset about bonfire tradition seems to be missing a fundamental point. This nation has an established religion, and it is not simply Christianity, but Protestantism. By law, the sovereign must be Protestant, and there are many other links between church and state. The whole country is therefore, officially, anti-Catholic, and ‘No Popery’. Our ‘fault’ in Lewes lies not in being wrong, but being honest.

Sussex Express, Friday, January 23, 2004


140 at Waterloo dinner…

Nearly 140 guests sat down at The White Hart on Saturday for Waterloo Bonfire Society’s annual dinner and disco. Cheques each for £460 were presented to the local Riding for the Disabled and St John Ambulance groups.

140 At Waterloo Dinner

Pictured, Captain Wayne Hopla, director of music of the King’s Division Waterloo Band, former President Ron Cook, Treasurer John Armitage, Vice-Chairman Chris Armitage, member Jonathan Chartier, Mayor and President Michael Chartier, Chairman David Quinn and Mayoress Monica Chartier.

Sussex Express, Friday, January 23, 2004


Lewes is not Northern Ireland…

With entreaties for tolerance of a great local historical pageant still falling on deaf ears and the clamour of a small minority for a ban on the ‘No Popery displays at Lewes each year apparently undiminished, may I remind everyone this is meant to be a free country, where freedom of expression should only be suppressed if there is a clear incitement to violence?

Lewes Is Not Northen Ireland

If Joe O’Keefe gets his way, what will be banned next? Should we demolish the Lewes War Memorial to the Protestant Martyrs in case it offends a minute minority of Catholics? Should we forcibly shut down Dr Paisley’s little chapel in Lewes, with its ludicrously tiny congregation?

Should we ban everything of every description that could possibly offend anyone at all? Smoking, cars, kissing in public,swearing, dogs and cats, ponies fouling the bridle-ways, children being out without their parents, kicking of balls, shouting, laughing, playing of musical instruments, outlandish hairstyles and dress, having a glum face? The list would be endless – and what a bland and terrifying world that would be to live in.

Dr Paisley and his like are no threat to Lewes or its people and are interlopers anyway. The bonfire celebrations have got on well without him for donkey’s years. And just to underline that, might I, as a Catholic, suggest to the Cliffe’s Society a new effigy for this year’s celebrations?

How about that of the good Dr Paisley burning alongside clearly labelled effigies of the long-dead Popes who burned the Lewes Martyrs, gave their blessing to the Spanish Armada and encouraged the Gunpowder Plot? And then add a placard or two saying “We love John Paul II”(who is not trying to overthrow our government or way of life). Then even Mr O’Keefe might see that Lewes is not Northern Ireland.

The Argus, Wednesday, January 28, 2004


Jumble Sale…

Nevill Juvenile Bonfire Society members raised more than £200 for their November 5 celebrations with a jumble sale at Ringmer village hall on Saturday. Despite the appalling weather, the hall was packed with customers, searching the bricabrac, books, toys and clothes. Nevill moved its jumble sales to Ringmer after the Scout and Guide hut in St John’s Street, Lewes closed down in the middle of last year.

Nevill Jumble Sale

Pictured, committee member Norma Thompson, Kevin Miller (Chair), Craig Jade and Karl.

Sussex Express, Friday, February 6, 2004


‘It’s nasty but not illegal’…

The anti-Papist imagery seen on the streets of Lewes on November 5 is ‘objectionable’ but not illegal. That view has been expressed by a Home Office official in response to a campaign by Roman Catholics to have the ‘No Popery’ message of bonfire banned. The campaign was launched by Newick man Joe O’Keefe and has attracted widespread support from both Catholics and non-Catholics, mostly outside of Lewes.

It`s Nasty But Not Illegal

The Roman Catholic newspaper The Universe reported on Sunday that a reader who had protested to the Home Office about the anti-Papist symbolism of Lewes Bonfire had been told that no action could be taken because the issue was not covered by anti-discrimination legislation. Tania Celani, of the Home Office’s Faith Communities Unit, wrote that even though the burning of a Papal effigy was objectionable the practice was not illegal. She appreciated how it might cause offence to Catholics and non-Catholics.

A spokesperson in the Home Office press centre confirmed the legal position to the Express this week. She said that a government proposal to introduce an offence of incitement to religious hatred had been included in the Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2001, but was dropped to ensure passage of the Bill through the Lords. The legislation did, however, introduce stiffer penalties where assault, threatening behaviour or criminal damage could be shown to be religiously aggravated.

Mr O’Keefe is undaunted by the apparent absence of legal support for his campaign against the bonfire societies and firmly believes that events will force them to drop the ‘No Popery’ message. He has written to Tony Blair and has received a reply saying that the Prime Minister is extremely interested in his points and has passed the matter to the appropriate department.

Mr O’Keefe, who has received hate mail and threatening letters since launching his campaign, is insistent that the issue is not one of religious conflict. “This is nothing to do with religion. There is an absence of any Christian thought in what certain bonfire societies are doing. They should be celebrating the best of the past, not the worst”.

The days of the No Popery banners were numbered, he added. Roman Catholics in Lewes appear to be maintaining a discreet distance from Mr O’Keefe’s campaign. The parish priest, Fr Eric Flood, has declined to endorse Mr O’Keefe’s views, and a long standing local Catholic lay person opposed the campaign in a recent letter to The Universe.

Lifelong Lewes resident Ros Barry wrote: Bonfire night in Lewes is enjoyed by people of all denominations and there is absolutely no animosity in any of the proceedings – indeed many Catholics actually participate in the proceedings! I understand Mr O’Keefe. who lives outside Lewes, has not lived in the area overly long. I would suggest instead of campaigning and leaving a bitter taste with the people of Lewes, he leaves us alone and lets us carry on with our traditions.

When the late Canon O’Donnell was parish priest in Lewes we had a bonfire night Mass just prior to the commencement of the bonfire celebrations at 4pm. We in Lewes have worked hard to nurture good relations with the bonfire societies and would not like this to be brought to an end by the hostilities of ‘outsiders’.

Sussex Express, Friday, February 20, 2004


Lewes is living in a time warp…

In his letter last week Norman Mackenzie suggests that ‘pikey’ is inoffensive because it comes from ‘turnpike’. Nicknames for persecuted racial and religious groups quickly acquire an offensiveness unrelated to their origin. Would he also justify calling a person of African desent a ‘nigger’ because this comes from the Latin nigger meaning black?

Lewes Is Living In A Time Warp

In the same issue you report that pope-burning is ‘objectionable’ but ‘not illegal’ and your report seems to suggest this should be taken as a green light to continue. Saintly Father Flood may turn the other cheek but Ros Barry’s claim that Joe O’Keefe’s views should be ignored because he lives in Newick is extraordinarily parochial. Shouldn’t Cliffe now drop a ‘traditional’ practice that the other bonfire societies have long since abandoned and that is no longer significant or amusing?

