Date(s) - 05/11/2023
4:30 pm - 11:30 pm
Lewes Bonfire refers to a set of celebrations held in the town of Lewes, Sussex in the United Kingdom. The celebrations are always held on 5th November annually. However, if the 5th falls on a Sunday, then the celebrations will be held on Saturday 4th.
The events mark the Guy Fawkes Night, which refers to the Gunpowder Plot’s Day traced back to the year 1605. The celebrations also mark the commemoration of the seventeen protestant martyrs. These martyrs were cruelly burnt to the stake just because of the faith and stand during the Marian Persecutions.
Furthermore, the celebrations involve seven societies holding six separate processions and holding Lewes fireworks night throughout the town. Moreover, approximately 25-30 societies from around Sussex come to Lewes on this day to march in the streets.
The bonfire celebrations have origins with the Gunpowder Plot of 5th November 1605, where Guy Fawkes was involved with other English Catholics to blow up the House of The Lords.
On January of the following year, an act entitled ‘Public Thanksgiving to Almighty God’ was passed to celebrate this on the 5th November of every year. Therefore, all residents of Lewes can come out on 5th November to celebrate in remembrance of the plot to blow up the House of Lords.
The remembrance celebrations were to be held with a special service held in each of the Church of England. In most cases, the celebrations are associated with riots and police always have to intervene to cool down then large crowds.
Furthermore, the history associated with the celebrations isn’t entirely pleasing. The history is marred with cases of religious antagonism and anti-popery. These are some of the ills that are associated with the bonfire festivities.
In the 21st century, the anti-popery controversies are rare. However, few cases are still happening among some bonfire societies, especially those societies that are still competing for definitions of tradition.
The Bonfire Event
To commemorate the passing of the seventeen Lewes Martyrs, the residents of Lewes, including visitors, carry seventeen burning crosses throughout the town and participate in a wreath-laying ceremony.
The ceremonies are held at the war memorial in the center of town. The ladies and the men take part in races, pulling flaming barrels and throwing them into River Ouse. These events are only symbolic of the throwing of magistrates into the river. This was after reading the Riot Act to the bonfire boys. The celebrations then continue into five different bonfire displays.
There are almost 30 or more processions during the Lewes Bonfire Night Celebration, who intermingle with each other through Lewes’ streets. The celebrations start at around 5 pm and finish at about 1 am.
Each Lewes Bonfire Society has its route except the grand bonfire. This exception happens at around 9 pm. At this the time, the five Lewes Bonfire Societies join up then start marching back via Lewes town. Afterward, there are those that bring out several effigies to the streets where they get set on fire. These effigies are often a representation of people who try to put restrictions on these festivities.
Lewes Bonfire, Is It Friendly or Rivalry?
These festivities are always seen as a friendly rivalry between the participating Bonfire Societies. The friendly rivalry helps to keep the spirit of the bonfire alive. During the Lewes fireworks night, all the societies meet up after the processions in Lewes’s street and light the fireworks. The sights and sounds are just something to behold.
Lewes Bonfire Council
The Lewes Bonfire Council, Authorities and Emergency services are always there to take care of the public’s safety during the festivities because they turn up in huge numbers to watch all the festivities. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about your safety and well-being while attending these events.
During the festivities, Lewes town hosts seven bonfire societies from neighboring towns. The seven societies attend ‘outmeetings’ where they march with other societies on their respective bonfire night events either before or after 5th November.
After few processions, each society marches to its fire site with a large bonfire, firework displays and burning effigies. Many people in the streets don ‘smuggler uniforms’ with each society donning different coloured ‘smuggler uniforms’. You can see the bonfire societies below.
- Cliffe : This society dates back to 1853. Traditionally, the society represents the Cliffe and Lansdown areas in Lewes. The pioneers are Vikings and French Revolutionaries and their ‘smugglers uniforms’ are black and white. The headquarters of the society is in The Dorset Arms and their local church is the St. Thomas at Becket.
- Lewes Borough : It dates back to 1853. However, it was initially known as the ‘Lewes Bonfire Society.’ There ‘smuggler uniforms’ are blue and white. Zulu is the first pioneer group of the society and the Tudor being the second pioneer group. Their headquarters are at the St Mary’s social club and the local church is St Anne’s.
- Commercial square : This society dates back to 1855, representing the St. John north of Lewes Castle. Its headquarters are in Commercial Square. The pioneers of the society are Native Americans. Their ‘smuggler uniforms are black and gold jumpers and their local church being St John sub-Castro.
- Nevile Juvenile : Dating back to 1967 and being specifically for children. It has remained a juvenile society and represents the Neville Estate. The headquarters of the society is St. Mary’s Social Centre. They hold their festivities a week or two before the rest of the other societies with help from the societies. Their pioneers are Valencians, Medieval and the British Military. Their ‘smuggler jumpers’ are green and white.
- Southover Society : Believed to date back to the mid-19th century but got disbanded in 1985, only to be formed again in 2005. It represents the areas of Cranedown, St. Pancras and the village of Southover. Their local church is St. John the Baptist and the headquarters being the King’s Head. Their jumpers are red and black. Their pioneers being monks and buccaneers. They hold a service at their own war memorial and one at the main town war memorial.
- Waterloo : It was reformed in 1954, representing the area on the east of the main Commercial Square part. Headquarters being at Lamb Inn, their jumpers are red and white and their pioneers being Mongols, Romans and Ancient Greeks.
- South Street : It dates back to 1913, it was to accommodate children of the Cliffe society members. But currently, they accept both Cliffe and South Street members regardless of age. Their jumpers are brown and cream, their first pioneers being Colonial Period and the second pioneers being the English Civil War. The society resides from the South Street. Headquarters are at The Snowdrop, South Street.
For more information regarding the Lewes Bonfire Night, visit Lewes Bonfire Celebrations and learn more about the bonfire night. Remember to leave any comments and reactions down below.