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Marching on Bonfire Night, Lewes, East Sussex

Procession of the martyrs crosses, as part of ...

Procession of the martyrs crosses, as part of Lewes’ Bonfire Night celebrations (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Moving to Lewes with young children in 2000 we were immediately invited to join one of the Bonfire Marching Societies.

We’d join other families, all of us – in this instance – dressed up as Confederate Soldiers.

On November 5th in Lewes the schools close early. Parking enforcement warnings have been up for weeks – most of the roads must be clear of parked cars by 2.00pm.

At this time the first visitors arrive and gather in the pubs while families get ready. Across town people pull out lovingly made costumes: buccaneers, Confederate Soldiers, Native North Americas, Zulu Warriors, Monks … there is a dress code and dress rules. In Southover we dress as buccaneers (think Johnny Depp in pirates of the Caribbean) Everyone MUST wear a Tricorn hat or they get removed from the march … or sent to the back.

At the back, no shame in that. you dress as a ‘Smuggler’ black shoes, white trousers a jumpers with horizontal stripes of black and yellow or red and white and a red woollen cap.

We’ve done them all. Indeed getting rather too enthusiastic we joined a second society so can spend a few hours as Confederate Soldiers and a few more hours as buccaneers. Across towns all the pubs are of course open. Across town there are stalls selling food.

I tell people ‘we march’ and they must think this is a circuit around town then over. Not at all.

The timetable runs thus.

5,10pm Children’s Procession

5.45pm Procession of Remembrance (We congregate at the War Memorial for the fallen of the First and Second World Wars)

6.45pm Third Procession

8.00pm United Procession (all six societies converge, merge, then split up)

9.30pm Grand Procession … and we head for the firesite. A bonfire of wood which went up over the weekend.

11.00pm Sixth Procession

11.30pm Final Procession

So here are some of my photos from last year.

Just Google ‘Lewes Bonfire‘ and between YouTube, Flickr and Blogs you’ll get the picture. Want to join in? Not easy. The roads close. The buses stop. And the train service deliberately sticks to its timetable – no extra services. Time it and you can drive back and forth along the Lewes bypass (A27)

And what has this got to do with learning or e-learning?

If you live in Lewes, a great deal. These are marches that tie us directly into the following:

The 16 Protestant Martyrs burnt alive at the stake in the centre of town,

The foiling of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament – as relevant today as four centuries ago,

Tom Paine (Declaration of Independence, he lived and spoke here first, his meeting rooms are on the High Street.

And modern history – each of the six marching societies build a massive float that goes onto the bonfire marking some feature that has irritated the towns folk this last year – we can be micro or macro, so may burn an effigy of a person or thing. So the Ayotalla and Tony Blair, the Chief of Police and even George W Bush got the treatment. The Pope gets it in the neck too – but representing the powers that martyred Protestants and religious intolerance.

There are at least SIX marches during the year, typically midday or early afternoon – traffic is banned, banners and floats come out for ‘The Moving on Parade’ for example – celebrating kids completing their PRIMARY SCHOOL education.

MORE HERE: Lewes Bonfires


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