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Sussex Express Report 2013 - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations
March 2, 2014 at 7:19 pm by v
A spectacular night with little trouble…
A strange transformation was underway on the morning of Tuesday November 5 in the normally peaceful town of Lewes. Shop fronts were boarded up. while Bonfire Boys and Girls were spotted in their Smugglers outfits walking around the town. Parking meters were removed to prevent them being blown up with fireworks. In previous years the unpopular parking regime in Lewes had been targeted during bonfire, with parking meters in the line of fire.
As the streets were closed off and the office workers sent home, the deserted town seemed to sink into a ghostly silence, broken only by the occasional explosion of a firework or rookie. The sightings of Smugglers, Vikings and Cavaliers, as well as a great many other costumed locals, grew ever more frequent. As darkness descended on the medieval streets, the cries of ‘Ogi Ogi Ogi,’ Oi Oi Oi,’ and ‘Burn him’ rang out through the night air.
Getting into Lewes became a Herculean effort, as the trains filled up and the roads were closed off, yet such is the popularity of this incredible event, that 30,000 people found a way to attend Bonfire despite this. Thousands of Bonfire Boys and Girls paraded through the town in costumes ranging from monks to Anglo Saxons, from Zulus to Victorians. Blazing torches lit the streets, smoke filled the alleyways and burning crosses, fire banners and burning barrels of tar featured in an evening which made you feel like you were stepping back in time.
Once the main procession was over, the Bonfire Societies headed for their fire sites across the town to stage their fireworks displays. At the end of the celebrations an amazing 18,000 people traveled to Lewes by train and Sussex Police had made 14 arrests. Two were arrested for throwing fireworks, others for drunk and disorderly and public order offences, but there were no serious incidents of violence or disorder. A total of 86 people were treated by paramedics and volunteers, with four needing hospital treatment, but none of the injuries were serious.
Commercial Square goes way out West!…
North Korea’s baby-faced leader Kim Jong Un and his regime’s opposition to anything resembling free speech was roundly sent up – and set ablaze – at the Commercial Square Bonfire Society firesite. Kim was throwing his toy bricks – marked WMD – out of his camouflaged pram.. a brilliant debunking of one of the world’s most enigmatic and inexplicable leaders. And what a blaze – as ever Captain of Aerial Duncan Redshaw silenced an awe-struck crowd with explosions of multi-coloured stars, mega-bright incendiaries, Roman candles visible from across the former Empire and a giant’s eye version of the family favorite, Golden Rain.
The Society again lived up to its billing as family-friendly. We met Jake Barber (nine) and little brother Zak (now 6 but a member since he was seven weeks old) taking part in the children’s procession. Dakota Pargiter (six) was an old hand at her third procession, accompanied by big sister Nisce (11) while Freddie Collard (nine) was on his third consecutive parade with mum Joanna. Rosie Collard (11) was an even older hand celebrating her ninth walk. At the other end of the age spectrum Nick Furnell, 75 described being taken on Commercial Square parades from 1946 – broken only by a National service spell in the RAF. He was wearing a finely beaded Indian costume, much admired by American visitor Pamela Earl who sported an authentic Navajo necklace belonging to her mother.
As always costumes were king at this best-ever parade. Visitors were in awe of the authentic costumes of the Old West including sun dancers, medicine men and devil dancers. There were gasps as the primary coloured Totem Pole swayed past. Valencians and suave British Empire founders were accompanied by music by the Corps of Drums, Lewes and Brighton and Hove Brass, Barcombe Scouts and the exciting Barulho Samba Band. One of the world’s oldest bonfire societies (founded 1855) and quite simply, the best!
Society takes aim at Assad and Thatcher…
In the year that Margaret Thatcher died, Cliffe Bonfire Society decided to pick the former Prime Minister to top their bonfire. A model of her head with glowing eyes decorated the top of a 20 foot high pile of pallets which was set alight to cries of ‘Burn him’. Of course Maggie has been the subject of a tableau created by Cliffe before, which they called Battle Axe. The talented team at Cliffe even managed to make Thatcher’s head slowly rise up three foot above the bonfire.
