Remember, remember...

I was staying in a house four miles away from the celebrations, yet the ba-boooms from the fireworks were still boomy enough to make the building shake.

Ever since the 1820s, and in a ramshackle way even earlier, the Sussex town of Lewes has become famous for its rowdy and fiery celebrations on November 5th, to mark Guy Fawkes's foiled gun-power plot to blow up the House of Lords in 1605. Lewes Bonfire also commemorates the memory of seventeen Protestant martyrs who were burned for their faith at the stake in Lewes during the Marian Persecutions.

The yearly ritual sees literal rivers of fire pouring through the narrow cobbled streets as seven rival bonfire societies come together and process through the town, carrying aloft flaming torches or crosses. The members wear spectacular costumes, many of which have been passed down through the generations. In between the marching bands, gigantic effigies of 'enemies of the bonfire', are wheeled along, which are doomed to get blown up later in the evening.

Crowds press along the routes, their faces lit up in firelight. Children sit perched on parents' shoulders wearing glow-sticks fashioned into necklaces or headbands, and people shriek and laugh as Bonfire members light 'rookies' and toss them towards the spectators' feet, where they explode with heaven-splitting bangs.

The pageantry, flames, fireworks debris fluttering through the air, the noise and the smell of burning paraffin are all very evocative, stirring up a thrilling sense of ash-streaked rebellion.

Unfortunately, I can't stand the rookies... so I usually choose to watch the displays from the safety of a nearby hill!


Lewes Bonfire night.jpg