Remember, remember the Fifth of November The Gunpowder Treason
Now is the time for marching Now let your hearts be gay Hark to
Sussex Express Supplement 2013 - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations
February 27, 2014 at 10:15 pm by v
A gourmet feast for the senses…
The eyes of the world will be on Lewes on November 5. The town’s Bonfire Night celebrations are the biggest in Britain and the subject of international attention. It’s a feast for the senses as the streets are cleared of traffic and taken over by flames, teeming crowds, spectacular costumes… and noise. Six Lewes bonfire societies, each with unique and proud traditions, stage torchlit processions around the town, culminating in their own fireworks displays. It marks the date of the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 and also commemorates the memory of the 17 Protestant martyrs burnt at the stake in the town during the Marian Persecutions of 1555-57. The fallen are remembered, too, with wreaths laid at the War Memorial.
The Lewes societies of Borough, Cliffe, Commercial Square, Southover, South Street and Waterloo will be joined by other societies from across the county. Up to 80,000 people have been known to attend the spectacle. Quite a feat in a town with a population of around 17,000. The earliest known Lewes Bonfire Night revelry was in 1795 when the Sussex Weekly Advertiser reported a bonfire and fireworks near the old star Inn (now the Town Hall) on November 5. There was a riot in 1829 when the Lewes Bonfire Boys had a sharp encounter with a local magistrate, Mr Whitfield JP, on Cliffe Bridge, when the authorities had attempted, and failed, to prevent the celebrations taking place.
It’s the one night of the year when normally sedate Lewes ‘goes a little bonkers’, and it’s no place for the faint-hearted. The celebrations are not suitable for the frail, people with breathing problems and very young children, especially those in pushchairs. Wrap up warm in old waterproof clothes, bring plenty of loose change for the charity collection buckets and be prepared for long waits, dense crowds, loud noise and lots of smoke.
Lewes Bonfire Council, which acts as a forum for the town’s seven societies, has issued the following warning on its website: “Although a great deal of effort is directed into the safety aspects of Bonfire Night, fire and fireworks remain potentially dangerous. All persons should carefully note that attendance at Lewes on Bonfire Night will constitute volenti non fit injura, that is to say you will be deemed to have accepted any risk of injury or damage whatsoever, and no claim in respect thereof will lie against the organisers.” By Rupert Taylor
Keep animals safe on bonfire night…
With bonfire night fast approaching, the RSPCA has some helpful advice on its website about how to keep your pet safe during the celebrations. The advice is contributed by Professor Daniel Mills. The website says it is important to make sure your dog or cat has somewhere to hide during the celebrations, and that there is access to it at all times. This can be under some furniture or in a cupboard. It also says – During firework season, walk dogs during daylight hours and keep cats and dogs indoors when fireworks are likely to be let off. At nightfall close windows and curtains and put on music to mask and muffle the sound of fireworks.
If your pet shows any signs of fear try to ignore their behavior. Leave them alone unless they are likely to harm themselves. Never punish or fuss over your pet when it’s scared as this will only make things worse in the long run. Make sure your cat or dog is always kept in a safe and secure environment and can’t escape. If your pet lives outside, partly cover cages, pens and aviaries with blankets so that one area is well sound-proofed. Make sure that your pet is still able to look out. Provide lots of extra bedding so your pet has something to burrow in.
Keeping alive traditions of a unique event…
Remember,Remember, The Fifth Of November, Gunpowder Treason and Plot, I See No Reason, Why Gunpowder Treason, Should Ever Be Forgot. The words of the Bonfire Prayer have never rung truer than in Lewes, where the thwarting of the attempt to blow up Parliament in 1605 has never been forgotten. The event has been celebrated in an organised fashion since the middle of the 19th century, making Lewes the Bonfire capital of the world. Six of the town’s seven societies will take to the streets on Tuesday with a series of torch-lit processions culminating in their own fireworks displays. Borough, Cliffe, Commercial Square, Southover, South Street and Waterloo will keep alive their proud traditions in a feast of sight, sound and smell.
