Remember, remember the Fifth of November The Gunpowder Treason
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Sussex Express Report 2004 - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations
March 20, 2014 at 11:12 pm by v
Bonfire This Year Was A ‘Resounding Success’…
At least 45,000 people descended on Lewes on Friday, over-crowding the narrow streets to celebrate the town’s renowned November 5 celebrations. Good weather and the event falling on a Friday produced the largest turn-out of recent years.
A confirmed 23,000 visitors alone came by train and headed into the centre of the town. Some 340 police officers and staff from Sussex Police, and 40 British Transport Police were on duty while additional fire crews and paramedics were on stand-by to attend any incidents. But thankfully they had little to do. Four people required hospital treatment for various firework-related injuries.
Only 4 arrests were made, two for being drunk and disorderly, one for obstruction and one for threatening behaviour. Chief Superintendent Paul Pearce, incident commander said: “Lewes Bonfire is the Force’s largest operation of its kind. This year was particularly busy but still a resounding success from a police perspective with only a small number of arrests and very few casualties. The quick and responsible actions by the bonfire societies, who responded to minor issues throughout the evening, ensured a safe and well-controlled event for all to enjoy”.
The size of the crowd interfered with the timing of some of the processions. The fire brigade were called to a balcony fire at Strickland’s Warehouse, believed to have been started by a candle. The fire service responded to 16 calls during the evening, dealing with torches burning in unsafe areas and a fire lit in a skip in North Street. And someone did their best to set fire to a parking meter in De Montfort Road. The bonfire societies, as usual, put on a stunning display. Lewes people tend to take it for granted but some of the new arrivals were clearly stunned by the scale of the event.
Cliffe opted to display its solidarity with events in Firle while at the same time blowing up an NCP parking attendant. Waterloo concentrated on the perpetrators of the Gunpowder Plot and the 40th anniversary of the society’s re-formation. Borough made a startling reference to the nanny state: ‘Snot Your Business’ Commercial Square poured scorn on John Prescott and his shilly-shallying over the Albion football club’s plans for Falmer, while at the same time burning an effigy of a parking meter. South Street’s theme was the proposed national park, and depicted the Downs with a windmill and three sheep.
As one bonfire boy put it: “This was one of our best bonfire nights for years, but wait until next year’s 400th anniversary Bonfire Night. That will be a biggy”.
You Can’t Park That There Mr Moore!…
A tableau depicting the South Downs featuring the windmill and three puzzled looking sheep was set ablaze by South Street Bonfire Society to voice concern at talk of Downland being converted into a national park. Field Archbishop David Todd spoke about a possible invasion by ‘hoards of day trippers in Wallis and Gromit armour-plated coaches’.
Record crowds saw South Street in outstanding costumes and with clever tableaux. These included a traffic warden issuing a ticket to a Henry Moore figure. The tab was entitled, In Mooring for Lewes, and was pushed by Andy Harris. He said: “Parking problems may be the death of Lewes. We have a council that thinks more about art exhibitions than the people in the town”.
As usual fancy dress competitions predominated. Prizes were awarded to Chad Jeeawock, an elegant 15-year old cavalier from Ringmer Community College. Chad won his age group and also took the Tom Wheeler Cup for best juvenile. But the star of the show was 80-year old Barbara Nichols who dressed as a Siamese courtier. Barbara marched for the first time in 1938 and has been involved ever since, the only break being during the War when she worked at the hypodermic needle factory in Market Street.
The society was accompanied by two bands who acquitted themselves marvellously. At the front was the Newhaven Youth Marching Band which played Abide With Me and sounded the Reveille at the War Memorial. Entertaining those at the back of the procession was the Crowborough-based Downsmen Corps who were making their debut with the society. At the rear was Fletching Bonfire Society with a tab of the Simpsons, followed by East Hoathly and Halland, Maresfield and Rye.
Chailey Heritage benefited from the street collection. The school’s Graham Farmer, a special needs carer from Seaford, had dressed as a monk. He sprinted up and down the line with a bucket and received generous donations. Two families had four generations present. Lucas Todd observed proceedings from his pushchair with mother Katy Todd from Chailey and Tina Todd, wife of society Chairman Richard. Resplendent in a Civil War costume was Lucas’ great-grandmother Anne Wares, 76, of Timberyard Cottages. The other four generations were headed by Barbara Nichols with Beverly Howell, Emily Howell and Master Ryan Gravitt who is almost two.