Someone else with his head in the sand is Cllr Andrew Small, the Firle ‘clergyman’, arrested, required to resign from the Lib Dems, removed from the planning committee chairmanship and now reported to the Standards Board by the Commission for Racial Equality. Whilst Firle Bonfire Society promptly apologised unreservedly for burning a gypsy family in effigy, Cllr Small claims three generations of bonfire tradition justify his activities and says : “I shall fight any suggestion that what I did was improper”

We may have to wait and see if the Firle incident was illegal, but it was quite clearly objectionable. Isn’t it time for Andrew Small to call it a day and resign from the council? Because there are few black or brown faces around and the victims of local prejudice are nearly all white, this Sussex backwater seems to think it has an opt-out from the anti-discrimination legislation of the last 40 years.

The high profile given to Lewes by our publicity-conscious MP has ensured that whatever happens here no longer goes unnoticed. Indeed Norman Baker’s unhelpful and unfair characterisation of the Firle gypsies as ‘itinerant criminals’ has itself been the subject of national debate. Isn’t it time Lewes stopped living in a 1950s time-warp and dragged itself into the 21st century?

Sussex Express, Friday, February 27, 2004


Traditions past their sell-by date…

Traditions Past Their Sell By Date

Tradition, tradition, tradition – why are Lewes people so hung up on tradition? Just because it’s tradition doesn’t make it right, otherwise we’d still be baiting bears and burning witches. Your

correspondents are equally hung up about ‘outsiders’, but outsiders and newcomers are entitled to a view and may even shed some light on traditions which are well past their sell-by date. How about starting by getting rid of the offensive No-Popery banner traditionally draped across Cliffe High Street?

Sussex Express, Friday, February 27, 2004


Give up the objectionable side of bonfire, says priest…

The Roman Catholic parish priest for Lewes, Father Eric Flood, has once more joined in the debate over the controversial anti-Papist imagery seen in Lewes on Bonfire Night. Referring to the Express headline (February 20) (It’s nasty but not illegal), he wrote in his parish newsletter: “Because it isn’t actually illegal to burn the effigy, it’s allowed. But that’s not the real point is it? Surely it’s that it isn’t a very nice thing to do.

Give Up The Objectionable Side Of Bonfire Says Priest

And not very nice people would do it. So there we have a stalemate! or do we? “Why dont bonfire folk (nice people on the whole) give up doing objectionable things to their RC brothers and sisters? Then we, the RCs, could get down to getting on with you better.” “Treat us as you would treat yourselves and we’ll do likewise. Have your fires and fireworks. Make nice whoopee and don’t drink too much. Then leave us RCs to do our own thing.

Sussex Express, Friday, March 5, 2004


‘Consult bonfire community on firework curfew’…

Lewes bonfire boys are urgently seeking clarification about proposed new firework legislation which could effectively dilute Bonfire Night celebrations in the county town. The Government is seeking to outlaw the letting off of fireworks after 11pm, except on November 5 and New Year’s Eve, when the curfew will be set at 2am. And it wants a noise limit of 120 decibels for category three fireworks, the largest and most powerful fireworks said to be available to the public.

Consult Bonfire Community On Firework Curfew

Richard Black, Labour parliamentary candidate for Lewes, is seeking a meeting with the Lewes Bonfire Council to discuss the Government plans.He said: “I welcome these proposals in principle because the irresponsible use of fireworks, especially in the run-up to November 5, makes many people’s lives a misery. But Lewes also has a long tradition and considerable technical expertise when it comes to fireworks, and I am anxious to ensure that the views of the bonfire community are properly taken into account in the development of legislation”.

Consumer Minister Gerry Sutcliffe said: “For the majority, fireworks can be fun, but when they get into the hands of irresponsible hooligans they cause a real disturbance in local communities. These proposals crack down on he excess noise and nuisance that often keeps people awake at night and causes misery to pets and other animals”. However, Lewes Bonfire Council Secretary, Keith Austin said: One of the problems is that Bonfire Night is not always held on November 5, even in Lewes. And who is going to police these new laws?

Haven’t the police got enough to do without chasing people letting off fireworks? What annoys me is the people who hold a firework display and don’t bother to warn their neighbours about it. At least people know when we hold ours. We will be responding to these proposals. We need a lot more clarification, for instance, on whether the noise limits apply to professional fireworks organisations like ourselves”.

Mr Austin said he did not object to the general 11pm curfew, but it should not apply when other societies put on displays on dates other than November 5. And he pointed out “We have in this country a thing about stopping things at 11pm. On the Continent, that’s when people go out to play”.

A Department of Trade and Industry spokesman told the Express that 120 decibels was about the same noise as a book being dropped on a desk from a Metre’s height! If bonfire societies wanted to apply for a curfew exemption, this should be done by approaching the local council. And she said the new legislation was directed at anti-social behaviour. The position of bonfire societies would be examined carefully in due course.

Sussex Express, Friday, April 30, 2004


Damp squib?…

Outside of the East Sussex bonfire season and major public celebrations, fireworks were, until recent years, rarely heard. Nowadays they are a year round phenomenon, easily acquired, and an essential accompaniment to birthday parties, weddings and a multitude of other special private occasions. The Express received reports last year of rockets going up on that most silent of nights, Christmas Eve. Little surprise then that controlling legislation is planned.

Damp Squib?

This will undoubtedly be welcomed by those who have had to cope with panicky animals because of unannounced displays, or whose sleep has been disturbed by unreasonably late fire-works. The proposed law appears to be targeted in the right area, focusing on a late curfew, and, more importantly, a volume limit. Owners of animals will still have no safeguard against impromptu displays, but if the bangs are toned down this should at least ease the problem.

However, the law will be flawed if it unreasonably constrains the bonfire societies of East Sussex whose celebrations culminate in spectacular displays from September until the beginning of November. Certainly the ‘rookies’ set off in Lewes on the Fifth, leave the proposed 120 decibel limit far behind. The bonfire societies deserve to be treated as a special case, and there should be mechanism in place to provide them with exemption on their big night.

Well designed legislation should continue to permit the unique spectacle of properly organised bonfire celebrations, while outlawing the unwelcome surprises provided by fireworks at other times.

Sussex Express, Friday, April 30, 2004


£120 from bonfire jumble…

£120 From Bonfire Jumble

Borough Bonfire Society members raised more than £120 with a sale of bricabrac, cakes and plants in the Market Tower passageway on Saturday. Tomorrow (Saturday) the Lewes society is also holding a jumble sale at the Malthouse, Cooksbridge, and a race night at the Royal Oak, Station Street, from 7.30 pm.

