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Lewes Bonfire Night

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Lewes is the last place in England to celebrate November the Fifth (Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night) in the old spectacular mass public way, and although surrounding towns and villages hold smaller events, Lewes's Fifth is acknowledged as the climax of the season. There are five separate bonfire societies in the town, and each holds its own procession, bonfire, and firework displays, but they come together for a Grand United Procession, over a mile long, through Lewes High Street with bands, banners, effigies, tableaux, flaming torches, and over 2000 participants in fancy dress. There are also huge effigies of unpopular national figures which are filled with fireworks and exploded to much cheering and jubilation. Each of the societies also throws a blazing tar barrel into the river Ouse, and visits the town's war memorial. It remains a mystery why Lewes has retained so many of the features of past celebrations. Admittedly, seventeen Protestant martyrs died in Lewes in the reign of Queen Mary (1553–8), but other places could say the same. Although the ‘no popery’ theme, so strong in the past, is nowadays played down, some costumes still ridicule popes and priests.

Jim Etherington, Lewes Bonfire Night (1993);Jim Etherington, Bonfire: The Lewes Bonfire Societies in Photographs (1997); Shuel, 1985: 186–7.

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