For the last 2 years I have been lucky enough to witness the Lewes bonfire night. It really is amazing and the most impressive bonfire event I have ever seen, which to be honest I have only ever seen fairly lowsey fire work shows in local fields and parks growing up so it aint hard to beat BUT besides that this is a wicked night in Lewes and not to be missed!
For a start I met Gandalf……….
A bit of history
‘Whatever else may happen at the annual Lewes bonfire festivities, one annual tradition that doesn’t change is the carrying of flaming crosses through the streets, in memory of 17 Sussex people burnt at the stake in the town between 1555 and 1557. This was during the reign of Queen Mary (often called Bloody Mary), who sought to overturn the Church of England, set up by her father, Henry VIII. She was more Spanish than English and had been brought up in a strict Catholic fashion by her mother Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife. On becoming queen in 1553, she was determined to re-establish Catholicism throughout the country. Any Protestant who explicitly defied her, stuck to the old English prayer book, refused to go to Mass, and was too open or vocal in their defiance, she had arrested, tried for heresy and if found guilty, sentenced to death by burning at the stake. ’
Read the rest of the article here: http://www.sussexlife.co.uk/people/the_history_of_the_lewes_bonfire_celebrations_1_4291009
‘The Lewes Bonfire Night is the biggest celebrated Fifth November Event in the world, and is held in the usually peaceful county town of Lewes (pronounced “lu-is or loo-is”), East Sussex, every year on 5th November, and the carnival or festival is known as either the Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations, Lewes Bonfire Night or just simply the Fifth.
It is the biggest and the only proper bonfire night celebration left of its kind in the Uk.’
‘Enthusiasm for the ‘Fifth’ was rekindled during the 1820’s and from that time the local press has reported the annual celebrations. These reports graphically describe very lively, if not riotous, proceedings with a large bonfire being built in the High Street between the White Hart and County Hall (now the Law Courts) attended by large crowds. Fireballs and squibs were thrown and an increasing number of blazing tar barrels being dragged through the streets. The magistrates, supported by local people sworn in as special constables, attempted to curtail the more unruly elements and in 1847, following an attack on a local magistrate the previous year, London police were drafted into Lewes in an attempt to suppress the bonfire boys’ activities.
Such was the support for the celebrations in the town that this attempt failed, but the bonfire boys were compelled to hold their celebrations in Wallands Park, away from the High Street, until 1850. In that year the reintroduction of the Catholic hierarchy into Britain led the town authorities to permit the celebrations to return to the High Street. However this return to the streets of Lewes was marked by a significant change in the celebration’s character and heralded the formation of the Cliffe Bonfire Society. Recognising that riotous proceedings would no longer be tolerated the bonfire boys formed themselves into Bonfire Societies and set about organising military style torchlight processions efficiently marshalled by members resplendent in various titles including Commander-in-Chief, Staff Officer and Inspector General.’
As you can see from the photos, people go absolutely mad for this one night of the year and its such a great atmosphere, I have only witnessed the last couple of years but I have been told by locals it has really calmed down a lot with the health and safety standards coming in, it used to be rife with bangers in the streets and fires getting out of hand!
The amount of effort that goes into making these effigies is unbelievable and so impressive. The societies are working all year round to put on this show and you can see that by the detail that goes into them all!!