And it was an 18 foot high tableau of Bashar Al Assad, President of Syria, who was carted through the streets of Lewes, toting a gun which sprayed smoke out of it. Cliffe Bonfire Society Chairman Paula Black said: “We had all the questions about whether they had chemical weapons so we were trying to pick something that was pertinent. We have a very imaginative tableau team, I take my hat off to them.”
This year there were no Enemies of Bonfire to be paraded through town or detonated on the fire site. Paula added: “Unless we can have a true Enemy of Cliffe or Bonfire we don’t create an Enemy for the sake of it. No one has upset us too much this year.” At the fire site Margaret Thatcher was the first to meet the flames, then the Archbishop of Cliffe made his annual address to the delight of the crowds, who watched as Cliffe Bonfire Society members hurled bangers at him. The onlookers chanted the traditional cry of ‘Burn him’, cheered when a banger struck home and let out sighs of disappointment when they missed.
Then Pope Paul V, Guy Fawkes and Assad were ceremonially blown up with a colourful and impressive array of fireworks. The rowdy crowd was suddenly calm, staring up into the sky at a spectacular display, with just the occasional gasp of wonder breaking the silence. It was, as ever, an evening full of excitement and beauty.
Starbursts lit up town sky at Waterloo fire…
Professionalism and artistry came together to deliver yet another triumphant night for the all-conquering Waterloo Bonfire Society. The Society delivered a safe but inspired firework display thanks to both aerial and ground pyrotechnics Captains. This year primary colours were ramped up a notch and included starbursts as multi- shaded as a pack of M & Ms as well as a sky-bound feast of hot orange and parma violet. Waterloo’s great strength is the wealth of family support where generations parade together and follow in the footsteps of loyal grandparents.
Ethan Wood, just eight weeks, was being steered by dad Adam (Commander in Chief) and mum Keira (Captain of Tar Barrels) in the children’s procession. Young Viny (16 months)sister Eszmey (eight) are already members but belong to Commercial Square in respect of grandad George Gander (88).Marylin penfold, 64 (splendid as a Mongolian) has paraded every year since she was 18 months old and is the third generation of her family to do so. Waterloo’s spectacular tableau depicted the topical issue of fracking with a firebreathing dragon wielding a drill alongside a sheep depicting the peaceful countryside invaded by the prospectors.
Costumes are Waterloo’s forte and their range is possibly the widest in the Lewes Bonfire pantheon. A Roman soldier complete with chariot walks alongside a Greek philosopher; austere Puritans accompany elaborate Victorians but bejeweled and masked Mongolians and gentlemen and ladies wearing the ruffs, frills and fur-belows of the Tudor court steal the show for many. Walkers are accompanied by musicians including the HMS Nelson Royal Navy Volunteer Band (playing Sussex by the Sea), the stirring Waterloo Scottish Military Drum and Pipe Band, the Band of TS Swiftsure NTC and the rhythmic and disciplined Band of Uckfield Performance Ensemble which drew prolonged cheers from the thousands lining the route to the firesite.
Magnificent Zulu warrior holds the key…
Keys literally loomed large on the agenda for Lewes Borough Bonfire Society as members celebrated an extra-special November 5 in style. It’s a landmark year for the town’s oldest society as it commemorates 150 years of carrying the ‘Monster Iron Key of the Ancient Borough of Lewes’ in its processions. So this year’s tableau was an absolute work of art and depicted a Zulu warrior sitting before the Barbican and holding the key. The creation featuring the famous Fist Pioneer of Borough was emblazoned with the official proclamation renewed in this anniversary year of the society, being given the freedom of the streets on the Fifth.
Later an enormous wooden key was rigged above the bonfire to make an atmospheric silhouette before being consumed by flames. With perfect conditions on the edge of the downs, Chairman Neil Finney considered this year’s spectacular fireworks display by Borough the best for many years. “We don’t have the budget of some of the other societies, but this year we certainly held our own,” he said. “It was a great evening all round thanks to the superb team effort put in by members. I’ve heard nothing but positive comments.” He particularly enjoyed Bonfire Prayers with the Archbishop on the steps of the Law Courts at the end of the evening. “Suitably raucous and in the spirit of Bonfire,” said Mr Finney.
