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Sussex Express Supp 2003 - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations
March 9, 2014 at 8:34 pm by v
The biggest bonfire night in the world…
The most spectacular Bonfire Night in the world takes place in Lewes on Wednesday, five bonfire societies will put on five separate extravaganzas, with their own parades, bonfires and fireworks displays. Two of them will be celebrating 150 years of bonfire. Both Cliffe and Borough claim that distinction, although which came first is still a matter of some argument. Bonfire Night is the highlight of the year for anything up to 3,000 bonfire boys and girls who have spent months preparing for the incredible event.
A hard-core have also been fund-raising for the best part of the year to buy the fireworks which will go up in a matter of half-an-hour. Every society has made thousands of torches to be carried in the several processions through the town’s streets. All that the societies ask is that they be allowed to carry on with their traditions without interruption from trouble-makers and over-strict official-dom. As Cliffe President Paul Mockford puts in his society’s programme: “We are not a carnival, nor are we here to provide an evening of family entertainment.” Having said that, people are more than welcome to enjoy themselves… and fill the charity collection boxes.
There have been as many as 50,000 visitors to Lewes on Bonfire Night in previous years – considered by many an alarming over-crowding. Now the crowds are smaller and better ordered – some might say over ordered. The barricades make it well nigh impossible for spectators to move around once they have arrived. The smart spectators bring all they need with them in the expectation that mobility will be a virtual lost cause until the parades to the bonfire sites. The crowds start trickling in around 4pm, the wise ones arriving by train and bus. There is car parking in the Brooks Road area (see map on centre pages) and at County Hall.
Few pubs will be open but there should be no lack of refreshments in the area allocated for that purpose in Railway Lane. The fun starts around 5.30pm with tar barrel runs and children’s processions. From that point there is something happening virtually all the time – right into the small hours! Don’t forget you need tickets to get into some of the firesites. In the event of any major over-crowding or other emergencies, there are safety zones in the centre of the town, also shown on the map. Have a great time.
150 years of tradition…
Lewes Borough Bonfire Society, direct descendant of the first Lewes Bonfire Society, is celebrating it’s 150th anniversary this year. Many of the Bonfire traditions were started by Borough; the ‘Monster iron key to the ancient borough of Lewes’, the symbol of freedom of the streets on Bonfire Night, is held by Borough; the tossing of the blazing tar barrel into the river was started by Borough in 1838; and the famous motto ‘Death or Glory’ was introduced by Borough in 1838.
Borough has decided to re-introduce a tableau: this year’s is called We’re doing it our way’. There will also be a spectacular 150th anniversary fireworks display, and the return of ‘Peter’s Ghost’ – which will be ceremoniously destroyed outside the Law Courts in Borough’s last procession of the night. Events begin at 6.25 for Borough, when the society assembles in White Lion Lane to slow march to the War Memorial. Other processions at 6.45, 7.40 and 9.15 culminate in a grand firework display at the fire field in Motor Road, presided over by the Lord Bishop of the Borough.
Admission to the field is £3 for adults; children are admitted free. The last procession, a grand finale, takes place at 11pm and finishes with the singing of Auld Lang Syne and the National Anthem. Borough is renowned for impressive costumes; the magnificent Zulus and the smart red jackets as well as the ladies and gentlemen of the Tudor period. The society welcomes new members, and is holding a Badge Night on November 4 at their new headquarters, the Brewers Arms, to encourage enrollment.
Red tape is new threat to tradition…
Cliffe Bonfire Society marches through Lewes on Wednesday for the 150th time since its formation in 1853. As Chairman Andy Freeman puts in the society programme: “A typhoid epidemic, floods, world wars, and recently the growing presence of a nanny state set on wrapping us all in cotton wool, have all threatened to curtail or wipe out our celebrations, but Cliffe bonfire boys and girls are true to their Sussex roots and “wun’t be druv”.