Sussex Express, Friday, May 14, 2004


Honour guard of torches…

Two staunch bonfire followers received a rousing reception at their wedding at St Anne’s Church in Lewes. Waterloo members dressed in Tudor and Smuggler costumes formed a guard of honour, substituting bonfire torches for swords. The occasion was the wedding of Katie Rea of Blois Road, Lewes, and Justin Sedar of North Way Lewes. The bride wore an ivory two-piece in silk organza and carried a bouquet of cream roses. She was given away by her father, Grahame.

Honour Guard Of Torches

Bridesmaids were Emma, Vicky and Amy Rea, the bride’s sisters; Shannon Rea, the bride’s daughter; Anne Marie Sedar, the bridegroom’s sister, and Stacey and Sophie Sedar his daughters. The pageboy was Samuel Sedar, the bridegroom’s son. The best man was Kevin Sexton and the reception was held at St Mary’s Social Centre. The couple honey-mooned in North Wales.

The picture, by Angela Brinkhurst, shows the couple leaving St Anne’s through a guard of honour made up of Andrea Richardson, John Hunnisett, Alex Swinburn, Johnathan Tompsett, Carol Hunnisett and Paul Slot.

Sussex Express, Friday, June 18, 2004


Death of bonfire veteran Bert…

The death occurred on Monday of veteran Lewes Bonfire stalwart Bert Taylor. Mr Taylor, 88, had been a member of Commercial Square for 74 years. Born and bred in the Mount Pleasant area of Lewes, Mr Taylor was a master carpenter who worked for his father’s building firm of HA Taylor and Sons. He joined Commercial Square at the age of 14 and was a dedicated member, particularly well known for his prowess at collecting donations on Bonfire Night.

Death Of Bonfire Veteran Bert

He leaves daughters Christine Armitage and Sally Woodgate as well as three grand-children and four great-grandchildren. “He was all his life a real Lewes Rook” said daughter Christine. He had a wonderful sense of humour and a smile that would light up a room. The day he died, the last thing we got was his smile”. Mr Taylor last took part in Bonfire Night in 2000 when he was already beginning to become ill. His funeral takes place on Friday (July 2) at noon at St John sub Castro followed by cremation in Brighton.

Pictured, Mr Taylor on his last Lewes Bonfire Night being pushed by daughter Sally. Mr Taylor at the age of 21 when he was a Centurion with Commercial Square.

Sussex Express, Friday, June 25, 2004


Nevill Bonfire Night…

Nevill bonfire night is on Saturday October 23, with the first procession starting from St Mary’s Church Hall, Highdown Road at 6.30pm. Most roads on the estate are covered with all three processions starting from headquarters. The grand firework display with the destruction of the effigy of Guy Fawkes, set pieces, etc takes place on the motor road at 9.15pm. The last item of the night are the bonfire prayers at 10.15pm. All these times are approximate.

Nevill Bonfire Night

Led by the three town badges and the society’s banner, street firework pieces will be lit on the approach to the bonfire site. Fancy dress competition winners will be amongst those at the head of the procession. Pioneers, Valencians will also be among those at the front. The Newhaven Youth Marching Band and the 1st Barcombe Scout Band will be providing the music with a further band to be confirmed also playing. Visiting societies and flaming tar barrels will be at the rear.

Once again we expect a fine evening and people living on the procession routes are asked to keep vehicles off the roads.Refreshments will again be provided. Admission to the fire-site is free to members of the society, to others it will be £2.50. Badge night is on Monday, October 18, at the Supporters Club of St Mary’s Social Centre, from 7.30pm onwards.

Programmes are available from Nevill Newsagents or from members, price £1. A large selection of society merchandise will be available on badge night. This years street collection will be divided between the Lewes Victoria Hospital League of Friends and the St John Ambulance Brigade who will be in attendance on bonfire night. The bonfire programme contains all the information plus the ongoing history of the society written by Mr C Earl.

Sussex Express, Friday, October 1, 2004


Don’t bring the kids to bonfire…

Children under 10 should stay away from the congested Lewes town centre on Bonfire Night. That is the view of Keith Austin, Secretary of the Lewes Bonfire Council, who says it is simply too dangerous. And that sentiment is shared by the police, particularly as Bonfire Night falls this year on a Friday and is likely to attract larger crowds than usual. “It scares me every year when I see the huge crowds and children wedged among them”, said Mr Austin.

Don`t Bring The Kids To Bonfire

“Children are so vulnerable. They are safe enough taking part in our processions because they are closely protected by adults who know the risks. Being inside a crowd of some 50,000 strong is an entirely different matter. A child could be trampled, could become separated from his or her parents, or could be plain terrified. It is not a place for children”.

Chief Inspector Bob Gough, police district commander, said: “It has been a safe spectacle over the years but I agree with the stance, given the nature of the event”. Bonfire organisers are particularly worried about parents taking children in prams into the town centre on November 5. “A child in a pushchair hears more noise than an adult, because it is closer to the ground”, added Mr Austin. “And pushchairs are not made of fireproof material”.

There are also fears that a child in a pushchair cannot easily turn away from the possible impact of a firework. Equally, should an accident occur, there would be a strong possibility of other people becoming entangled with the pushchair, causing more injury. Bonfire organisers are also warning people not to crowd balconies in Lewes to watch the processions. There is a risk of a fall or a balcony giving way.

Sussex Express, Friday, October 15, 2004


Junior Zulu wins first prize…

Junior Zulu Wins First Prize

Shannon Sedar, dressed as a Zulu warrior (above) fought off stiff competition from Tartar warriors, Tudors and Siamese to claim the prize of best dressed child at the Waterloo Bonfire Society fancy dress competition. Paul Penfold won the children’s comic class with an Elvis impersonation and Glen Rose, wearing a Spartan Hoplite costume, was best dressed adult.

Sussex Express, Friday, October 15, 2004


Bonfire visitors told not to come…

Lewes Bonfire Council which represents the town’s six bonfire societies, is urging people from outside the town not to come to the annual bonfire celebrations. It says the event is basically a Lewes tradition which allows the people of the town to celebrate bonfire. Said Secretary Keith Austin: “Roads in the town are closed, meaning that there are no parking facilities. Those using public transport are likely to find that it is very crowded and that they may have to queue for long periods to get home.”

Bonfire Visitors Told Not To Come

“This can be an unpleasant experience, particularly when it is cold or raining. Lewes Bonfire is a particularly unsuitable event for young children who are unlikely to get a view of the celebrations and who may find the event confusing and frightening. Also young children in pushchairs and buggies are vulnerable to injury, due to the density of the crowds.”

