Keeping alive traditions of Lewes Bonfire

Looking back at Lewes Bonfire
Looking back at Lewes Bonfire

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 torchlit 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 so long that 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 firesites for separate bonfires and firework 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 guaged 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 on the night to get involved.