Why are there so many societies? The Lewes Bonfire Council says: “For one thing, if everybody amalgamated into one single procession (the nearest thing achieved to this is a procession containing all the societies except Cliffe) it would be well-nigh impossible to maintain throughout the evening. By covering different areas of the town (with, of course, a certain amount of overlap) and by dispersing to different fire-sites for separate bonfires and fireworks displays, the Societies are able to bring Bonfire to more of the town, and many more people are able to watch.” The origins of wearing costumes began with the hooped jerseys of the smugglers. Together with a mask covering the face, this helped to prevent the ‘boys’ from being identified by the authorities, which made every effort to stop the dragging of flaming tar barrels, the use of fireballs and the lighting of bonfires in the streets.
As years went by, costumes became more and more elaborate and are now the magnificent spectacle we see today. Some measure of the effort that goes into making Bonfire Night a success every year can be gauged by the torch-making statistics of just one society – Lewes Borough, the oldest in the town. Each year it makes more than 4,000 torches. The sticks are cut from nearly 2.5 miles of wood and the heads are made from three-quarters of a ton of hessian. Around 200 yards of wire is used to bind the hessian to the sticks, and the completed torches are dipped using up to 200 gallons of paraffin.
For the first time this year people will also be able to discover the work that goes on behind the scenes to make this unique event as safe and fun as possible. Video will be streamed live via the Sussex Police website between 6pm and 8pm with interviews of people involved in the multi-agency operation and a live web chat allowing viewers to ask questions. Visit www.sussex.police.uk on the night to get involved.
Safety is priority for council…
Lewes District Council advises spectators to take responsibility for their own safety while having fun at Lewes’ traditional Bonfire Night events. The council’s website states: “The event is a Lewes tradition going back many years and allows the residents of the town to celebrate the ancient tradition of bonfire. The event is historically important for the people of Lewes and a key part of community culture. We want to ensure the safety of those attending the event and it is important to be aware the event is not suited to children. People with young families are advised to attend an organised firework display close to where they live. The town of Lewes is not set up to handle large crowds with its narrow streets and limited access into and out of the town. Visitors to Lewes should be aware of the practical difficulties they will experience in getting transport to and from the event. It is not a firework display as people expect.
While there are fireworks later in the evening at designated bonfire society sites, the main focus of the event are the processions which are historical. We are advising people to take responsibility for their own safety. We are working with the Bonfire Societies and other agencies to reduce accidents at Lewes Bonfire. In previous years there has been a problem with ‘rookies’ causing serious eye injuries. We are keen to promote the use of eye protectors (and ear defenders) and discourage the throwing or dropping of fireworks either in the crowds or in the processions.”
The main procession route for the six bonfire societies in Lewes is from Western Road, through the bottleneck along the High Street, past the War Memorial and down School Hill to Boots corner. Road closures will affect large parts of Lewes with diversions in place. Residents are advised to get vehicles home before 5pm and visitors to use public transport. A map of parking restrictions and more information can be found at http://www.lewes.gov.uk/news/21541.asp
Lewes greets the Wild West…
Commercial Square Bonfire Society Chair Sharon Reid declares: “We will continue to uphold the traditions of Bonfire and take pride in our Society, preserving what our forefathers have passed on to us – our right to walk the streets on the Fifth, all the while working hard to ensure that you stay safe.” Staying safe and delivering a sensational bonfire and firework display run in tandem with Commercial Square’s mastery of a sensational range of costumes from soldiers of the American Civil War to the Valencians. North America features prominently in celebrations with Native Americans in magnificent headdresses leading processions. Ladies of the Society – who have been asiduously sewing beads onto ‘suede’ jerkins – almost outdo their men-folk for splendour. There’s even a facsimile of an Indian Totem Pole plus, of course, medicine men, sun dancers, devil dancers and Apaches in full tribal regalia.
Commercial Square parade teams are always ably accompanied by magnificent live music. This year listen out for the Lewes, Glynde and Beddingham Brass, Barcombe Scout Band, thrumming rhythms of the Barulho Samba Band and foot tapping New Orleans syncopation from the Dixieland Jazz Band.