There have been efforts in previous years to reduce the numbers coming into Lewes. At it’s height, as many as 70,000 poured into Lewes on November 5, straining emergency resources. This is the first time ever, however, that people coming from outside parts have been requested to stay away. Mr Austin sees a crowd of 30-35,000 as being a reasonable compromise – and that could easily be achieved by visitors coming from the immediate locality.

“A lot of people come from a long way away who have no idea of the procedure of the evening”, he added. “They find themselves having an uncomfortable experience. Lewes creaks at the seams when the crowds get too big” Added Mr Austin: “We know from many years experience that the larger the crowd, the more uncomfortable it can become for spectators. We therefore urge people from outside the Lewes area to celebrate in their own locality and to avoid the town on the 5th”.

Sussex Express, Friday, October 22, 2004


Fun on the Fifth by the kids, for the kids…

Bonfire Night in Lewes in 1965. The picture was sent in by Anne Parsons of Lewes. Her husband-to-be Brian Parsons is holding the banner. His cousin Alan is wearing a cowboy suit and the man with the bowler hat is Jim Dodd, then President of the Lynchets Bonfire Society. The society held its bonfire celebrations two days before the real thing. The Express at the time reported: The Lynchets show gave the lie to rumours about bonfire night dying out. Certainly it was a fine event.

Fun On The Fifth By The Kids For The Kids

In the 30 or more strong procession were pirates, witches, wizards, Red Indians, cowboys, ghosts, sweeps and even a cat. The society which folded soon afterwards, was entirely run by teenagers up to the age of 18. Well over £10 worth of fire-works were let off, according to the Express report. Two of Mr and Mrs Parsons sons are currently deeply involved in Nevill Juvenile Bonfire Society. Owen, 20, is Captain of programmes and Deputy Captain of effigy, while Calum, 15, is Captain of junior tableaux.

Sussex Express, Friday, October 22, 2004


Bonfire blast from the past…

Jane Barrows from Leicestershire was looking through some old family papers when she came across letters written from Lewes just after Bonfire Night 110 years ago. They were written by brother and sister Harold and Evelyne Harland and their mother Anne, of 18 St John’s Terrace, to Alice Jeffrey in Kettering.

Bonfire Blast From The Past

Some extracts from Harold (sic): “We had a jolly day on the 5th, Percy, father and a visitor from Haywards Heath and I went out in the evening and were kept quite busy with seeing processions and I saw one Pope and Guy Fawkes burnt being fed with rousers did not go off very quietly; after this I went home as the noise made my head ache so I did see much of the carnival. I had a nice few fireworks but managed to get rid of them quicker than I wanted to”.

Evelyne wrote: “I like Bonfire. I was not very well and I could not go out, only outside the door, I let off four roman candles. We have got 38 more fireworks because I was not well enough to let them all off. Harold and Percy and papa and a friend saw a good many processions and I only saw one that had not any tar-barrels. Harold was dressed up as a clown and Percy dressed up as a soldier with a brass hat and Wilfred dressed up as Buffalo Bill and had his nightshirt on and a red hat”.

Anne wrote: “It is our Missionary Meeting tonight. Percy and Harold are going with me if it does not rain too fast. Thought you would like the pear, some are not quite ripe, will be in a few days”.

Sussex Express, Friday, October 22, 2004


Prepare for mud underfoot at fire site…

Waterloo Bonfire Society is to hold its November 5 bonfire and fireworks display at its usual Malling Brooks site despite the flood defence works that are going on. The work is nearing its completion and, with the co-operation of the Environment Agency, Black and Veatch, Mackley Construction and Lewes District Council, the society will be able to go ahead as usual. However the river path entrance on the Phoenix Causeway will remain closed.

Prepare For Mud Underfoot At Fire Site

Members of the public heading for the fire site must follow the diversion signs to the Tesco roundabout and left into Brooks Road. The route via the mini roundabout at the bottom of Brooks Road is the same taken by the society’s grand procession. The fire site will be soft underfoot and possibly muddy.

For those who do not want to enter the site, Mayhew Way will be an excellent vantage point. The society is urging people who wish to park in the Brooks Road/ South Downs Road areas to observe the road closure order that will still be in place at the end of the display. A spokesman said: “Please do not attempt to drive vehicles through the dispersing crowds and the society’s procession that will be making its way back into town at this time.

Sussex Express, Friday, 29 October, 2004


Cliffe skyrockets to fancy dress victory…

Cliffe pulled out all the stops to storm away with the Lewes Bonfire Council fancy dress competition at Lewes Town Hall on Friday, Strengthened by the addition of Moors and Saracens, the society pulled in 53.5 points, more than double the score of Borough which came in second with 24.5 points. Waterloo was third with 21.5 points and Commercial Square trailed in with 7.5 points. South Street won its share of the spoils but did not enter for the Points Cup.

Cliffe Skyrockets To Fancy Dress Victory

Some 500 bonfire members attended the evening, dressed as Indians, Tartars, Vikings, Venetians, Zulus, Tudor and Siamese. The Pioneer and Second Pioneer Cups went to Borough. A new cup, the Bert Taylor Memorial Cup for best fancy dress male, was presented by Christine Armitage and Sally Woodgate, daughters of the late Mr Taylor who was a member of Commercial Square for 74 years.

The children’s cups were presented by Sylvia Hall, Chairman of Lewes Operatic Society and the adult cups were presented by the Mayor and Mayoress of Lewes, Cllrs Rod and Yvonne Crocker. Master of ceremonies was Phillip Hall and judges were representatives of Lewes Lions Club, Newhaven, Peacehaven and Seaford Lions Club, Hove Lions Club, Lewes Barbican Rotary Club and Lewes Castle Rotary Club. Every costume class was well supported.

Results : Children…

Boys under 5: 1. Joshue Upton (SSBS) Siamese; 2. Lucas Todd-Smith (SSBS) Siamese; 3. Pete Penfold (CBS) Cavalier.

Girls under 5: 1. Shannon Sedar (WBS) Zulu; 2. Dani Penfold (WBS) Tartar; 3. Naomi Penfold (WBS) Tartar.

Boys 5-9: 1. Jordan King (LBBS) Indian; 2. Luke Jones (CSBS) Indian; 3. Edward Jackman (WBS) Zulu.

Girls 5-9: 1. Martha Smith (CBS) Madame Pompadour; 2. Shannon Hoad (LBBS) Tudor; 3. Chelsea King (LBBS) Zulu.

Boys 10-15: 1. Solomon Smith (CBS) Venetian; 2. Chad Jeeawock (SSBS) Cavalier; 3.Luke Winter (LBBS) Cavalry Officer.