‘Safety Fascists’ The Target Of Borough…
A backlash against the ‘nanny state’ was the subject of Borough Bonfire Society’s grand tableau. And the impressive creation is likely to feature on a BBC documentary as, among the thousands of spectators at the fire site, was none other than journalist and broadcaster David Dimbleby – complete with a film crew busy recording the society’s Guy Fawkes celebrations.
The tableau depicted an old woman dressed in a nanny’s uniform sitting on a large nose, bearing the blunt message ‘Snot your business!’ This summed up the mood of many spectators and bonfire society members, who have gone on the record in the past, telling the emergency services to be less heavy-handed and credit them with common sense; they feel that ‘safety fascists’ are taking over the world. They also claim the heavy-handed police presence in Lewes on Bonfire Night is another example of state interference.
And the critics were spot on as, despite the huge turnout in the town that was estimated at more than 45,000, the 380-strong police force had relatively few incidents of criminal behaviour to deal with and only four arrests were made. Borough Bonfire Society’s grand firework displays have always been second to none and this year’s event was no exception, with a truly memorable half hour of outstanding pyrotechnics costing more than £5000.
But before the display there were magnificent processions with 4,500 torches, featuring the society’s trademark Zulus in full ceremonial dress, with music provided by the Sussex Band of the Royal British Legion. The Second Pioneer Tudor ladies and gentlemen followed with the Kingfisher Scout Band plus visiting societies including Nevill Juveniles, Eastbourne and Uckfield. Bringing up the rear was the exhilarating sound of the samba, courtesy of Barking Bateria.
‘Butt Out Of Our Bonfire!’…
The spectre of Firle won’t go away. Cliffe Bonfire Society’s set-piece was of a ram with a BBC reporter attached to its rear. The message – Butt Out BBC was directed at reporter Giles Dilnot. The Ram happens to be Firle’s pub and Firle Bonfire Society’s symbol. The BBC reporter was the man who ran the story last year of Firle’s burning of an effigy of a gypsy caravan and its cardboard occupants. The incident provoked outrage and almost led to 12 Firle Bonfire members being prosecuted for incitement to racial hatred.
The enemies of bonfire, Wizard of Oz style, included the ‘Cowardly Lioness of Firle’ – presumably a dig at the resident who protested over last year’s gypsy caravan effigy – the ‘Scare (Crow) Monger of Newick’ aimed at Mr Joe O’Keefe who complained to police over the anti-Catholic element of bonfire – and a ‘Heartless B.st..d’ referring to the NCP parking regulators. All the effigies were dispatched at the bonfire site along with Guy Fawkes and Pope Paul V. The aerial display, as always, was magnificent.
Earlier in the evening, the size of the crowds and some hiccups with timing meant that the Cliffe grand procession had to be fore-shortened, leaving out East Street, Albion Street and School Hill. Vikings returned as pioneers after making way for the smugglers in last year’s 150th anniversary celebrations. However the bearers of the 17 flaming crosses carried down School Hill to commemorate the Lewes martyrs wore traditional bonfire costumes. There were new second pioneers in the shape of the Moors and Saracens whose growing contingent was recognised by their elevated position in the procession.
Bands in action were the British Airways Pipe Band, the 1066 Bonfire Band, Heathfield Silver Band,Rumple Drumskin and the Expedient Jazz Band. It was Aubrey Taylor’s 60th year as Captain of Barrels, having been elected to the position at a meeting at the Price Of Wales in 1945 to recommence the celebrations after the war. The Archbishop of the Cliffe was Dave Gander in his first year in the post. Some 900 Cliffe members formed the nucleus of the processions augmented by a contingent from Firle, five bands, 7,500 torches and a large number of fiery pieces.
A Cliffe spokesman said: “Political correctness will never be allowed to encroach upon our choice of tableau, enemies of bonfire or any other aspect of our celebrations.”
A Powder Keg For Mr Prescott…
It would take nerves of steel for the Deputy Prime Minister to show his face in Lewes after the reception given to his lookalike in Friday’s parade. As usual, Commercial Square pin-pointed the County’s hot topic with a devastatingly accurate tableau that drew screams of pleasure from the crowd. Captain of Tableaux, Roy Chapman and his brilliant team built a bloated figure of John Prescott squeezing the life out of a seagull.
