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Sussex Express Report 2002 - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations
April 25, 2014 at 11:17 pm by v
A Year Is A Long Time…
A year is a long time in bonfire politics. Last year it was Osama Bin Laden who incurred the wrath of the societies. This year it was the turn of his arch-enemy George W. Bush who was blown up at two different bonfire sites. Cliffe depicted Bush with a rocket through his ears. Commercial Square paraded the US President astride a nuclear bomb. The threatened war with Iraq was, of course, the common theme.
The South Street tableau was a giant Rupert Bear constructed in memory of Harold Wheeler, who died in May. Harold dressed up as Rupert for years on Bonfire Night. Waterloo took on the more complex motif of Mini Mouse and Winnie the Pooh squaring up in the boxing ring. Apparently, the message was to emphasise the evils of corporate ownership of children’s book characters.
More than 25,000 flocked into Lewes to watch the celebrations – a good deal fewer than in preceding years although the street remained seriously congested with people in the vicinity of the War Memorial. Around 250 police officers were on duty and extra fire crews and paramedics were on standby to attend incidents.
Few Casualties. . .
In the event, Lewes Bonfire Night – the largest in the country – ended with few casualties and arrests. Only 12 people were treated for minor injuries – mainly small burns. And there was one man taken into custody for possessing controlled drugs. No problems of disorder were reported.
Chief Superintendent Paul Pearce, incident Commander, said: “Lewes Bonfire Night is one of the Force’s largest operations of its kind and it was a great success from a police perspective. The number of spectators in the town was slightly down on previous years, an indication that several thousand people probably heeded our early warnings to attend local celebrations rather than come to Lewes. The quick and responsible actions by the bonfire societies who responded to minor issues throughout the evening, ensured a safe and well controlled event”.
Religious Strife. . .
There was still Religious Strife as not everyone was happy with bonfire however. Local Catholic priest Father Eric Flood in his St Pancras newsletter referred to bonfire lore ‘with its dark roots in druidry and religious strife’. And he continued: “At this time of year, elements in the town combine to create a kind of dumb beast with its tail on fire smashing its wild way through manners and real good cheer. There is little of joy and carnival”.
And local bookseller Tristan Mirabaud, in response to a circular from the Lewes Bonfire Safety Group, said that he was amazed that liability for stray fireworks from processions causing damage to homes or injury to residents and their guests, rested with home occupiers and their insurance.
George Dubya’s A Burning Bush…
Cliffe Bonfire Society certainly put the torch to the burning Bush. George W., with a rocket between his ears, went up in a mighty pyrotechnic explosion with the caption “Ah’ll just do it” to accompany him. And the American President, with Iraq very much on his mind, was not the only VIP to incur Cliffe’s wrath. The Senlac Police became the ‘enemies of bonfire’ because of supposed incursions on the society’s running of the Fifth.
And Meridian TV were exposed as ‘surveillance’ cameramen because of their presence filming in Lewes on this night of all nights. Newly appointed Captain of Tableaux Kelvin Pope certainly earned his corn as an audience of thousands applauded the fireworks wildly on the Ham Lane bonfire site. And the aerial display was simply out of this world. Many people were saying it was the best display in years. And that is quite something when it comes to the views of Cliffe aficionados.
And the earlier part of the evening also went well, with 6,500 torches to light the way. The 900 Cliffe members – Vikings, Cavaliers, Roundheads, Highlanders, Firemen and Medieval men and women, were joined by visiting Nevill Juvenile Bonfire Society. The four bands present – also making an explosive impact – were the 1066 Bonfire Band, the Surrey Pipe Band, Rumple Drumskin and the Expedient Jazz Band.
Aubrey Taylor, 81, in his 58th year as Captain of tar barrels, was in charge of drawing three blazing hogsheads. And Tim Fellows, Archbishop of Cliffe, led the prayers with his several clergy, at great risk of incineration from bangers at the bonfire site. There were fiery tributes in the last procession to Cliffe member Matt Miles who died tragically earlier this year, and to former Cliffe President John Rutley who has also died.
