Lewes Bonfire legend’s fitting farewell

Keith Austin
Keith Austin

Lewes will come to a standstill next Friday (September 20) as the town pays its last respects to the late Keith Austin.

The funeral of the man they called ‘Mr Bonfire’ will see his coffin carried through the streets on a bell cart.

Fittingly for one who upheld the traditions of The Fifth for more than 50 years, all seven Lewes bonfire societies will be involved.

A maroon salute will be fired by Cliffe Bonfire Society at 12.45pm at funeral directors Cooper and Son, 42 High Street, before a grand escort provided by Mr Austin’s friends from GM Taxis will take him through the town he so dearly loved one last time.

The party will arrive at The Dorset Arms at 1pm where the coffin will be transferred to the Southover bell cart and entrusted to an honour guard formed of members of all the town’s societies. He will lie in state in an open marquee in the garden.

Departure from the pub is at 2.20pm and all those wishing to march to the service at Southover Church will take their places in the following order: rolling road closure team, funeral conductor (Grace Gasson), one rank of seven comprising close friends from the Lewes societies and, in ranks of four, his friends from Bonfire, Lewes Lions, Lewes Operatic Society, councillors, members of the Bonfire safety group plus many other individuals. At the rear in mixed ranks of four will be Bonfire Boys and Belles from Lewes and Sussex.

At precisely 2.30pm a bell at Southover Church will toll and the funeral procession will make its way there via Malling Street, Cliffe High Street, The Precinct, Friars Walk, Lansdown Place, Station Approach, Priory Street and Southover High Street.

The service will begin at 3pm with hymns led by members of Lewes Operatic Society – Fight The Good Fight, I Vow To You My Saviour and When You Walk Through A Storm.

Afterwards the honour guard will carry the coffin to the steps outside the church where a single bonfire prayer will be joined by all present.

Mr Austin will then be taken by Cooper and Son to the Downs Crematorium, Brighton, where there will be prayers and a final farewell at 4.30pm.

A celebration of Mr Austin’s life will take place at The King’s Head from 4.10pm onwards to which all are welcome. Because many of his friends will not be able to attend, the events of the afternoon will be filmed.

Matt Street, Commander-in-Chief of Southover Bonfire Society, said: “On behalf of all Keith’s close friends I would like to thank the so very many, many people who have sent their condolences.

“It has been truly overwhelming and the greatest honour.”