With Commercial’s usual accuracy, it showed just how bitter some Sussex folk feel about Government planner’s shilly-shallying over Brighton and Hove Albion’s potential Falmer site and the despair of loyal supporters. Watchers went wild when the figure burst into flames at the fire site. Another focus for the town’s loathing – the parking meter – was also ceremoniously set alight while brave Society members dressed as traffic wardens braved a public barracking.
Friday’s turn-out for the historic Commercial Square society – gearing up for its 150th anniversary in 2005 – was the biggest-ever with upwards of 600 joining the procession including visiting societies, the Brighton Silver Band, Lewes Glynde and Beddingham Brass, Barcombe Scout Band and Hastings Corps of Drums. The Western and Indian theme was carried through with a pyrotechnical totem pole and spectacular fiery blazing banner depicting the mystical thunderbird of the North American Indians. But as usual it was marchers costumes that drew the most ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from a wildly enthusiastic crowd.
Clad in full tribal gear – beading, embroidery and fringing painstakingly hand-worked throughout the year – ‘squaws’ led their youngsters through the town. Youngest of the lot, Jack Bowes (20 days) was pushed by mum and dad, Vicki and Guy from Newhaven while Anna Rawson from Lewes shepherded her fully-costumed brood, Samuel, Joseph, Lily and Dominic in company with mum-in-law Carole. Colleagues could hardly recognise Sussex Express receptionist Val Goudie decked out in two black plaits and a touch of war paint – she was kept busy with grandchildren Reece (five), Jade (13) and Scott (14).
At the opposite end of the scale was the dapper Norman Kenward (77) from Lewes, smartly togged as a Civil War Unionist Soldier. Martin Weller from Lewes was a show-stopper as Elvis complete with white suit, mike, glistening black wig, dark shades and lots of bling. John Hearn from Lewes made Hern the Hunter an eerie figure sporting antlers and furs. Christoph von Kurthy from Stuttgart – England’s only German Morris Dancer – brought a Continental flavour to the marching column likening the parades to the famous pre-Lent Fastnacht back home.
The society’s seven processions were led by the famous Indian First Pioneers followed by Second Pioneers and traditional smugglers. Effigies of Guy Fawkes and Pope Paul V built by Captain of Effigies Simon Richards were breathtakingly blown to bits and Archbishop Paul Wheeler conducted at the fire site and addressed members and watchers after Bonfire Prayers. Commander Jamie Duc later told the Express: “This was our best year ever – it was spectacular, there was a huge crowd and everyone enjoyed themselves… but just wait till next year!”
Praise For Waterloo’s Well-behaved Crowd…
Exploding heads, expert crowd control and a display to be proud of sums up Waterloo Bonfire Society’s night in a nutshell. Members well and truly went to town to commemorate the 40th anniversary of their reforming in 1964. This year Waterloo took the unusual step of dispensing with its usual trademark cartoon tableau for a smaller 40th anniversary tableau featuring the heads of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators, which came off spectacularly, leading to a magical firework display that lit up the night sky.
The society’s procession, which carried 6,000 torches, boasted the band of the Parachute Regiment, proving Waterloo is not prepared to settle for anything but the best. Members dressed in costumes from the Mongolian Empire were at the forefront of the procession, followed by Tartars, Victorians and other fancy
dress. The oldest member in the procession was 82 year-old John Hunniset, dressed from head to toe in regal splendour as King Henry VIII. The youngest was seven month old Max Swinburn who was pushed in his pram in his own specially made Mongolian Empire costume by his mum, Cheryl Swinburn, whose husband Alec was busy working as a torch Marshall.
Society Vice-Chairman David Quinn agreed it had been a truly memorable night, saying: “It was absolutely excellent, superb, everybody enjoyed themselves. We had huge crowds down at the fire site and we handled it extremely well”. The atmosphere at the fire site was incredible. The crowds went wild as a wonderful firework display got underway. Half an hour of continuous cheering accompanied the colourful display which had cost the society more than £6,500.
People kept on arriving at the fire site before the display and it looked as though things could easily have got out of hand as the procession was due to arrive and its path was blocked. But society members were one step ahead and their good natured and clear instructions over the tannoy soon put paid to that and everyone moved a safe distance and all was well. Mr Quinn added: “I understand from reports that there were only four arrests in Lewesw on Bonfire Night and yet there must have been in excess of 40,000 people there. When you consider how many arrests are made at a football match, with crowds averaging 10,000 you realise how well behaved they really were and we must strive to keep it that way”.
Sussex Express, Friday, November 12, 2004 www.sussexexpress.co.uk
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