The children’s procession leaves at 5.10pm from Society HQ at the Elephant and Castle. At 5.45pm the Procession of Rememberance takes place with a floral tribute laid reverently at the War Memorial, followed by the moving notes of The Last Post. The third procession heads through the town from 6.45pm prior to the 8.30pm joint procession with Waterloo, Borough and kindred societies. At 9.30pm the Grand Procession leads to the Society’s Landport firesite where effigies of Guy Fawkes and Pope Paul V, set pieces and the Grand Tableau are ritualistically destroyed – before the event Commercial Square members and followers have been waiting for – the firework display. Look out for whorls, shells, stratosphere scraping rockets and Roman Candles scrolling technicolour images in the night sky.
Going ‘big and bold’ to mark centenary…
As it is South Street Bonfire Society’s centenary year spectators on November 5 can expect an extra spectacular show this year. They have not one, not even two, but three street pieces to take on parade through the streets, including one made by 11 youngsters aged three to 11 for the children’s procession. As usual, the themes are being kept a closely guarded secret until the big day but President dilly Barlow said they were ‘big and bold’ to mark their 100th year. And apparently the Bishop has made himself an ‘extraordinary’ costume with an exceptionally large hat. With the help of four visiting societies – Hastings, Nevill, Fletching and Rye – there will be 6,000 torches, the majority made out of the original tow as South Street members still have that skill to hand.
Four bands will include the Expedient Jazz Band, pipes and drummers. The parade will be led by the Pioneer Chief with the First Pioneers in 18th century colonial costumes. Also in the procession will be the Second Pioneers from the English Civil War. If you fancy whetting your whistle during the evening pop into the Snowdrop where the society’s very own beer brewed by harveys – Ale of the century – can be found. “As it is our centenary year, everything is going to be bigger, better and more wonderful than ever,” said Dilly. “It will be our biggest firework display yet.” After the procession, family orientated South Street has the earliest firework display at the fire site at the Railway Land at about 8.30 to 9pm. South Street Juvenile Society was founded in 1913 by Tom Wheeler with just 15 or so children who lived mostly in South Street.
The new Chairman of Cliffe Bonfire Society Paula Black said the tableau for this year is so secret, even she doesn’t know what it is. We will have to wait to see for sure but Paula offers me a hint – in the programme you will see the tableau is called Can you see what it is yet? Last year one of the highlights of Cliffe’s Bonfire celebrations was when they burned a giant wicker man, reminiscent of the 1970s chiller of the same name, starring Edward Woodward. How will they top that this year? As ever the society are keeping all their aces up their sleeves, but the maverick group will doubtless deliver an incredible display in the procession and an awe inspiring bonfire celebration at its fire site in Ham Lane.
Cliffe Bonfire Society was formed in 1853 and it is currently one of the largest in Lewes, with around 1,000 members. This year Cliffe’s First Pioneers will be Vikings and its Second Pioneers will be French Revolutionaries. Smugglers can be recognised by their black and white jerseys and red caps. Look out for Cliffe’s street tableau which will be carried during the procession, burning crosses, and its fire banners, amongst which is one reading ‘We Wunt Be Druv’, a Bonfire Motto in the Sussex dialect which tells the listener: we won’t be told what to do.
At the fire site later in the evening you can expect the Archbishop of Cliffe to make his address, while dodging bangers hurled by Smugglers, as the crowd chants ‘Burn him,burn him.’ Effigies of Guy Fawkes and Pope Paul V will be detonated with fireworks, giant heads representing this year’s Enemies of Bonfire will be blown up, fireworks will be propelled into the night sky and a tableau of ‘mammoth proportions’ will be destroyed with even more fireworks. What more could you want from Bonfire Night? For timing and more information about the society buy Cliffe’s programme.
‘A touch of theatre’…
Waterloo Bonfire Society’s triumph in the Lewes Bonfire Costume Competition bodes brilliantly for what to the society, is the more important matter of Society participation in this year’s Bonfire. President Michael Chartier told the Express: “I am delighted with the result of the Costume Competition this year and the win obviously recognises the way the Society is moving forward. I must emphasise we are very much a family society with young children taking part along with their parents and grandparents. Another sign of our continuity is that all our officers stay in place – some for ten years or more.