Girls 10-15: 1. Natasha King (LBBS) Indian; 2. Louise Arnold (WBS) Tudor; 3. Lydia Hook (WBS) Tudor.

Mixed Pairs: 1. Martha Smith/Solomon Smith (CBS) Venetian; 2. Shannon Sedar/Zak Strong (WBS) Tudor; 3. Lydia Hook/Thomas Hook (WBS) Tudor.

Comic Class: 1. Shannon Sedar (WBS) Boozy Elf; 2. Naomi Penfold (WBS) Chinese Takeaway; 3. Jasmin Vincent (LBBS) Mary Mary.

Results : Adults…

Pioneer Cup: 1. Borough (LBBS) Zulu; 2. Cliffe (CBS) Viking; 3. Waterloo (WBS) Mongolian Empire; 3. Commercial Square (CSBS) Indian.

1st Pioneer Male: 1. Phil Lucas (CBS) Viking; 2. Peter French (LBBS) Zulu Witch Doctor; 3. Geoff Burrow (LBBS) Zulu.

1st Pioneer Female: 1. Wendy Sexton (LBBS) Zulu; 2. Katie Oliver (CBS) Viking; 3. Sally Bladon (WBS) Siamese.

Mixed Pairs: 1. Melanie Scott/Karl Smith (CBS) Venetian Masquerade; 2. Debbie Snelling/Alan Prince (CBS) Saracen; 3. Katie Oliver/ Andy Penfold (CBS) Viking.

2nd Pioneer Cup: 1. Borough (LBBS) Tudor; 2. Waterloo (WBS) Greek and Roman World; 3. Cliffe (CBS) Saracens and Moors.

2nd Pioneer Male: 1. Roger Crouch (CBS) Moor/Saracen; 2. Cliffe Wright (CBS) Moor/Saracen; 3. Alan Prince (CBS) Moor/Saracen.

2nd Pioneer Female: 1. Debbie Snelling (CBS) Moors; 2. Clare Brown (CBS) Moors; 3. Lynda Courtice (CBS) Moors.

Fancy Dress Male: 1. Jon Hearn (CSBS) Hearn Hunter; 2. Karl Smith (CBS) Venetian Masquerade; 3. Phil Lucas (CBS) Highway Man.

Best Dress Female: 1. Melanie Scott (CBS) Venetian Masquerade; 2. Jo Denyer (CBS) Arthurian Lady; 3. Jennifer Doran (CSBS) Bloody Mary (Tudor).

Open Class Male: 1. Raymond Richardson (LBBS) Indian; 2. Tim Parsons (LBBS) Tartar; 3. John Hunnisett (WBS) Tudor.

Open Class Female: 1. Maud Welfare (WBS) Tudor; 2. Kim Wells (WBS) Tudor; 3.Hayley Winter (LBBS) Tartar.

Best Dress Of The Evening Male: 1. Phil Lucas (CBS) Viking; 2. Roger Crouch (CBS) Moor/Saracen; 3. John Hearn (CSBS) Hearn Hunter.

Best Dress Of The Evening Female: 1. Melanie Scott (CBS) Venetian Masquerade; 2. Debbie Snelling (CBS) Moor/Saracen; 3. Wendy Sexton (LBBS) Zulu.

Points Cup: 1. Cliffe (CBS) 53.5 points; 2. Borough (LBBS) 24.5 points; 3. Waterloo (WBS) 21.5 points; 4. Commercial Square (CSBS) 7.5 points.

Sussex Express, Friday, 29 October, 2004


Fun in the wind and rain…

Our local Nevill Juvenile Bonfire celebrations almost didn’t take place with so much wind and rain in the hours leading up to the evenings events. A hurried afternoon meeting of the officers decided that the show must go on. At the starting hour many hundreds had gathered at the society’s headquarters in Highdown Road for the off. With such a large crowd the first procession was a little late. With the usual town badges leading the way it was a massive procession which wound its way up Highdown Road and through the streets of the estate.

Fun In The Wind And Rain

As well as the society’s Valencians, medieval, smugglers and pioneers there were many in fancy dress, Pearly Kings and Queens, cowboys, Indians, Soldiers of all eras, Elizabethans etc. The first band was again the Newhaven Youth Marching Band, with the Barcombe Scouts playing When The Saints Go Marching In. There followed an effigy cart with a replica of the Martyrs Memorial, with many visiting societies, including South Heighton, Cliffe, Lindfield, Waterloo, South Street and Battel Bonfire Boyes. A new band Barlutho, played some rousing music with their assortment of African style drums.

The street marches with such a large number of people taking part gave Commander in Chief, Pat Lee and Captain of ranks and marshals Robin Lee plenty of work in keeping their columns in order. It was a difficult job for the Captain of torches Keith Brown and Captain of tar barrels Sarah Ellis to keep the torch bearers supplied and the roads tidy with the high winds that occurred all evening. Following the grand procession which covered further roads in the area, it was a great sight to see the whole procession as they came along Nevill Road to the fire site with several street firework pieces going off during the long march.

The fire was very welcome to us all to get away from the swirling winds and rain. The aerial display was a brilliant sight and along with the set piece of Garfield and others it was magnificent and lasted for a considerable time. It was an excellent evening and thanks to all those society members and the committee who decided to go ahead with another memorable night. With so much debris about it was good to see society members on the morning after clearing the streets and bonfire area.

Sussex Express, Friday, October 29, 2004


Splendid show despite wet and windy night…

More than 1,500 bonfire enthusiasts clapped and cheered at Nevill Juvenile Bonfire Society’s fire site in Lewes on Saturday. And, for the first time, many paid to get in. The society introduced the £2.50 charge for non-members to keep up with the rising cost of organising the festivities.

Splendid Show Despite Wet And Windy Night

Despite the windy weather there was plenty to cheer with Guy Fawkes blown up spectacularly and tableaux of Garfield and Tom and Jerry to enjoy. Earlier, in the first procession, the society ignited a replica of the Martyrs Memorial and two poppies on Nevill Green.

Crowds lined the streets as more than 600 bonfire members, including 360 Nevill members, marched in the three processions. Nevill’s First Pioneers are Valencians. Second Pioneers are Medieval and third are smugglers. There is also a fancy dress section. Bands included Newhaven Youth Marching Band, the Barulho Band and the 1st Barcombe Scout Band.

The street collection made £200 for Lewes Victoria Hospital and £200 for St John Ambulance. There were more visiting societies than ever before, including Lewes Borough, Cliffe, Commercial Square, South Street, Waterloo, South Heighton, Battle, Crowborough, Newick, Burgess Hill and Lindfield. There were five firework banners – two society letter banners NJ and BS plus the three twinning town badges ignited on the grand procession in Nevill Road. More than 3,400 torches were used.