“In looking back over 150 years, we owe an enormous debt of thanks to our ancestors who ensured that the Cliffe didn’t falter. However, it is to our children that we must now look to ensure that the Cliffe moves forward for another 150 years, and the challenges they face are potentially even greater.Their battles will not be against a mighty foe, they will be against bureaucracy, red tape, political correctness, the nanny state and the compensation culture”.
As part of the birthday celebrations, smugglers have been promoted to first pioneers, leading the grand procession. New costumes include Moors and 1793 Hussards de la Mort. Cliffe is one of the oldest and certainly the biggest of the five Lewes bonfire societies which celebrate on Bonfire Night. Tickets for the fire site are £5 from Cliffe Bookshop, the Dorset Arms, the Gardeners Arms, Harveys Brewery, the Lewes Arms, Lewes Tourist Information Centre and Lewes Travel. Tickets cannot be purchased on the night.
With 900 paid-up members, Cliffe has nothing to worry about in terms of popularity. Bands taking part this year include the Heathfield Silver Band, Surrey Pipe Band, the Sussex AFC Corps of Drums, Rumple Drumskin and the Expedient Jazz Band. Visiting societies this year are Firle and Nevill Juvenile. The society’s grand tableau, a secret until the night, is entitled Alive and Well. Seven thousand torches are being made and there will be seven blazing tar barrels.
The first event is at 6pm when the two barrel runs take place from Cliffe Corner to Cliffe Bridge. The first procession takes place at 6.30pm from Malling Street to Albion Street and back. There is another procession at 7.10pm when a blazing tar barrel will be hurled into the Ouse. The procession then continues up School Hill and a wreath will be placed at the War Memorial. At 8.45pm there is the procession from the Cliffe to the fire site near Ham Lane where the fire will be lit and the firework display takes place. For the truly hardy there is another procession at 11pm from the firesite to the Cliffe and another at 11.45pm.
Children to the fore at South Street…
South Street Bonfire Society celebrates its 90th birthday this year, and the occasion is intended to go with a bang. South Street Bonfire Society has always centred on children as Tom Wheeler, a South Street resident, started it specifically for youngsters in the area. This year’s proceedings will begin with the children’s procession at 5.45, led by 17 blazing cross-pieces in memory of the Lewes martyrs, burnt at the stake for their religious beliefs.
A fancy dress competition open to all current members, starts at 6.10; followed by the procession of remembrance, which concludes with the laying of the society wreath at the War Memorial at 7.05. Other town processions follow, leading to the society’s bonfire and firework display on the Railway Land at 9.45. Entrance to the display costs £3 for adults and £1 for children. The final procession, at 10.45, centres round the blazing tar barrel which is ‘ceremonially’ thrown into the River Ouse from Cliffe Bridge.
South Street Bonfire Society, motto ‘Faithful unto Death’ is a real family affair. Chairman Richard Todd is assisted by his wife and daughter, Treasurer and Secretary respectively. “Bonfire Night can be stressful, but it’s worth it,” said Mr Todd. The society, dressed as Siamese dancers, military men and smugglers, will be carrying a new banner this year, dedicated to life member Kath Hill, who died in 2002. Another noteworthy absence this year is that of Keith Muddle, the newly retired Captain of Tableau, Keith held the post since 1964, and was responsible for many memorable tableaux, including a Dr Who Dalek (1965), The Magic Roundabout (1976) and Postman Pat (1993).
David Muddle replaces Keith and the topic of this year’s tableau remains, as always, a well kept secret until the night. 3,000 torches will be carried by South Street Bonfire Society this year, all made by a clever new process discovered by the torch dipping team, involving the use of a monkey wire (wire used to make monkey cages) in the torch drainage trays. Trust South Street not to monkey around!
Have a safe and comfortable night…
The Lewes Bonfire Safety Group continues to examine the risks posed by the large number of visitors that crowd into the narrow streets of Lewes on November 5. One particular concern is how the emergency services would achieve evacuation of spectators from the most densely crowded areas. A method used in Lewes is to create safety zones in order to create a space into which people can be evacuated and to provide a means of access for emergency services. St Nicholas Lane, Station Street, Court Road and Mountfield Road are all safety zones on November 5.
