Expect a gourmet feast for the senses at Lewes Bonfire

Cliff Bonfire 2012
Cliff Bonfire 2012

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.

Cliffe Bonfire Society

Cliffe Bonfire Society

It’s a fest 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 injuria, 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.”