Having A Go At Pooh And Co…
In the blue corner: Minnie Mouse. In the red corner: Winnie the Pooh. Let’s get ready to rumble! Taking a pop at the ruthless marketing of children’s characters, Waterloo Bonfire Society this year presented two of disney’s most popular mascots in their typically cartoony tableau. Between the pair of characters, who were standing in opposite corners of a ring with boxing gloves on, was Pooh’s enormous honey pot and a swarm of bees buzzing overhead. On the side of the pot was written ‘Hunny’ – but the ‘H’ had been scrawled out and an ‘M’ painted in its place.
Waterloo’s large increase in membership was evident as the society’s red and white striped members marched through the streets, dazzling spectators with their 6,000 torches and crowd-wowing fire eater. With the Greeks came the Cretan Minotaur and the lavishly dressed warriors, with faces painted and head-dresses illuminated in the firelight. This year saw a large influx of new, younger members, who helped to bulk out the procession and make the society all the more imposing as it made its way through the High Street.
There was also a new array of Victorian costumes on show, which put many other societies to shame. The Tudors ambled past with their enormous ‘God Save The Queen’ banner, one of many remade and updated for 2002. Visiting groups came from the Brewers Arms in Vines Cross and the Uckfield Bonfire Society. The fast-growing number of first and second pioneers included Genghis Khan, Tartar warriors, smugglers, Romans and Egyptians.
The joint youngest members were Danni Penfold and Jodie Tompsett, both just two months old; the oldest (walking) member was Maud Welfare, 83, who wore an elaborate Tudor outfit. Later, the society let an eye scorching £5,500 show of fireworks into the air at its fire site at Malling Brooks.
Waterloo Chairman David Quinn, whose 21-year old son Nick orchestrated the display, said it was the best he had ever seen. “It was superb, absolutely superb”, he said. “As people were leaving and putting money into our charity buckets, they were all saying how unbelievable it was”. All monies raised by the society will be donated to the St John Ambulance and Hope in the Valley riding school for the disabled.
Blast Off For The President On A Flight To Iraq…
Commercial Square’s tableau of George W Bush was blown to smithereens to cries of ‘Burn the Bush’. It was blast-off for the US President as ‘Dubya’, complete with cowboy hat, sat astride a 20ft-long nuclear missile against a backdrop of the Iraqi flag. The society’s 17ft tableau, its tallest ever, didn’t pull any punches and neither did its procession.
The 600 strong parade featured visiting societies from Newick and Robertsbridge as well as six bands including the Brighton Silver Band, the Hastings Corp of Drums, the Lewes, Glynde and Beddingham Silver Band, the Newhaven ATC Band, South Coast Stompers and Barcombe Scout Band. Special guest was Michael Beiser of the Waldstadt Fager Band from Lewes’ twin town Waldshut in Germany.
As always the society’s processions were led by the famous Indian 1st Pioneers with their fantastic ornate head-dresses under the direction of Pioneer Chief Geoff Allen. Badge carrier was the ironically named 6ft 6in tall Tiny Tim. They were followed by the 2nd Pioneers in their elaborate costumes from the American Civil War including military uniforms and period dresses.
Bringing up the rear with their blazing tar barrels were the smugglers in their black and gold hooped guernseys under the direction of Peter Sison. The unique 15ft-high totem pole, designed by Captain of set pieces Sharon Reid, was lit in the High Street for the United Procession. This year’s tableau was built
by Roy Chapman and his creative team. Commercial Square member Tony Duc explained its inspiration. He said: “Its reminiscent of the film Dr Strangelove and highlights the problems of waging war in the modern world whether it be against terrorists or regimes”.
At the fire site Guy Fawkes and Pope Paul V, built by Captain of Effigies Simon Richards, were destroyed and a spectacular firework display, under the direction of Craig Allen, transformed the night sky with bursts of colour. Archbishop Paul Wheeler conducted proceedings and addressed the crowd after Bonfire Prayers in Commercial Square at the end of the evening. This was followed by a programme of music, featuring Auld Lang Syne and Land of Hope and Glory.
