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Sussex Express Report 2012 - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations
February 26, 2014 at 9:35 pm by v
Fewer Bonfire spectators leads to fewer injuries…
The fact that the Lewes Bonfire celebrations fell on a Monday meant that the numbers attending was about half what had been recorded in 2011. It resulted in a ‘relatively peaceful’ evening with just a few isolated incidents of trouble as around 30,000 people filled the streets. Sussex Police and partner agencies worked throughout the evening to police the historic evening, and a drop in the number of arrests and injuries was reported. The event’s police commander Superintendent Laurence Taylor said: “The Lewes Bonfire continues to be an incredibly popular event. At public events of this size there is always going to be incidents of criminal activity and anti-social behavior.
Fortunately we saw a significant drop in the number of firework related injuries compared with last year. The policing of this event involves months of preparation, planning and consultation with the bonfire societies, the other emergency services and partners with the main aim being to help provide a safe environment for the participants and spectators on the night”. “Around 20,000 people traveled into Lewes by train and officers from both British Transport Police and Sussex Police were on hand to help manage crowds and minimise the risk of injuries and damage to property.
I would particularly like to thank the stewards who worked really hard along the processional route and made sure there were no crowd issues resulting in people being injured.” South East Coast Ambulance Service and St John Ambulance treated 82 individuals, with seven people needing hospital treatment. None of the injuries were believed to be serious. East Sussex Fire and Rescue reported a quiet night and were required to deal with five incidents, two of which were small rubbish fires. A total of 15 arrests were made, nine of which were for throwing fireworks and others for public order and possession of drugs.
There were no serious incidents of violence or disorder which meant that arrest numbers were halved compared with last year. Chief Superintendent Robin Smith, East Sussex Divisional Commander said: “Once again, people have attended in their thousands to line the streets and take part in the Lewes Bonfire celebrations. Given the large numbers we have seen attending, it has been a relatively peaceful and successful event with very few isolated incidents. I’d like to thank all the organisers, staff in our partner agencies and all the participants for striving to keep the public safe at this event.”
Night a triumph but police performance fuels chairman’s anger…
The Chairman of Commercial Square Bonfire Society said he had been disappointed by the performance of police on Bonfire Night. Simon Newman accused them of ‘double standards’ and of not following procedures that had been agreed in advance with the societies. He said he had been involved in an ugly incident outside The White Hart during the United Grand Procession when he caught a group of eight youths about to throw fireworks into one of the tar barrels. “They are full of hot ashes, wires and nails”, said Mr Newman. “It could have been extremely dangerous.”
He apprehended one of those responsible, but said he was surprised by the amount of time it took police to respond. “I had to wait between five and ten minutes for an officer to arrive – and when they did it was me that was given a warning about my behaviour,” he said. Later, he was upset that two Commercial Square members had been pulled from the ranks by police for letting off the outlawed dropdown fireworks near the firesite and accused them of ‘turning a blind eye’ when members of the public had been responsible. “The society was an easy target,” added Mr Newman. “I thought the police were giving off mixed messages.”
On the plus side, he said Commercial Square’s performance on The Fifth had been a triumph. The tableau billed as ‘Wipeout’ attracted widespread praise and proved to be a comment on the Euro crisis in Greece. It depicted an extremely buxom German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaning over the Acropolis in Athens. North America, of course, figures prominently in the society’s celebrations with hordes of Red Indians in their magnificent headdresses leading the processions, accompanied by sqaws in their painstakingly constructed beaded costumes. They were followed by the troops from the American Civil War, both Union and Confederate.
It has been remarked on in the past that resplendant officers far outnumber humble privates – but this is Bonfire and It’s all about spectacle. Distinctly syncopated musical accompaniment was provided by the Corps of Drums Society; Lewes, Glynde and Beddingham Brass; Brighton and Hove City Brass; Barcombe Scout Band; the Barulho Samba Band and the Ouse Valley Samba Band. A highlight of the evening was, as always, the awesome pyrotechnics display at the Landport firesite. Youngsters took precarious positions high in tree branches for a better veiw of the show that was a credit to all concerned.
Burning wicker man launches explosive event…
A monumental wicker man being set on fire kicked off proceedings at Cliffe’s Bonfire celebrations in explosive style on Monday November 5. From a distance it looked like it was at least three storeys high and was ignited in several places, with sparks flying from his head and other points on his body. The crowd was growing restless in advance of the fireworks display on a night when temperatures had plummeted to 2C. Cries of ‘burn him’ and ‘burn anything’ rang out from the thousands of onlookers who had gathered on the wet field just off Ham Lane. While it was a cold wait, when Cliffe’s Bonfire Boys and Girls got the fireworks underway, they did not disappoint.