Residents have access, as have bona-fide visitors. Parking restrictions will apply in Lewes town centre from 5pm until the early hours of the following morning. Illegally parked vehicles may be towed away and the subject of a recovery fee. Visitors are urged to dispose of litter responsibly, or they may face prosecution. Visitors are also reminded that the streets are narrow and it can be very uncomfortable with excess numbers of people vying for viewing space.
The celebrations can be very confusing to visitors with over 30 processions zigzagging through the streets. Safety leaflets are available from local railway stations, Lewes Tourist Information Office and Police officers on the night. They should be used to help you plan a safe visit. Poor weather conditions on the night can make the bonfire sites and the streets hazardous. Sensible footwear and clothing is essential. There is an information line for the Bonfire Celebrations: 05111605.
Waterloo’s cartoon theme will keep you smiling…
The details remain a closely guarded secret, but this year’s Waterloo Bonfire Society grand tableau looks set to keep to the regular cartoon theme. In the past few years, characters have included Mickey Mouse, Winnie The Pooh and Pokemon – a sly jab at the increasing commercialisation of children’s entertainment. This year’s fabulous firework-loaded creation is titled Time Out Toony, but most of the society’s top members don’t even know what it is yet.
Apart from the tableau, the Waterloo bonfire boys and girls always put on a tremendous show with processions running from 5.35. This year’s grand procession starts at 9.15pm from the Crown Inn, opposite the War Memorial.It is thought that Waterloo has the most extensive range of costumes, ranging from the savage Tartars of Genghis Khan and the Mongolian empire to the ancient Greek and Roman pioneers. The Waterloo smugglers will be dressed, as always, in their traditional red and white stripes.
As well as the pioneers there will be the military King’s Division Waterloo band, this year celebrating its 25th anniversary at the Lewes event. One waterloo insider revealed that a miniature tableau may also be dragged through the streets, as the main piece will be taken directly to the Malling Brooks fire site. The ladies have a brand new banner in production which, according to member Karen Quinn, is going to be quite an impressive sight.
Impressive support is expected from the society’s growing list of members and Waterloo President Michael Chartier, who is also Mayor of Lewes, has appealed for even more people to come forward and join the bonfire boys. Karen’s 22-year-old son Nick will be choreographing the main fireworks display once again and Guy Fawkes is sure to make a loud and colourful exit, some 398 years after the real thing was dispensed with by His Majesty’s hangmen.
Indians lead the way…
Each year Commercial Square is guaranteed to deliver an unforgettable bonfire spectacle. Led by the famous Indian First Pioneers with their ornate head- dresses, a parade of around 600 will march through the streets of Lewes with torches blazing. The Second Pioneers are clad in lovingly-made costumes from the American Civil War and are followed by a tribe of Indian Braves in full regalia. As always the smugglers in their traditional black and gold hooped guernseys bring up the rear with their blazing tar barrels.
Music will be provided by Brighton Silver Band, Hastings Corps of Drums and the Lewes, Glynde and Beddingham Brass Band. Commercial Square never shies away from a controversial subject with its tableaux. Previous targets have been George W Bush astride a nuclear missile and unflattering caricatures of Prince charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. As always the evening ends with a stunning firework display and the earth-shuddering detonation of the tableau. The evening begins with the children’s procession at HQ, at the Elephant and Castle pub, at 5.30pm.
The procession of remembrance starts at 6pm and makes its way to the War memorial for the laying of wreaths. The Third procession, at 7pm, is followed by the United Procession when the society joins up with Borough and Waterloo. At 9.30pm the Grand Procession makes it way to Landport Road, for a firework display and bonfire. Afterwards the procession returns to HQ and then on to Commercial Square where the proceedings will conclude with Bonfire Prayers and renditions of God Save the Queen and Auld Lang Syne.
Sussex Express Friday, October 31, 2003 www.sussexexpress.co.uk
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