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Sussex Express Report 2001 - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations
April 5, 2014 at 8:51 pm by v
Bonfire Blows Up Bin Laden…
Lewes bonfire attracted national publicity as Osama Bin Laden became the target of the brilliant effigy builders. A spectacular tableau with a no-holds-barred message was the talking point of this year’s celebrations. Thousands poured into the town for the big night and police voiced disappointment that so many ignored warnings by the Lewes Bonfire Safety Group not to head into Lewes. Again the conflict was underlined between police safety concerns and the irresistible draw of a spectacular free show.
But Lewes Bonfire Council Secretary Keith Austin told the Express he did not believe concerns about this year’s crowd were justified. “We had the levels of people here we should expect”, he said. “They came to see a wonderful celebration. The bonfire council will continue to work closely with the bonfire safety group to ensure safety and in attempting to attract the level of onlookers we had on Monday. I am very proud of the show we put on”.
The police statement, however said: “More than 30,000 spectators are believed to have descended on the town to watch the legendary celebrations. Around 10,000 of that figure arrived from Brighton, Falmer and Eastbourne on specially commissioned trains provided by South Central following concerns by British Transport Police about the large numbers of people standing on station platforms. Effective crowd control was executed by Sussex Police as the large crowds left Lewes Railway Station and headed into the centre of Lewes at the same time as one of the largest processions made its way down the High Street”.
Said Superintendent Simon Parr in the police statement: “The celebrations were much busier than in previous years. There were several thousand more visitors and the fine weather conditions clearly played a part in its popularity. A large influx of people at one of the busiest times certainly proved a challenge to all those involved in crowd control. We are grateful to the bonfire societies for their quick thinking during the parades at this peak time. It is disappointing that more people did not heed the bonfire safety group’s warnings not to come to the town.
Nonetheless, all personnel from the many different partner agencies involved in this large scale operation should be congratulated for their handling of it. The fact that there were no major casualties and only one arrest shows the event was well controlled”. Talking point of the night was the brilliant targeting of Osama bin Laden by effigy makers which guaranteed Lewes bonfire publicity on a national scale.
Bin Laden Goes Up In Smoke…
Politically correct? Perish the thought! Osama Bin Laden found himself a major new global enemy on Monday – Lewes Bonfire! The terrorist leader appeared no less than three times in the streets in different guises, despite reported suggestions from the authorities that it might be wiser for the societies not to dwell too much on current conflict. Cliffe had him sitting on a lavatory in their main tableau. Borough produced him in effigy and Commercial Square displayed him in the ‘flesh’, walking in front of a hissing crowd in the united procession.
On top of that, Commercial had a set-piece of a globe, representing a united world, aiming a massive kick at a terrorist bomb. South Street stayed away from international confrontation and depicted Bob the Builder in their tableau. More than 30,000 spectators – twice last year’s total – lined the streets in perfect weather for the incredible extravaganza. And at the height of the celebrations, almost 3,000 bonfire boys and girls from the five societies, and those visiting, were on the march.
Zulus mingled happily with Tartars, and dignified Red Indians strolled past Elizabethan ladies. Incredibly there was only one arrest – a young man taken into custody for being drunk and disorderly. It would seem that Lewes can take a crowd of this year’s size with ease. The crush of previous years was noticeably absent. The police presence was equally not as oppressive as it has been on some previous occasions. Twenty-one people were treated for minor injuries, mainly small burns.
More than £25,000 worth of fireworks went off at the bonfire sites – an incredible achievement from five bonfire societies working voluntarily for a common cause. There had apparently earlier been suggestions from certain quarters that Lewes Bonfire Night should not be staged this year because of the American bombings and subsequent war. While respecting the views of those who feel that way, 30,000 visitors and 3,000 bonfire members begged to differ.
Aerial Brilliance From Waterloo…
A late start did not detract from the awesome display of fireworks staged by Waterloo this year. The mighty grand procession included hundreds of impressively-dressed members as well as visiting societies and a giant firework-packed effigy of the traitor Guido Fawkes, which was later hanged in front of a cheering crowd of thousands at the Malling Brooks fire site. Fawkes then saw his ultimate demise in a blinding flash of fire.
What followed was a dazzling and deafening show of lights and colour in the night’s sky. An impressive array of costume was also on show, with the Waterloo boys done up to the nines in Greek, Roman and traditional red and white striped attire for the duration of the evening’s events. The best dressed male accolade was won by dapper Richard Bennett, who turned out in his Minotaur finery, while best dressed woman was Carol Honeysett, one of the glorious Tudor ladies featured in the parade. Oldest member Maude Welfare, who is approaching 83, wore a breathtaking Tudor outfit more elaborate than even her closest competitors.