It began with setting the giant wicker man on fire and Cliffe hurling bangers at the colossus. Flames tore into it, consuming the whole body, until finally its upper torso collapsed and fell to the ground with a crash. Next the Archbishop of Cliffe gave his traditional address from a platform on the fire site, accompanied by his attendants. There were renewed cries of ‘burn him’ as Cliffe members threw bangers at him, while his attendants helped to fend off the missiles and even lobbed a few bangers of their own. A tableau which appeared to show the men behind the Gunpowder Plot scheming, was detonated next, with a flurry of fireworks released into the night sky. It was the same fate for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, when a tableau depicting her destroying the Acropolis in Greece was ignited.
Pope Paul V, who was in charge of the Roman Catholic Church at the time of the Gunpowder Plot was blown to smithereens too. There followed a beautiful fireworks display which had the previously rowdy onlookers staring up at the clear night sky with joy, as flecks of gold, red, blue and green rained down. Their procession too, as ever, was a sight to behold. Vikings, French Revolutionaries and smugglers marched through the historic streets of Lewes, bearing flaming torches and fire banners, which included one with a famous Sussex saying; ‘We wunt be druv.’ This year’s Enemy of Bonfire was represented by a policeman’s head, sporting a camera mounted on his helmet, with a sign that read ‘Coppers using new technology smile’, and was paraded through the streets of Lewes for all to see.
Fitting tribute as society reflects…
Celebrations will be shot through with a little reflection this year as Waterloo Bonfire Society remembers the lives of two influential members who sadly died during 2012. The society’s programme remembers Christine Gladman, born in 1941. Her friend Marilyn Penfold remembers her as a lifelong Bonfire girl who thoroughly enjoyed making costumes. She joined Waterloo in the mid 1980s and was responsible for many of the Society’s unique costume styles, including Medieaval, Victorian, Spanish and Mongolian.
Bert Penfold, born in 1925 passed away in April. In November 1960 Bert Joined others to organise a firework display for residents. Bert then helped to revive the Waterloo Bonfire Society which had died out in the early 1900s. He became President in 1989 and did just about everything from presenting cups at childrens parties, to holding senior posts and was presented with Life Membership at the Society’s annual dinner in 1978.
The first recorded reference to Bonfire celebrations in Waterloo Place were in 1857. The next year the Waterloo Bonfire Boys were reported to be ‘out in great force’ with large banners, processions, blazing tubs and torches, the burning of effigies and a ‘very large fire.’ Not much has changed, although the Society sports a sophisticated set of costumes, effigies and a memorial – and often highly controversial – tableau. The Grand tableau this year is intriguinly named ‘Twatter’. Who knows what that will be?
Waterloo’s Grand Procession looks set to be a showstopper, with a variety of finely – worked and authentic outfits – fighters from the world-renowned Mongol empire; Puritans, Romans, Tudors (including King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth of course), Victorians and Greeks… look out for the Minotaur. The Waterloo Scottish Military Drum and Pipe Band, HMS Nelson Royal Naval Volunteer Band and Band of the Uckfield Fourth Holy Cross Scouts will accompany the processions.
Delighted crowds get surprise treat…
‘We won’t be druv’ was the defiant message from Borough Bonfire Society after they pulled of a coup with a Spanish inspired fire show at this year’s hugely successful Fifth. The society’s secret display during Procession helped replace some of the atmosphere lost after the strict ban on the deer scarer firework. Neil Finney, the Society’s Chairman, said he believed it had been a good Fifth but admitted he had concerns about the authorities decision to halt one of Lewes Bonfire’s loudest traditions. He said: “In one sense the banning of drop-down didn’t spoil the night but, in my mind it did change the feel of it. It’s something we as a town have been doing for hundreds of years.
The Bonfire liaison officers were fantastic but were there to carry out a policy that was very, very unpopular. Whenever they try and ban any activities in Lewes, the typical state of mind of any Lewesian is we won’t be druv, we won’t be told what to do. But we had our secret to replace them, which even I didn’t know about. We had guys dressed up in masks and had packs on their backs where we put Gerbs, which are a type of firework, and as they walked along it had a fountain effect. It was something we’d observed in Valencia and it looked really effective, something a bit different while keeping the tradition of Bonfire. When they lit up you could see the crowds getting out their cameras, so I think they loved it.”