This means they really know what they are doing. We have a strong tradition of producing wonderful costumes and, of course, our tableau… details of which, of course, I cannot reveal!” Waterloo members form their procession from The Lamb in Market Lane where the Society’s youngsters, led by Junior Staff bearers, take part in the First Procession from 5.30pm. Wreath bearers form the contingent for the 6.15pm Second Procession towards the War Memorial where they halt for their Remembrance Ceremony.
The 8.20pm and 9.35pm Grand Processions follow with burning letters WBS and the Star and Moon plus amazing set pieces en route. This latest procession also sees First Pioneers carrying 17 blazing cross torches and the tar barrel which are cast into the River Ouse before members and their thousands of enthusiastic followers head towards the firesite for their firework display. Costumes – as always – will not fail to amaze. They range from Mongolian Warriors, Romans, Greeks (including a worryingly lifelike Minotaur,) Victorians, Olde English Puritans and the award-winning Tudors, headed by a coterie of Kings, Queens and elegant courtiers. There’s more than a touch of theatre about the waterloo procession which make this a Society which never fails to enthuse the people of Lewes.
The key date in history…
The 408th anniversary of the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot will be a particularly proud occasion for Lewes Borough Bonfire Society. Because this is 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 procession. It weighs a hefty 51kg – that’s eight stone – and was first carried in 1863. Last month saw a re-dedication of the key, which represents the freedom of the streets on The Fifth which was granted to Borough all those years ago.
The ceremony took place with due pomp at Lewes Town Hall, with a proclamation granting ‘free and fair’ passage signed by the Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex, Mr Peter Field, and the Mayor of Lewes, Cllr Ruth O’Keefe. Although shrouded in secrecy, it is highly probable that the key will play a prominent part in the subject of this years tableau. The Town (or Lewes) Bonfire Society, later to become Lewes Borough, was founded in 1853 and has been marching the streets of the town for 160 years. Borough is the ‘home’ of the Zulus, which is the society’s First Pioneer Group in their magnificent feathered head-dresses. They will have pride of place in the Grand Procession, ahead of Lewes Borough’s Brass Band, the Second Pioneers of Tudor ladies and gentlemen, the Bloco Fogo drumming band, society members in their finery, visiting societies, Morris dancers and three blazing tar barrels.
From its headquarters in Westgate Street (White Lion Lane), Borough will begin the first of seven processions at approximately 6.10pm. It’s a sombre part of the evening as members make their way to the War Memorial as the band plays the Death March. Here the society will lay a wreath and the Last Post will be played before a one-minute silence and the Reveille. Then the torches are lit and to the stirring strains of Sussex By The Sea the procession returns to headquarters via the High Street.
A night to remember…
‘We endeavor to be bigger and better every year, and try to be as safe as possible,’ That is the word from Southover Bonfire Society’s Chairman Stephen English as it gears up to deliver a procession and fireworks display to remember. It will be a particularly poignant bonfire as the society remembers 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. Mr English said: We will very much be remembering him as we remember all members who have died. I think every member will have a tear in their eye. He used to say an old bonfire saying ‘True to each other’ and we will be remembering him and his words.”
It will be the ninth year Southover Bonfire Society have marched through the streets of Lewes since its reformation in 2005. Southover Bonfire Society holds a service of remembrance for those who lost their lives in both world wars. And this year will be no exception. Southover will begin its procession of remembrance at around 9pm. The first procession will take place when it gets dark and children are very
welcome to attend. Later in the evening The grand Procession will move off from Southover High Street. Around 5,000 torches have been made and will be paraded through the streets by around 650 members. Mr English said: “We try to be better every year and try to be as safe as possible and will of course be encouraging people to not use fire-works in a public place.”
The Society is keeping its tableaux secret right up to the last minute but Mr English suspects it may carry a political message. Costumes to look out for on the night include First Pioneers; Cluniac monks. They lead the Southover procession with the monks bell cart which announces the society’s arrival. Next is the Second Pioneers; Buccaneers, in their striking and wonderful pirates costumes. The procession will lead the way to the Stanley Turner Ground where fireworks will light up the night sky. Tickets to the firework display are £5. For procession times, routes and where to buy tickets, buy the society’s programme priced at £1.50 from the Lewes Tourist Information Office.
Sussex Express Friday, November 1, 2013 www.sussexexpress.co.uk
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