Lewes Bonfire Celebrations

DateNov 6, 2015
AuthorAdam Grant

In my home town of Lewes, there are arguably the best bonfire processions and fireworks displays in the country and last night’s spectacular was no exception.


The purpose of this event is to celebrate the failure of the Gunpowder Plot and commemorates the seventeen Protestant martyrs that were burnt at the stake in Lewes during the time of the English Reformation1. The English Reformation was the time during the 16th century when the English church broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope2.

Numerous bonfire celebrations will take place across the Sussex this weekend, however, come rain or shine the celebrations in Lewes always take place on November 5th. The only exception to this is when the 5th falls on a Sunday, in which case the celebrations will take place on November 4th instead3.

In addition to the fireworks displays and processions, there are numerous other events that occur as part of the night’s traditions including a barrel run, the dropping of a flaming tar barrel into the River Ouse, a wreath laying ceremony at the Lewes War Memorial, the carrying of 17 burning crosses and the burning of effigies1.

The wreath laying ceremony and carrying of 17 burning crosses are done to remember the 17 martyrs burnt at the stake, with the barrel run and dropping of the flaming tar barrel relating to the bonfire boys that reinvigorated the interest in bonfire night4.

The effigies classically include Guy Fawkes and Pope Paul V (leader of the Roman Catholic Church at the time of the Gunpowder Plot), but they also include people that represent a current issue effecting the country or the world5.  This year’s effigies included David Cameron with a pig, Jeremy Clarkson and Sepp Blatter.

The societies

There have been numerous bonfire societies over the years but currently there are seven larger societies within Lewes, each with their own traditions and themes which include6,7,8,9,10,11,12:

Bonfire SocietyFoundedMotoThemesColours
1Cliffe1853Nulli Secundus (Second to None)Vikings, French RevolutionBlack and White
2Waterloo1964 (re-formed)True to Each OtherMongolian Empire, Greek and Roman WorldRed and White
3Commercial Square1855For IndependenceNorth American Indians, American Civil WarBlack and Gold
4South Street1913Faithful unto DeathColonial Period (1750s), English Civil WarBrown and Cream
5Southover2005 (re-formed)AdvancePriory Monks, BuccaneersRed and Black
6Nevill Juvenile1967We DareValencians, MediaevalGreen and White
7Lewes Borough1853Death or GloryZulu Warriors, Tudor Ladies and GentlemanBlue and While


Six of these societies took part in last night’s celebrations, with Nevill Juvenile Society being the exception and hold their celebrations a couple of weeks prior. This is primarily because the society is specifically for children3.

Bonfire Site Locations

The six different bonfire sites from last night are shown on the map below:


Mapping contents (c) Crown copyright and database rights 2015 Ordnance Survey 100035207

  1. Cliffe Bonfire Society – Ham Lane, Lewes
  2. Waterloo Bonfire Society – Malling Brooks, Lewes
  3. Commercial Square Bonfire Society – Landport Road, Lewes
  4. South Street Bonfire Society – Railway Lane, Lewes
  5. Southover Bonfire Society – Stanley Turner Ground, Lewes
  6. Lewes Borough Bonfire Society – Landport Bottom, Lewes

Each of the sites will provide you with a visual treat to round off your night, however, some of these require tickets so you may have to get yourself one if you want to get in13.


If you plan on having your own fireworks displays at home, be safe and remember the Firework Code14:

  1. Light sparklers one at a time and wear gloves
  2. Never give sparklers to a child under 5
  3. Buy fireworks marked BS 7114
  4. Keep fireworks in a closed box
  5. Follow the instructions on each firework
  6. Light them at arm’s length using a taper
  7. Stand well back
  8. Never go back to a lit firework
  9. Never put fireworks in your pocket
  10. Never throw fireworks
  11. Keep pets indoors



  1. Lewes Bonfire Celebrations (2015). Lewes Bonfire Celebrations. UK, http://www.lewesbonfirecelebrations.com/, accessed 2nd November 2015.
  2. Trueman, C.N. (2015). The Reformation. UK, http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/tudor-england/the-reformation/, accessed 2nd November 2015.
  3. Lewes Bonfire Council (2015). The Lewes Societies. UK, http://www.lewesbonfirecouncil.org.uk/societies/index.html, accessed 2nd November 2015.
  4. Jaqueline Simpson. Folklore of Sussex. Stroud, The History Press, 2009.
  5. http://www.lewes.co.uk/Bonfire/
  6. Lewes Bonfire Council (2015). Cliffe Bonfire Society. UK, http://www.lewesbonfirecouncil.org.uk/societies/cbs/index.html, accessed 3rd November 2015.
  7. Lewes Bonfire Council (2015). Waterloo Bonfire Society. UK, http://www.lewesbonfirecouncil.org.uk/societies/waterloo/index.html, accessed 3rd November 2015.
  8. Lewes Bonfire Council (2015). Commercial Square Bonfire Society. UK, http://www.lewesbonfirecouncil.org.uk/societies/commercial/index.html, accessed 3rd November 2015.
  9. Lewes Bonfire Council (2015). South Street Bonfire Society. UK, http://www.lewesbonfirecouncil.org.uk/societies/southstreet/index.html, accessed 3rd November 2015.
  10. Lewes Bonfire Council (2015). Southover Bonfire Society. UK, http://www.lewesbonfirecouncil.org.uk/societies/southover/index.html, accessed 3rd November 2015.
  11. Lewes Bonfire Council (2015). Nevill Juvenile Bonfire Society. UK, http://www.lewesbonfirecouncil.org.uk/societies/nevill/index.html, accessed 3rd November 2015.
  12. Lewes Bonfire Council (2015). Lewes Borough Bonfire Society. UK, http://www.lewesbonfirecouncil.org.uk/societies/borough/index.html, accessed 3rd November 2015.
  13. Lewes Bonfire Celebrations (2015). Visitor Information Guide Tips Info Maps – Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations. UK, http://www.lewesbonfirecelebrations.com/article/visitor-information-guide-tips-info-map/, accessed 3rd November 2015.
  14. Ulysses Ronquillo (2008). UK Fireworks Safety Website – Promoting the safe enjoyment of fireworks by all. UK, http://www.fireworksafety.co.uk/, accessed 2nd November 2015.