Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Lewes bonfires

I am now happily sitting in the warm, at my computer, after a trip to the Lewes bonfire night celebrations. It is traditionally held on Guy Fawkes night to mark the discovery of the Gunpowder plot, but actually encompasses much more including the commemoration of the memory of the Protestant martyrs, the history of the town, remembrance day and a whole host of other more pagan traditions! I went with a work colleague who had not been before. Despite the efforts of the local councils to deter visitors the trains arriving into Lewes were packed and the streets busy , mostly with young people. We followed the one-way walking system and made our way to the bottom end of town where the Cliffe bonfire society has its torchlit procession (one of 6 going on in the town).

The Cliffe procession is generally thought to be the most traditional and also the most radical. As we approached the crowded streets were lit with the glow from burning crosses, 17 in all representing the Protestant Martyrs. The members of the Cliffe society dress in traditional costumes depicting Tudor times, pirates, soldiers, zulu warriors; all representative of the rich history of the town and parade up and down the main street, each time more exiting than the last. There are explosions from cannons, fireworks, flaming torches and bangers thrown into the marchers. The atmosphere is light hearted but deadly serious and there is an undercurrent of tension throughout. Add this to the crush of people all trying to get across the narrow bridge with the police desperately trying to keep control, and you begin to get the picture. The marchers themselves are from all ages and all walks of life, some in pushchairs and some in wheelchairs and some too old to march so they stand and watch! Every year they burn effigies of Guy Fawkes and Pope Paul V and also effigies of someone or something more topical (This year there was WALL E, the robot from the Disney film) .

Attempts to control or restrict the parades are generally ignored ! We stayed and watched 2 or 3 processions and then had really had enough of things exploding near us and crowds of people so, not wishing to have to queue to get the train home, we left early! It is an weird event and one that everyone should see once if they can!

1 comment:

Michael House said...

I have been, just the prescribed once, and felt the tension and accompanying excitement.