Food, Days Out and Travel stories from Brighton, London and the Rest of the World


Days Out in Sussex - Lewes Bonfire

Rain, processions going hither and thither, whizzing fireworks, flaming torches, the smell of petrol, spectacular effigies, impressive costumes, marching bands and some very friendly locals.

David Cameron effigy, Lewes Bonfire 2015 photo by Modern Bric a Brac
David Cameron effigy, Lewes Bonfire 2015

When my Welsh One said he wanted to go to Lewes Bonfire apart from jumping on the idea, I also knew we'd need to put a little thought into how we would get there and if by car, where we should park. Due to the scale of the event going by car could mean getting caught out by parking restrictions and road closures so some careful consideration was needed.

Lewes Bonfire night is the largest 5th of November celebration of its kind and is known for the burning of enormous effigies, featuring highly topical subjects and some very famous figures. This year the effigies included a seated David Cameron holding a pig's head while wearing underpants with the British flag on them. On the back was a heart with the words David and Piggy on it. Other effigies included one of Jeremy Clarkson and a record-breaking 50 foot Guy Fawkes.

We had a plan and it was to arrive early and park on the outskirts by the riverfront, past the house recently featured on Grand Designs. I was trying to take a pic of it with the river in view when I saw a man inside waving at me, I waved back, felt a bit intrusive (although I had only intended to take a pic of the edge of the house) and walked on.

Then I spotted on the horizon shrouded in cloud, the picturesque Lewes Castle, further down I could see an effigy waiting for its moment of blazing glory later in the evening.

Lewes Castle in the distance

With the rain beginning to fall, we carried on walking into town passing temporary stalls set up for hog roast rolls and watched as the shops on the main street disappeared behind great big boards to protect the windows.

We were early so we ate at Pizza Express where we found lots of diners in striped jumpers and in fact we soon realised so were the restaurant staff. We were wondering whether this was just for tonight or a strange coincidence and then I noticed two little striped figures on the wall with an arrow indicating where the toilets were located and the mystery was solved. It was just a coincidence. Above us through the ceiling glass, we could see rain falling heavily.

Undeterred we headed up the hill towards the memorial where we caught sight of our first procession. Originally started as a celebration to mark the fall of Guy Fawkes, the event also marks a time of remembrance.  Around fifty years before the Catholic conspirators tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament, seventeen Protestants were burned at the stake in the reign of Bloody Mary. More than four hundred years later the town of Lewes still remembers their loss as well as now commemorating those killed in the more recent conflicts of WWI and II.

Lewes Bonfire 2015 photo by Modern Bric a Brac
Commercial Square Society

Lewes Bonfire 2015 photo by Modern Bric a Brac

As many as 4,000 people take part in the processions that are comprised of about 40 societies from Lewes and the surrounding towns and villages. Lewes itself has seven local societies, six of which take part on the 5th of November night following their own routes and traditions and ending up at their own fire sites dotted around the outskirts of the town to end the night with the burning of effigies.

It's such a spectacular night and in particular I loved watching all the historical costumes march past. Representing an eclectic breadth of global history from Vikings to Suffragettes, Confederates, Native Americans, Mongols and Tudors to smugglers galore, history came back to life as figures passed in the gloom of a rain sodden night.

Lewes Bonfire 2015 photo by Modern Bric a Brac

Lewes Bonfire 2015 photo by Modern Bric a Brac

Lewes Bonfire 2015 photo by Modern Bric a Brac
Cliffe Society Vikings

Lewes Bonfire 2015 photo by Modern Bric a Brac

Lewes Bonfire 2015 photo by Modern Bric a Brac

Lewes Bonfire 2015 photo by Modern Bric a Brac

Lewes Bonfire 2015 photo by Modern Bric a Brac

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