Sussex Express, Friday, October 29, 2004



I’ve often wondered what it is like living in Lewes in November – particularly the 5th. Do you batten down the hatches, lock the doors and turn the television up really loud? Or do you invite all your friends and relatives from other parts of the world, throw open the windows and join in the fun? Not everybody thinks of Lewes Bonfire Night as fun, though. Go back far enough, to the days of 1605 when the Gunpowder Plot was still a recent event and the town would have been a very uncomfortable place to live if you were a Catholic.

Lewes Bonfire Magnet

The Protestant stronghold of Lewes rejoiced in the newly granted public holiday which celebrated the failure of the attempt to rid Britain of a Protestant King – and a Scottish one at that. Before the century was out, the night of November 5th had become more notorious in Lewes. The celebrations already saw the townspeople dressed in costumes and parading through the streets with effigies of Guy Fawkes and the Pope which were thrown onto great bonfires. Within another hundred years, the celebration had become more of a riot and the Bonfire Boys had gained their name.

More peacefully minded citizens did what they could to stop things getting out of control, but the Bonfire Boys weren’t going to allow their night to be spoiled. In 1779, they put up a poster on Market House which warned: “All you that have the least hand in trying to prevent the fire and fireworks in this town will come best off for it is determined betwixt us to have a fire of some sort,so if you will not agree to let us have it in peace and quietness with wood and faggots we must certainly make a fire of some of your houses…”

The ‘peace and quietness’ wasn’t much in evidence. By the end of the eighteenth century, the authorities seemed to be fighting a losing battle in their attempt to quell the Bonfire Boys enthusiasm for squibs, rockets, rousers and street bonfires. In 1832, the first tar barrel was set ablaze and rolled through the streets. The celebrations of 1847 proved a catalyst. The police stretched a chain across the bottom of St Anne’s Hill and lay in wait for the Boys, arresting the ones they caught. The Riot Act was read from the steps of County Hall and many people were hurt in the fights that followed. It was the beginning of the end for those who thought Bonfire was nothing more than a good excuse for a brawl and in 1853 the first of the Bonfire Societies was formed.

Today the celebrations still include rockets and blazing tar barrels, but the 60,000 strong crowds that come to see the event are treated to more than a few bangs and cracks. Each Bonfire Society dresses in elaborate costumes, march through the streets with flaming torches and build huge centrepieces, marking current events or traditional themes. Prayers are said at the War Memorial, remembering Lewes people who have died over the years, going back to the martyrs who were burnt at the stake.

This year the Bonfire Boys will be going to town and next year is bound to be another big one – four hundred years will have passed since Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament and remove King James I from the royal seat. Although he failed, and paid for it with his life, he is still one of our most famous historical figures and will always be an excuse for a firework celebration big enough to rock half of Sussex.

Magnet, October 2004


A Sparkling Night Of Fun…

Organisers of Britain’s biggest and best bonfire celebration say this year’s event could be one of the most popular ever. They are warning people who are wary of over-crowded streets to avoid going to Lewes and instead visit one of the many other firework displays taking place in Sussex.

A Sparkling Night Of Fun

Keith Austin, Secretary of Lewes Bonfire Council, which coordinates the activities of the town’s six bonfire societies, said: “With the cooperation from Sussex Police, we do not want to encourage too many people from outside Lewes to visit the town. This is not because we are unfriendly, it is just that the streets can get very overcrowded. If it is a pleasant evening on Friday we could get a lot more people than usual and things might get uncomfortable”.

Despite this cautious message, everyone involved in the celebrations is looking forward to the big night. About 50,000 people are expected to line the town’s streets for a riot of noise and fire which marks the ill-fated attempt of Catholic Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.


Following Fawkes’s execution, the Church of England encouraged communities to celebrate the event every year with a bonfire party on November 5. Over the years the tradition gradually died out, although for some reason, people’s enthusiasm for marking the date never faded in Sussex. In fact, the Bonfire Boys who ran the shows began to get a little too eager and houses would often be burned to the ground, sometimes deliberately.

Tradition The Argus Lewes Bonfire

Throughout the 19th Century the authorities tried to curb some of the celebrations but they received short shrift from people living in Sussex’s county town of Lewes. It is no surprise the county’s unofficial motto is “We won’t be druv!” – meaning “We won’t be dictated to by outsiders”. However, in 1847, the Bonfire Boys decided to take control of the most riotous participants and organised the celebrations into a torch lit procession, accompanied by music and burning barrels. This led to the formation of the Lewes Borough and Cliffe Bonfire Societies in 1853 followed by Commercial Square in 1855.

In the next century, the number of societies grew with South Street forming in 1913, Waterloo in 1964 and Nevill Juvenile in 1968. The annual celebrations have remained broadly the same for the last 150 years. The only cancellations came in 1874 because of a typhoid outbreak, during the two world wars and after the severe floods of 1960. With its overtly sectarian origins – as well as celebrating the death of Guy Fawkes, the event marks the burning of 17 Protestant martyrs in Lewes High Street between 1555 and 1557 and William of Orange’s restoration of a Protestant monarchy in 1688 Bonfire Night is no stranger to controversy.

Evening Argus A Sparkling Night Of Fun

Alongside burning effigies of the Pope, each year a tableau is created depicting the current political climate. This features a character identified as an enemy of the town, who is also blown up. The identity of the unlucky person is kept a tight secret until the night itself. Previous victims have included George W Bush and Osama Bin Laden. Last year, Firle Bonfire Society got itself into hot water when it burned an effigy of a gypsy family inside a caravan with the number plate reading P1KEY. The travelling community was outraged. Police considered prosecuting members of the society for incitement to racial hatred but the case was later dropped.

Although the Lewes celebrations have avoided similar conflicts, Mr Austin sympathised with Firle and thought the incident was blown out of all proportion. He said: “What happened to the Firle Bonfire Society was a lot of rubbish. People take things far too seriously. We burn an effigy of a pope, not the Pope, and there is a lively and healthy Catholic community here who also get involved. There have been people who try and draw us into religious arguments but we can ignore them without giving up our traditions.”

Evening Argus A Sparkling Night Of Fun

Mr Austin is more concerned about the rules and regulations on fireworks and the sky-high price of insurance premiums which bonfire societies have to pay. He said: “I have been involved with bonfires for more than 40 years and the health and safety regulations seem to increase every year. This year we are banned from setting off fireworks after midnight and some of our younger members aged 15 or 16 aren’t allowed to handle adult fireworks at all. But the worst problem is insurance because everyone seems to want to sue everyone else these days.”

