Home » Creativity » Lewes Bonfire 5th November 2021

Lewes Bonfire 5th November 2021


Day 15 of a dreadful cold and day two of feeling on recovering fast I feel I may be able to manage more than just a walk with the dog to clear my lungs. 

Bell Lane

A crisp sunny morning I’m up at dawn and onto the Railway Land only to find much of it fenced off because of the massive fireworks display and bonfire site preparations – we stick with a few loops around the old ornamental lake and woods and then head for Bell Lane. My eyes are always on trees and hedges, newly planted and ancient. Lewes Urban Arboretum has been active these last couple of years putting in saplings and lengths of hedgerow. I take a detour to Jubilee gardens.

Hedge ‘whips’ planted by Lewes Urban Arboretum along the edge of Jubilee Gardens

It’s too nice a day to stay in – that and the lack of exercise over the last couple of weeks is enough of an excuse for me to head out again later in the morning. Lewes on 5th November becomes gradually frenetic after 12 noon as parking restrictions come into place and the last cars leave the streets. 

For the best part of a week I have slept every afternoon – feeling good and preferring to not to make long naps a habit I venture out again later in the afternoon. I’m out at 4:00pm to get the last half hour of winter sunlight.

By 4:45pm all vehicles must be outside the demarcated centre of town and the roads are closed. For the next hour as we tip into darkness the streets are quiet, though visitors are already spilling into the pubs and out of the last train.

Western Road after road closures

I’m on Winterbourne Hollow as the roads are closed. From Prison Crossroads, as we call it, I head into town on Western Road. The Southover Bonfire Society Float is parked up ready for action at the top of the Hollow. It features Matt Hancock with his hands on a somewhat nubile, youthful and naked Gina Coladangelo. This is such old news, nearly 6 months, there have been many more scandals since. The large papier mache floats take a while to design and construct though – the default would be Boris Johnson.

I visit the Blacksmith Arms to find it packed with drinkers who appear to have been here since lunchtime – it’s like match day. Then down the High Street ‘reclaiming the streets’ in my own way by walking up the middle of the road looking back and forth to enjoy traffic free streets – not just no vehicles driving through, but no cars parked up either.

This always reminds me of late Victorian/early Edwardian Street scenes – the kind of thing my late grandfather would have appeared in as a boy: a street devoid of traffic, just pedestrians, perhaps a handcart, maybe a tub trap and pony.

East Sussex Police Officers on their way up Keere St, Lewes for their Bonfire Night duties

I’m at the top of Keere Street as a squad of police officers arrive, gather to take instructions and then spread out along the High Street in pairs where they have been told to ‘familiarise themselves with their area’ – as if much can be gleaned ahead of the crowds and revellers while standing in a boarded up shop door.

Mostly in pairs, more often than not one male, one female. the Police Officers take up position on Lewes High Street

Through town The Rights of Man appears packed until I see that drinks are being served directly on the street through a window.  The Lansdown is as busy as on Match Day when Brighton & Hove Albion supporters gather her for a pre-match bevvy or two.

The Lansdown Pub at the bottom of Station Street, Lewes 5th November 2021
The bottom of Station Street as the road is closed to pedestrians outside The Landport 5:00pm 5th November 2021

I venture over to the War Memorial then turn tail down Station Street in time to witness the police and organisers pulling a barrier across the road to prevent any further pedestrian access to the last surge of people coming in on the train. 

Lewes station closed as I approached – no trains will be stopping again today – I’m on the railways bridge to hear a station announcement about the station being closed and see a couple of police officers walking the platforms to remove any stragglers. 

Pubs are charging £5 for a pint of Harvey’s Best, up from £4:30 / £4:40 in most pubs, the exception being The King’s Head which has puts its prices up from £4:80 to £6:00 for a pint – one to avoid, as I state early on via Lewes Present on Facebook. This later meets with a certain amount of vitriol for my calling them out – yet someone else points out that they are also charging £3:00 for a can of Coke.  I also stop in at The Volunteer – busy, but a quite different atmosphere – more of a lads pub? A club or supporters pub? The atmosphere is that of a vibrant ‘working men’s club’. 

My favourite watering hole on this side of town is The Swan – where the prices have remained the same (good for them). There is a jovial party atmosphere here all afternoon and evening, very much like a very large family wedding with some drinking early, polite quaffing for a period then a descent into propper party mode. For now I head home for an additional break. Usually by this time we would have pulled out several large Really Useful Boxes containing pirate uniformes, tricorn hats and weaponry – this is all mothballed to another year. Bell Lane, too often a rat run, certainly more so before the Covid-19 lockdown than now, is devoid of traffic. The way groups of people walk down the road just shows how ante-social our narrow footpaths are that have for the last 100o years put cars, lorries and buses first. This must change. We need to reclaim the streets 🙂

Being in civvies I am not committed to joining the official marches of Southover Bonfire Society, which I have done for 12 or more years. If you’re part of the crowd and gather and re-appear at a pub as part of the crowd it is hardly surprising to find them crowd; I was able to get around with ease. The High Street was also less rammed than usual I am sure – there are years where once you get onto the route of the marching bands then you are stuck for long periods – not tonight.

The evening’s entertainments to follow. Though I made no trip out to any bonfire site. I saw fireworks over rooftops and listened to the commotion from the street.


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