The society presented the Hutson Fuller Cup for best dressed junior member to Warren Fuller, a plains Indian; the Fuller Cup for best dressed man, Geoff Buckwell, a sun-dancer; the Mel Watts Shield for the best dressed woman, Pippa Kenward, an American Civil War lady’s day dress; and the best dressed junior member in the children’s Procession, Bethany Hall as Aesep, the Egyptian Queen.
Why Policeman Bob Took Himself Into Custody!…
Borough blazed with glory as they detonated a glorious display of fireworks at their fire site off Nevill Road. The society eschewed politics this year in favour of personal and local connections – they burnt an effigy of police liaison officer Bob Nye. “It was Bob’s last night after being our liaison officer for 10 years”, said Borough’s Chairman John Winter. “We wanted to give him a good send-off as he’s been a good friend to the society and a real gentleman who gets on with everyone”.
Two effigies were made of Mr Nye, the second intended for next year’s bonfire; but Mr Nye good humorously prevented this by seizing the model of himself and taking it ‘in custody’ to the nearest police station. Effigies of Guy Fawkes and Catesby were also burned, as is the tradition. There was no tableau from Borough this year; reportedly they chose to make a lot more aerial display, rather than concentrate on one territorial set piece but the decision is said to be ongoing.
Borough impressed the crowds in Lewes town centre with their breathtaking Zulu and Tudor costumes. Some 4,000 torches lit Borough’s cohort and their numbers were swelled by visiting societies. Crowborough were dressed as Spanish matadors, Rotherfield and Mark Cross as Egyptians, Maresfield and Littlehampton were both costumed as Indians, with wonderful trailing feathered head-dresses while Burgess Hill made awesome Aztecs.
The Sheppey Pirates appeared as themselves! Three bands accompanied the procession, all proficient, but Barking Bacteria set the crowds heads nodding and their toes tapping all along the route. The youngest society member marching was Elsie Winter, 15 months. The oldest member was Edna Snahall. “It was a wonderful evening”, said Borough Secretary Maureen Burrow.
One spectator, eight-year old David Charles would definately have agreed with her. The Charles family have only recently moved to Lewes, so this was his first experience of the town’s unique way of celebrating November 5th. “I didn’t think Zulus or Indians existed any more” said an awestruck David. “I argued with Dad about it. Now I’ve got to say sorry to him – but it’s worth it”.
Remembering Harold And Celebrating A New Arrival…
An old friend was celebrated while a brand new member was welcomed into the fold at South Street’s bonfire celebrations. The main tableau at the fire site was a giant Rupert Bear constructed in memory of Harold Wheeler, who died in May. Harold, a society Life Member, was a back-room boy before becoming an important part of the tableau building team. On bonfire night, Harold could be seen within the society processions dressed as Rupert and over the years became a favourite among members both young and old.
Meanwhile, the youngest South Street member arrived at around 4.30pm on Bonfire day when Katy, the daughter of Commander-in-Chief Richard Todd, gave birth to 8lb 15oz Lucas. Richard said: “It was wonderful but a bit of a nightmare!” The main tableau was produced by Keith Muddle and team, while the street tableau, which depicted the Queen dressed in England football kit and bearing the caption “They call her Golden Baubles – that’s her Majesty to you”, revisted this summer’s Golden Jubilee and World Cup. It was made by Bill Fuller, Dave Mewett and Andy and Ali Harris.
Around £3,500 was spent on fireworks – which ensured a spectacular finale to the proceedings – and 3,000 torches were made. Visiting societies were Fletching and Firle. The programme started with the children’s procession, led by 17 blazing cross pieces in remembrance of the Protestant martyrs and containing a South Street banner which was created in 1920. The society wreath was borne at the head of the Procession of Remembrance by society President Miles Jenner, before being laid at the War Memorial.
Eldest member was 78-year old Barbara Nichols while Captain of bands was Georgina Wadey and Pioneer Chief was Caroline Prince. The society illuminated badge was carried by Captain of banners Richard March. Archbishop of South Street Denis Bond addressed the crowd and led the company in the Bonfire Prayers before the burning of the effigies.
Sussex Express, Friday, November 8, 2002 www.sussexexpress.co.uk
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