Almost every year I have had someone claiming £200 from us because the coat they bought from Harrods got burnt. People should understand it is their choice to go to the night and it might be a bit dangerous. We don’t force them to attend. We do everything we can to make things as safe as possible. But with so many people coming to the town and all those fireworks, there is always the potential for something to go wrong. I think it will be a great night though”.

For more information on the Bonfire Night, go to Southern trains said there will be extra services running to Lewes on Friday. The last train back to Gatwick is at 11.26pm, to Brighton at 11.52pm and Eastbourne at 11.27pm. There is also contingency plans for more trains.

The Argus, Thursday, November 4, 2004


The Name Game…

Daily Mail Name Game Coffee Break James Black

Hidden in the grid is a famous name relating to Bonfire Night. To find it, answer each of the multiple-choice questions, then re-arrange the letters corresponding to your answers to fill in the name in the box above, Click On Image To Enlarge.

Daily Mail, Friday, November 5, 2004


Leave Us To Enjoy Our Bonfire Night…

It’s that time of year again. The explosions in the skies above Lewes bring an explosion in the number in the town. The crackle of fireworks is drowned out by the crackle of tannoy announcements in the street instructing you “Do not throw fireworks in the street. Do not pick up burning torches. Do not move from the pavement. Do not think for yourself.

Leave Us To Enjoy Our Bonfire Night

I made the last one up but that is the way things seem to be going these days. There is no doubt that safety fascists are taking over the world, with directives now even being cooked up about how fast children can travel on playground rides. The heavy-handed police presence in Lewes on Bonfire Night is another example of the state interfering in our fun. Shipped in from across London and the South East, these officers sometimes even wear riot gear. First the Labour Conference in Brighton and then Bonfire Night in Lewes seem to prompt the authorities to turn Sussex into a mini police state.

The Argus, Friday, November 5, 2004


Stay Away On The 5th If You’re Not A Local…

The outside public have been warned not to visit the county town on tonight’s (Friday) night of night’s. Lewes Bonfire Council, which represents the town’s six bonfire societies, is urging people living outside the town not to come to Lewes for Bonfire Night. A spokesman said the event was a Lewes tradition going back many years which allowed the people of the town to celebrate an ancient tradition.

Stay Away On The 5th If You`re Not A Local

The spokesman added: “Roads in the town are closed, meaning that there are no parking facilities. Those using public transport are likely to find that it is very crowded and that they may have to queue for long periods to get home. This can be an unpleasant experience particularly when it is cold or raining, which is likely in November. Lewes Bonfire is a particularly unsuitable event for young children who are unlikely to get a view of the celebrations and who may find the event confusing and frightening.

Also children in pushchairs and buggies are vulnerable to injury, due to the density of the crowds”. Lewes Bonfire Council, Lewes District Council and Sussex Police, together with the other emergency services and St John Ambulance, are members of Lewes Bonfire Safety Group which works throughout the year to minimise risk and to ensure the safety of the public.

Added the spokesman: “We know from many years experience that the larger the crowd, the more uncomfortable it can become for spectators. We therefore urge people from outside the Lewes area to celebrate in their own area and to avoid the town on the 5th. For those who do come into Lewes, the fun kicks off at about 5.30pm with children’s processions. The united procession, in which all the societies except for Cliffe, starts at 8pm through the High Street. Grand processions take place at varying times, after which the societies go to various bonfire sites for their firework displays.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 5, 2004


Long Live Bonfire…

In this age of increasingly irritating political correctness Lewes Bonfire Night becomes more and more important in revitalising the lives of everyday folk, tired of being told what to do and how to do it. That is why the Express wishes everyone a happy and exciting November 5. It’s good to have fun. It’s not so much about the rights and wrongs of blowing up the Pope and others. It is about the right to be able to do it.

Long Live Bonfire

The bonfire societies are gloriously irreverent. The take over the streets once a year and the town largely belongs to them and those who choose to watch the processions. But they are also wonderfully organised. They have to be with five societies parading on the same evening. Who could run an event as well as they? No one. And it cost’s the town nothing. The Express salutes the bonfire tradition. Long may it last in the face of can’t hypocrisy and pomposity?

Have a good time.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 5, 2004


New Meters Dismantled For Bonfire…

Passers-by stared in amazement yesterday (Thursday) as workmen started removing newly-installed parking meters in Lewes High Street. A County Council spokesman explained that they were being taken down because of Lewes Bonfire Night. “They are being removed both for crowd safety reasons and to avoid them being damaged” added the spokesman. “If someone climbed on one and fell off, then there could be repercussions. It is a sensible precaution, given the crush of people in Lewes”.

New Meters Dismantled For Bonfire

The machines which were installed at the beginning of October cost around £3,000 each. They are bolted to a concrete base so it is a relatively easy matter to move them. They are put back tomorrow (Saturday). One member of the public was disappointed to hear that the removal was only a temporary measure. “I thought the council had changed its mind about its parking charges”, she said. “It comes as a big disappointment to know the machines are coming back. Perhaps we should hold Bonfire Night every day”.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 5, 2004


Bonfire Spectacular…

The town of Lewes is famous for its Bonfire Night celebrations, a heady mix of colourful processions, enormous bonfires, beautiful firework displays and incredibly loud bangs! The celebrations mark the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot against the Catholic Church and monarchy on November 5th 1605, and also commemorate the seventeen Protestant martyrs who were burnt at the stake at the top of the High Street, during the Marian Persecutions of 1555-1557.

Remember Remember Homes Alive Friday Ad Spectacular

The celebrations are organised by Bonfire Societies within the town, of which there are five, Cliffe, Waterloo, Commercial Square, Borough and South Street. Many Sussex villages also have their own societies and their own bonfires, but a lot of them also come along to Lewes for the night, to take part in what is surely the most spectacular celebration of this kind in Britain.

The evening started with Barrel Races over the Cliffe Bridge, although for the bonfire boys and girls the day started in the early hours of the morning, as they dipped torches in paraffin ready for the processions. The societies then gathered together and processed up and down the High Street, and they were joined by marching bands, groups of drummers and street performers, which combined together to make an exciting blend of burning torches, music, loud bangs, shouting and pounding drums.

This spectacle was topped off by the fantastic costumes that everyone was wearing. Each of the societies have themes for their costumes, ranging from the standard Bonfire Boy outfit of stripy jumpers, and a healthy covering of soot, through Red Indians and Tudor costume, to the most amazing Zulu Warriors. The flaming torches filled the air with the smell of paraffin, creating a mist of ashes, and the seventeen crosses that were lit in memory of the martyrs were an amazing sight. If you happen to be standing at the point in the High Street where they are first lit you could be forgiven for thinking you’re going to melt – the heat they give off is unbelievable!