The other great parts of Bonfire are the tableau – always a well kept secret even among Society members, this year it’s Neil Armstrong trying to get into heaven – and the firework displays. Borough may be one of the smallest but they were determined to pack the biggest punch when it came to their display – the cost of which is another well-guarded secret. Mr Finney said: “We are not the greatest society in terms of numbers and not the most financially well off but we put on a good display, especially for a Monday night because some societies wrench back because of the smaller crowds but we went for it.”
He added “The challenge for Tableaux display is it’s a comment about people in the press, and of course many people thought it would a certain person, but the public has to realise we start this in September so pick someone in the news then and who will last through to the Fifth. We thought the first man on the moon, who defined a moment for many people. We thought it was a great idea to mark Bonfire with someone who pushed boundaries with what is possible. We especially liked the idea of his famous quote and him turning up for his final step at the gates of St Peter and getting into heaven.” Keeping with tradition the Society’s Zulu and Tudor pioneers were a highlight of the night and the flaming key marking its freedom of the Borough status was there for all to admire.
Tableau triumph as cyclist loses his head…
Bradley Wiggins in front of a 24ft high Arc de Triomphe, riding his bike roughshod over a symbolic squashed frog, took pride of place at the South Street Bonfire Society fire site on Monday. It was all a huge tribute to the brilliant cyclist’s achievement in winning this year’s Tour de France – and then taking the London Olympics by storm. Society members even copied the detail from the sides of the Paris landmark and added the faces of their colleagues. During the society’s spectacular firework display, including some eye catching red love hearts, a crowd of about 800 people watched as the man with the epic sideburns head was blown to smithereens. The same fate had already befallen the Pope, although he somehow managed to keep his head while his whole body shot across the Railway Land.
Society members carried a tableau of the Queen and corgis on board HM’s jubilee regatta barge through the streets of Lewes during the procession. “We didn’t blow up the two corgis,” assured society President Dilly Barlow, who spent Tuesday morning helping pick up every piece of the blown up Bradley from the nature reserve. “They are going to be found good homes.” Dilly deemed this year ‘one of the best ever’. “The weather was perfect and the crowds were about half the size of last year for the whole event. When you get a really big crowd it gets overwhelming and people don’t have such a good time.
This year the crowd at the firesite were having a lovely time and they had a lovely lot of space to have a good time in. We were really pleased with everything – it was fantastic and everything went the way it should. The bands were really great and the Expedient Jazz Band brought smiles to everybody’s faces. People have missed them since they left Cliffe.” Also accompanying South Street were Hastings and Rye bonfire societies, Newhaven Youth Marching Band and The Glen Duart Pipe Band.
Fabulous, friendly, fiery Southover…
Fabulous, friendly, fiery, family-loving Southover… one of the most welcoming societies in Lewes staged yet another terrific display of spookiness, sound and mind-blowing sensation. Southover is pretty special as it’s the only Society to have its own Rememberance Service at it’s own War Memorial. President Ann Thomas, elegant in a shocking pink, feather-boa trimmed cloak, told the Express: “We are such a community Society. We welcome children, people of all ages, whole families join the procession together. There’s a true family feeling here.” Ann read the moving Lawrence Binyon poem at the ceremony.
Sadie Chjant (nine) with mum Carol had marched four times so far. She also said she’d worked hard at torch dipping. She had the honour of holding the Illuminated Piece poppy as the children’s procession met at the town War Memorial. Other young members were Amber (four), Jamie (nine) and Adam (12) who also read a poem. Mum Allie is a devoted Southover supporter. The Society’s imaginative tableau called ‘Hand in Gove’ depicted a lacklustre student consigned to the GCSE ‘fail’ basket being manoeuvred by a recognisable education minister Michael Gove.
Southover’s process to and through the town along the flint-lined Southover streets is distinguished by the black robes of the Cluniac monks who lived in the Priory of St Pancras and carry their giant bell. In contrast, pirates and buccaneers had a good deal of Johnny Depp swagger about them. This year the sensational opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games was marked by Grainne Sinclair and the Olympic Pandemonium Band. These drummers, wearing their ‘Industrial Revolution’ costumes were the ones who pounded out the beat as the chimneys and golden rings rose from the stadium. Even more rhythm came from the Heathfield Community College Samba Band, Pentacle Drummers and the British Imperial Marching Band.
When it came to the Bonfire, Southover pulled out all the stops and then some. Exploding ‘crysanthemum’ blooms looked like undersea creatures, or wonderful tropical flowers in the night sky. Scarlets contrasted with neon pastel brights such as pale pink and baby blue – a picture in the Bonfire’s truly rural setting.
Sussex Express Friday, November 9, 2012 www.sussexexpress.co.uk
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