While Borough does not of course have members that were around in that proud year of 1863, many can trace the Bonfire links back through the generations of their families to the 19th century. Visiting societies adding their support and individual style on Tuesday were, Isfield, Eastbourne, South Heighton, Firle, Littlehampton, Hailsham and Barcombe. The bucket collectors were kept busy as spectators along the routes showed their appreciation. Charities to benefit this year are the Royal British Legion, Lewes YMCA and St John Ambulance.
Rupert makes a comeback for centenary…
Over many years a familiar sight in South Street Bonfire Society’s procession, Rupert the Bear returned on Tuesday to mark the society’s centenary. The costume was donned each November 5 since his early childhood by Harold Wheeler, nephew of the founder of the original juvenile society, Tom Wheeler. Harold was a procession leader and tableau builder until he died in 2002, aged 76. To mark the 100th birthday, Harold’s daughter Pam Wicks walked in the children’s parade in her father’s costume. Keeping the family tradition going were Pam’s daughters Melissa and Amanda Wicks and Harold’s young grandchildren Macey-Mae Wicks-Fuller and Leyton – Ritchie Wicks-Fuller.
The children’s book character also featured on one of the society’s street pieces – a 100th birthday cake with the Martyr’s Memorial, a Second Pioneer in the early Siamese costume used by the society, a similar First Pioneer in 1750s costume, a smuggler and a current style First and Second Pioneer. “We wanted to depict all the generations of South Street,” said President Dilly Barlow. The society also paraded with a Guy for the first time, a Pope and the children made their own guy with a rat on a barrel. The children’s parade along South Street started the Bonfire celebrations for the society, including newest member three week old Alice.
After about 400 society members joined the adult processions through the streets of Lewes, there was a fantastic firework display fit to mark the special occasion on the Railway Land. The field tableau, a big 100 with champagne bottles dated 1913 with SSJBS from the earliest banner and 2013 on either side went up in lights and explosions. “It was remarkable and we were lucky with the weather,” said Dilly. “All of it went as we hoped and some even better than we hoped.”
‘Best ever’ bonfire for Southover…
A two-faced David Cameron was paraded through the streets of Lewes as Southover Bonfire Society put on its best show ever. The society’s tableau showed the Prime Minister with two faces, sitting astride two missiles. It was to demonstrate Cameron’s failure to act during the Syrian crisis after the country’s government led by President Basharal-Assad, was suspected of using chemical weapons on its people. The Prime Minister called for a military response in Syria following the attack near the capital Damascus on August 21, in which hundreds of people were reported to have died. But parliament voted against action.
The tableau depicted the government’s ‘failure to fire’. There were cheers as the tableau wound its way down the High Street and School Hill to the tune of loud bangs, on its way to a fiery demise. It was a particularly poignant bonfire as the society remembered friend, Secretary and life member Keith Austin who died on August 20 this year. Known as Mr Bonfire he upheld the traditions of the Fifth for more than 50 years. The society paid tribute to Mr Austin at their fire site in bonfire prayers. Mr Austin had also suggested to each bonfire society that he be remembered by firing his ashes up into the sky.
It was the ninth time the society processed through the streets since its reformation in 2005. Around 600 members carrying 5000 blazing torches streamed passed as the society’s Cluniac Monks led the way with the monk’s bell cart which announces the society’s arrival on the night. next came the Second Pioneers – Bucaneers in their striking pirates costumes. Stephen English, society Chairman, said the society’s show was the best ever. He said: “It was brilliant, it was the best ever. Everything went 100 per cent as it should have done and as far as we know it was safe.” The procession culminated in a spectacular fireworks display at the Stanley Turner Ground. All Bonfire Pictures By Peter And Jo Cripps
Sussex Express Friday, November 8, 2013 www.sussexexpress.co.uk
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