The society’s youngsters also got in on the act, with Chloe Bladen winning the best dressed girl award and Steven Read receiving the award for best dressed boy. Joining Waterloo in their grand parade were the Mayfield ‘Boyes and Belles’, Burgess Hill Bonfire Society in their distinctive green and black stripes and societies from Mayfield and Fletching. Following them, the Newhaven and Vines Cross bonfire societies marched to the sound of the pipe band. Completing the parade was a bizarre clutch of horned devils holding a sign that read: ‘Who the hell are we’.
Enthusiastic supporters of the society made up one of the biggest bonfire crowds Waterloo has seen, packing the damp fire site to almost capacity. Just as onlookers began to become restless with the unexplained delay, a blinding fire-works spectacular filled the sky, more than matching the displays of other societies, visible in the background.
The society’s lack of tableau meant that extra cash could be – and evidently was – spent on the amazing aerial display. A stunned silence greeted the first wave of physics-defying fireworks but an almighty roar from the audience welcomed in the astounding finale. Charities benefiting from Waterloo’s fund raising will include the Victoria Hospital and St John’s Ambulance brigade.
No Hint Of Mercy In Spectacular Show…
It wasn’t subtle. It wasn’t meant to be. Cliffe put Osama Bin Laden well and truly in his place! A mercilessly lampooning tableau paraded through the streets showed the terrorist on the lavatory with an American eagle clutching at his neck. The blunt message read: Who’s in the **** now? There were two enemies of bonfire – Only One F in Photografer (a reference to a photographer last year who complained at being jostled by Vikings!) and Chairman De Niall (one of those against Lewes Bonfire being held this year!
More than 1,000 people (including members of visiting society, Battel) took part in the Cliffe processions,using up some 5,000 torches, including many which had been dried out and kept after last year’s floods. Bands included the Ringwood Pipe Band, the 1066 Bonfire Band, Rumple Drumskin, Sussex ACF Corps of Drums and The Expedient Jazz Band. Also on the march were the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery 95th Regiment of Foot, and the Naval Contingent of HMS Victory.
Oldest member taking part was Aubrey Taylor, 80, who has been Captain of the tar barrels since 1945. New Commander-in-Chief in Cliffe’s 148th Bonfire Night was Steve Bland, taking over smoothly after Meldrum Smith’s 17-year stint. The ladies tar barrel race was won by Vicky Philp and the mens by Alan Philp. New Captain of set-pieces was Paul Jarvis, taking over from Glen Rummery, and he did not let the side down.
Some £7,000 was spent on fireworks this year and the aerial display, watched by a ticket-only crowd of 3,000, was simply staggering, as were the exploding set-pieces including Guy Fawkes and Pope Paul V. It is thought that the whole event cost £20,000 to stage.
Archbishop Tim Fellows fulfilled the hazardous business of presenting the bonfire prayers. Then Smugglers, Fearsome Vikings, Cavaliers and Roundheads, Ye Olde Cliffe Fire Brigade, Regimental Ladies and highland Clansmen made their way back through the streets from the fire site, deciding this year not to use the route through the railway land. It has been an eventful year for Cliffe. The society has bought the workshops it uses, thus securing its future in that department.
Night Of Positives…
As the smoke cleared a bearded figure emerged from the thousands lining the streets of Lewes. Not only had the Commercial Square procession provided some of the most fantastic costumes for Lewes Bonfire 2001 but public enemy number one, Osama Bin Laden, joined the festivities. The al-Qaeda leader formed part of Commercial’s 600-strong throng featuring visiting societies from Newick, Robertsbridge, Hastings and Nevill. Young and old blazed through 6,000 torches. The oldest was life-long member 85-year old Bert Taylor, and the youngest two-week old babe Thomas Duc, dressed in a black and gold hooped guernsey and red hat.
The society’s seven processions were led by the famous Indian 1st Pioneers with their spectacular head-dresses, under the direction of Pioneer Chief Geoff Allen. At the front the society’s badge carrier, the 6ft 6in tall Tiny Tim. The 2nd Pioneers followed in American Civil War costumes including military uniforms and period dresses. Music was provided by Brighton Silver Band, Hastings Corps of Drums, the Glynde and Beddingham Silver Band, the South Coast Stompers and the Barcombe Scout Band. The traditional smugglers in their black and gold guernseys brought up the rear with their blazing tar barrels, under the direction of Mick Ayling.
