King or commoner, Lewes bonfire stalwart always cut a dash

Spectacular sight ... John Hunnisett
Spectacular sight ... John Hunnisett

Bonfire stalwart John Hunnisett, who has died at the age of 79, was something of a ‘late developer’ when it came to celebrating The Fifth in Lewes.

But he certainly made up for lost time and became a familiar figure on the streets of the county town on November 5, as a member of Borough Bonfire Society and later Waterloo and Phoenix.

It was Mr Hunnisett’s spectacular costume that stood out – and won him competitions across the county.

Friend Geoff Burrow, of Newton Road, Lewes, said: “Everyone assumed he was dressed as King Henry VIII, but in fact he was just a Tudor gentleman.

“John was a real character. He turned up with his two sons at the Borough HQ on the day of the Bonfire celebrations of 1993, all dressed in Tudor costume, and asked if they could march with the society. They did and he became a fixture in the town.”

When he and his wife Carol held their wedding reception at The White Hart Hotel in Lewes the guests all wore the garb of the 16th century.

A latecomer to Lewes he may have been, but Mr Hunnisett had Bonfire in his blood and was reputed to have joined Rye Bonfire Society at the tender age of four.

A spokesman said: “John was very well-known in the Bonfire fraternity ... his ability at costume making was exceptional. His name is on many a trophy in the Bonfire world. He also attended many carnivals by invitation, travelling widely over the country during the summer months. He was even invited to Walt Disney World in the USA.”

The funeral, held at Hastings Crematorium on Monday (February 25), was attended by Bonfire representatives from across Sussex.