Remember Remember Homes Alive Friday Ad Spectacular

Once the procession was over the various societies headed to their own bonfire sites, which are scattered around the town, and the enormous crowds of spectators followed on, to whichever bonfire they wished to attend. It would probably be safe to say that the majority of the crowds that go to Lewes Bonfire have been doing so for years, and even if they no longer live in the area it is something they will always make a trip back home for. And most of these ‘regulars’ generally have a particular bonfire they are faithful to, however if you’re new to the whole experience you won’t get lost, as generally you get carried along on the tide of people. It’s safe to say that whatever Bonfire you end up at you won’t be disappointed.

The firework displays were made up of Set-Pieces, which are generally firework-full effigies of Guy Fawkes, Pope Paul V, who became head of the Catholic church in 1605, and other ‘enemies of bonfire’, the tableau, which is an enormous, usually politically inspired 3D work of art crammed full of fireworks (a different one for each society), and of course the Aerials, which lit up the skies over Lewes for miles around.

And it doesn’t really matter which Bonfire you pick to attend, as you can see the aerials of all the societies from wherever you happen to be in the town. The bangs from the explosives were so loud that you could feel the ground shake beneath your feet, and feel your insides vibrate! The preparations for this night go on all year, and the dedication from those involved really pays off, the celebrations are always a success, and this year was no exception.

Friday Ad : Homes, November 2004


What A Difference A Smile Makes…

Bonfire Pilgrim, Well Done, Clean Sweep, What A Difference Smile A Makes

A few years ago I had a letter published on the over-enthusiastic policing of the Fifth. That year grim robocops in riot gear loomed on every street corner. This year my view from the procession was rather different. Yes there were a lot of police but they weren’t afraid to smile and they appeared to be helping us do our thing. They even moved to let us collectors get to bits of the crowd. Hurrah for common sense, cooperation and a better atmosphere.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 12, 2004


Clean Sweep…

Bonfire Pilgrim, Well Done, Clean Sweep, What A Difference Smile A Makes

While the High Street looked its usual post-bonfire mess after the parades on Friday last, full marks and praise are due to Lewes District Council workers for cleaning it all up in ample time for business on the Saturday following. I think I heard them at about 4.30am and I for one am grateful for their hard work.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 12, 2004


Well Done…

Bonfire Pilgrim, Well Done, Clean Sweep, What A Difference Smile A Makes

Thank you to the team of people who cleared up after Bonfire Night. By 9am Saturday, the centre of Lewes was clean and tidy. Thank you for all your hard work. It was a massive job.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 12, 2004


Gridlocked By The Lure Of Bonfire Spectacular…

I suspect having the audacity to criticise the bonfire celebrations will subject me to a local ‘Fatwah’ but criticise I must. Every year the societies claim too many people attend and exhort them not to come. Whose fault is that? Certainly not the public as they are drawn by the ‘spectacular’ sights. So every year we are subjected to the estates around Lewes becoming gridlocked as people park wherever they can.

Gridlocked By The Lure Of Bonfire Spectacular

The Nevill estate was one such area. No way would an emergency vehicle have got onto the estate if needed because of cars on verges, both sides of the road wherever a space appeared. Many people found it difficult to walk let alone drive.

Then we have the incessant bangers going off at all times of the night. As I write this on Sunday evening they are still exploding. Do people never give up? So don’t complain, societies, I don’t suppose I’m the only one in Lewes who is glad to see the back of you. You may print my name if you publish this, I am big enough and ugly enough to take the taunts.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 12, 2004


Bonfire Pilgrim…

Bonfire Pilgrim, Well Done, Clean Sweep, What A Difference Smile A Makes

While at the Memorial on bonfire night I chatted to an American from New York City who was standing next to me. Interested in bonfire celebrations he had found Lewes on the internet, and on parting said it was worth crossing the Atlantic to see. Nothing like it in the States.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 12, 2004


Firework Blows Up Parking Machine…

At least six parking machines in Lewes were attacked with fireworks on Bonfire Night. The damage ranged from burn marks and scratches to a full blown explosion which blew the front of this machine in De Montfort Road completely off its heavy hinges. The vandal who managed to demolish the machine is thought to have inserted a lit firework into its interior through the return coin tray. The damage was reported to the police when operators NCP went to remove the machine’s hood at 3pm on Saturday. Engineers are now looking at finding ways of preventing what happened again.

Firework Blows Up Parking Machine

The other machines attacked were in the Gallops, the Phoenix car park, Southover High Street, Farncombe Road and on the road up to the Cuilfail. A spokesman for East Sussex County Council, which brought in the much disliked machines a month ago, said: “A number of parking machines were damaged by fireworks – but most were back in action by Monday. However, in the instance of the De Montfort Road machine, the cost of the damage will have to be footed by income from the parking scheme and therefore will not be ploughed back into local road and traffic schemes in Lewes, as it normally would be”.

Lewes’ new car parking charges were the subject of a different kind of attention by Lewes bonfire society members on November 5. Cliffe carried through the streets an effigy of an NCP parking attendant as an ‘enemy of Lewes’ while two Commercial Square members were brave enough to dress up and march before the crowds as car parking wardens.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 12, 2004


End In Sight To Effigies, Says ‘Enemy’…

A Newick man burned in effigy in Lewes on November 5, has vowed to continue his campaign to take what he sees as the anti-Roman Catholic element out of Lewes Bonfire Night. Joe O’Keefe made national news last year when he urged Sussex Police to crack down on the burning of the Pope in effigy. It came as no surprise this year when Cliffe burned him as an enemy of bonfire.

End In Sight To Effigies Says Enemy

Mr O’Keefe who was in Lewes on November 5 to see his effigy being paraded through the streets, said: “I must have rattled them to be made in effigy. It was an honour to be burned alongside the Pope. My campaign to take these elements out of bonfire continues, but at a lower ebb because I believe the days of Pope-burning are numbered. New laws will change all that”. Mr O’Keefe is against burning anyone in effigy. “To burn in effigy the image of an ordinary member of the public inside a bonfire is an attempt to mock and ridicule them, and what they represent”, he added. “It is also childish”.

He described the Cliffe burning of an effigy of the ‘cowardly’ woman of Firle who protested last year over Firle Bonfire Society’s gipsy caravan effigy as ‘disgusting’. “She was not cowardly; she was brave”, he continued. “It is not easy to make a stand against what appears to be a majority. What sort of a place is it where they make effigies of citizens and burn them on bonfires each year? But the ridicule will not continue much longer. New laws will soon be coming out”.

Sussex Express, Friday, November 26, 2004

#lewesbonfire #bonfirenight

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