A unique 15ft tall Indian totem pole, designed by Captain of Set Pieces Sharon Reid, was lit for the United Procession to the delight of the crowds. This year’s tableau was a positive message in a time of conflict. The 15ft high tableau featured a globe of the united world aiming a mighty kick at a terrorist bomb. Commercial Square stalwart Tony Duc explained: “The society’s tableau, Emission Impossible, built by Roy Chapman and his able team, is a strong statement of both the importance and difficulty of defeating the threat of worldwide terrorism”.
The tableau along with effigies of Guy Fawkes and Pope Paul V, built by Captain of Effigies, Simon Richards, were set ablaze at the bonfire site with a dazzling aerial firework display under the direction of Craig Allen. The Archbishop, Paul Wheeler, conducted proceedings at the fire site and addressed the crowd following Bonfire Prayers in Commercial Square. The evening was brought to an end with a rousing chorus of Auld Lang Syne and Land of Hope and Glory.
Light And Colour Set The Scene…
The political climate of the nation was reflected in the Borough Bonfire Society’s tableau when terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden went up in smoke. The global despot was ceremonially destroyed in front of a crowd of 1,000 people, while an effigy of a foot and mouth-ridden cow was also sacrificed in the name of current affairs. Members of the crowd, who also enjoyed a mini fairground were wooed by a sensational aerial display of light and colour that rivalled past years. The fireworks which cost in the region of £8,000 lit the sky with the imagination expected from one of the town’s oldest societies, presided over by Archbishop Chris Brown.
Society members dressed in the traditional blue and white striped jerseys carrying more than 4,000 torches, mingled with many others in Zulu and Indian costumes. Almost 300 members took part in Borough’s procession, and those from the visiting societies of Firle, Littlehampton, Crowborough, Ridgewood and Rotherfield swelled their numbers. Three bands, the society’s own Kingfisher Scout Band and the Skin and Bones band from Westhampton accompanied the procession.
The oldest participant was society member Eric Winter who has taken part in 60 processions and is 84 years old. The youngest was another member of the Winter family, Alfie, who, at three months old, was all dressed up for the experience. After the procession made its way to the War Memorial a wreath was laid by Jason Winter, who also carried on the tradition of throwing a tar barrel into the Ouse for the eleventh year running.
The donations collected throughout the proceedings will be split between the RNLI and St John Ambulance, Pioneer Chief was Mick Sexton while Captain of Banners was Susannah Hunt. The giant key that was carried by members of the society reminded onlookers of the fight to be able to celebrate the Fifth of November and the celebrations that were enjoyed when they were given the freedom of Lewes for the night.
Flood Of Humour…
South Street is back with a bang! The 88-year old society gave spectators two year’s worth of pyrotechnic entertainment after being forced to cancel its main tableau last year because of severe flooding to the fire site – caused by those floods. However, it was worth the wait, as those who attended were treated to an overwhelming display of reverberating sound and dazzling colour. The displays heavily featured images relating to the Great Flood of October 2000, and showed the resilience and humour of the South Street residents so badly affected by last autumn’s disaster.
The main tableau showed a cartoon builder standing astride a house surrounded by flood water. At first glance the character appeared to be children’s favourite Bob the Builder. But, Keith Muddle – the brains behind the tableau – revealed him to be Bob the Bodger – a riposte by South Street residents to the cowboy builders who have taken advantage of flood victims since that fateful day last autumn. And the street tableau, by Bill Fuller, showed a skip – something South Street residents have grown accustomed to seeing outside their homes over the last 13 months – bearing the message ‘Ouse skip’s sit?. It also bore the now familiar Floodline number – only the number 0845 988 1188 was crossed out to be replaced with ‘Three feet in my house’.
The programme started with the traditional children’s procession, led by 17 blazing cross-pieces in remembrance of the martyrs burnt at the stake in Lewes for their religious beliefs. The society wreath was laid at the memorial by society President Miles Jenner, while more than 3,000 torches were carried by the members, who were joined by the visiting Uckfield Bonfire Society. Captain of Bands was Georgina Wadey, while Pioneer Chief was Caroline Prince. The illuminated badge was carried by Captain of banners Ross Marten. Archbishop of South Street Brian Smith addressed the crowd and led the company in the Bonfire Prayers before the burning of the effigies.
Sussex Express, Friday, November 9, 2001 www.sussexexpress.co.uk
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