So… what actually is Lewes bonfire?
Lewes is the bonfire capital of the world – pyromaniacs unite.
Lewes bonfire has both a local and national reputation of being the host of the largest bonfire night within the UK, and as the bonfire capital of the world.
There are seven societies putting on five separate parades and firework displays on the 5th, and this can mean 3,000 people taking part in the celebrations, and up to 80,000 spectators attending in the small market town with a permanent population of just under 16,000. The popularity of the event brings in visitors from all around the world.
The bonfire traditions originated in the early 17th century as an act of celebration against the foiling of Guy Fawkes plot to blow up the Houses of Lords. The town subsequently carried out an annual celebration on the 5th of November each year in remembrance. These celebrations in Lewes were not planned or carried out annually, but were more random events that more closely resembled riots, and were continued until the rule of Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth.
The rule of King Charles II saw the return of the bonfires – but on a random and sporadic basis. Interest in the bonfires dwindled by the end of the 18th century but in the 1820s large groups of Bonfire Boys started celebrating with fireworks and large bonfires. The riots became violent and rowdy and continued till the mid 19th century where the bonfires turned into processions, more so like we have today. In 1853 the first two societies, Cliffe and Lewes Borough were founded, and most of the others were founded later in the same century.
The celebrations themselves have been described as a cross between “Halloween and Mardi Gras” and holds host to a variety of unique traditions. To symbolise the demise of the 17 martyrs, 17 burning crosses are carried through the town, and a wreath-laying ceremony occurs at the War Memorial in the centre of town. A barrel run also takes place in which participants throw a flaming tar barrel is then thrown into the river Ouse; this is said to symbolise the throwing of the magistrates into the river after they read the Riot Act to the bonfire boys in 1847.
The 2016 Lewes Bonfires will see the return of the St. John Ambulance in the event of any emergencies. Southern Rail strikes will affect transport between the 4th and 5th of November, but the celebrations are said to be back bigger and better than ever this year.