In recent years, it appears to be tradition for the heavens to open and the rain to pour on the 5th of November, no matter which part of the British Isle you find yourself in, and this year was certainly no exception. Yet even the showers could not dampen the spirits of the visitors to Lewes, all making the traditional yearly pilgrimage to one of the biggest firework displays in the country.
For one night only, the sleepy town of Lewes in Brighton, East Sussex, finds itself awash with colour, lights and an overwhelming sense of awe, as hundreds of burning torches and effigies fill the streets and skies. A feast for all the senses, Lewes Bonfire is a once in a lifetime experience.The festival begins with a street parade at 7.30 pm at the top of Western Road, and winds its way through the High Street, like a colossal burning snake, heaving its way into the town. Shouts of laughter and beating drums fill the air, as painted faces and vivid costumes dance and sing, somewhat resembling a painters palette come to life. Towards the end of the street, the parade divides into various “societies”, who then make their way towards separate sites around the town. The Bonfire lighting normally commences around 9.30 pm, which is then followed by an individual light display. Each society is aimed at different people; the Waterloo society is more family orientated, whilst Commercial Square and Lewes Borough offer a more adult and culturally traditional experience.
Traditionally, Bonfire Night is celebrated in remembrance of Guy Fawkes’ attempt to burn the Houses of Parliament in 1605, known as the “Gunpowder plot”, as noted in the song.However, the celebrations in Lewes fall a little closer to home. Lewes Bonfire dates back to 1858, after the original five societies decided to annually commemorate the horrific murders of Protestant Martyrs in 1555, known as the Marian Persecutions, 17 of which were actually burnt in Lewes. The celebrations aim to remember those difficult times, and honour those who lost their lives for their faith.
Lewes Bonfire is a night to remember, one full of excitement, adrenaline and family fun, although not for the faint-hearted. Be prepared: Numbers are limited at each site by issuing tickets in advance on the gate, so arrive promptly. Tickets can be purchased in advance from the bonfire societies to attend one of the bonfire sites. Some do not charge but ask for a donation.
To avoid the queues and crowds, it is advised to arrive early, possibly as early as 3 pm, as many train and bus lines will be diverted, or even closed towards the late afternoon. Please note that there will be various road closures and parking restrictions, so unless you plan to travel with young children, public transport may be the best option.
So take advantage of this huge free event, and engulf yourself in a night of history, beauty and celebrations galore.