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  • Writer's pictureAnn Janes


This is a Sussex dialect phrase meaning "we will not be driven". The motto asserts that people from the English county of Sussex have minds of their own, and cannot be forced against their will or told what to do. It is used as a motto of the people of Sussex and the Sussex Bonfire Societies.

The Lewes Bonfire celebration is the largest event of its kind in the world and is held annually on November 5th (or the 4th if the 5th falls on a Sunday) in the fiercely independent but otherwise peaceful county town of Lewes.

The Lewes Bonfire Societies have held processions through the Town since the 1800’s, when they were re-introduced by King Charles II in 1820, following the banning of the earlier Guy Fawkes celebrations by the notorious ‘kill joy’ Oliver Crowell.

The first recorded parade of Guy Fawkes and other “ne'er-do-well’s” was in November 1679 when the Pope, Guy Fawkes and other infamous characters were paraded in picture form on long poles by the young, armed men of Lewes.

However, the ‘Bonfire Boys’ of yesteryear were often over-enthusiastic in their celebrations and the proceedings generally deteriorated into fighting and riots, with the Police having to intervene.

By the 1850’s, celebrations were pretty much established in a very similar format to those you will enjoy today, with the parades of the numerous Lewes Bonfire Societies, who were finally allowed back on the streets. The original societies were ‘Lewes Borough’ and ‘Cliffe’, with others initiated in the late 19th Century and most of which continue today.

In 1901, a memorial was erected on Cliffe Hill by public donation to commemorate the 17 Protestant Martyrs who were burned in Lewes for their religious beliefs. A service of thanksgiving is held annually for the lives lost in the name of religion.

Nowadays, 25 to 30 visiting Bonfire Societies from across the County intermingle on the narrow streets of Lewes, which are completely closed to traffic from 5pm – 2am).

Each of the societies begins the event by parading their ‘quarter’ before joining together for the main ‘street parade’. Dressed in their distinctive costumes - such as smugglers and pirates, and carrying burning torches, play drums and let off thousands of ‘rookies’ (very loud bangers) They build elaborate effigies of the famous and often infamous faces from history including The Pope, David Cameron, Jeremy Clarkson, Etc. This year it was only fitting that Donald Trump and Southern Rail came in for ridicule and derision at the hands of the ‘bonfire boys’.

Once the parades are completed around 10pm, The Bonfire Societies then return (via their pub HQ’s) to their various ‘firesites’ dotted around Lewes. Here they each have their own enormous bonfires and some of the most extravagant fireworks displays you will see anywhere in the world. Entry is by ticket to the firesites and these cost £3-£5 each either from the society direct or via the tourist information office.

The atmosphere is like nothing you will have experienced, with a cacophony of explosions, cracks and flashes, all played out to the backing track of the marching bands and cheering crowds. The history behind it remains fascinating as the gathered societies have a wonderful, if not a particularly safety conscious time but when all said and done, these are adults exercising their right to free speech and long may it continue.

If you want to join us and experience Lewes Bonfire for yourself in 2017 it will be held on Saturday the 4th November. White Lodge Luxury Bed and Breakfast offers you a superb base to enjoy the best of what Lewes and its surrounds has to offer, including Sheffield Park with its stunning autumn colours or a trip to Glyndebourne Opera, or a walk on the South Downs National Park, or a trip into Brighton for some eclectic retail therapy. There is so much to see & do its well worth making a long weekend of it…

White Lodge Luxury Bed and Breakfast is experienced in hosting bonfire guests and can arrange drop-off and collection into and out of Lewes on the day as well as advice on what to see and do!

Most importantly you will get a great nights sleep after a thrilling day out and a hearty breakfast homemade on our Aga!

We hope to see you next year… to book call Ann or Martin on +44 (0) 1273 400151 please book direct and support local businesses. Or you can book online at As bonfire is over the weekend a two night minimum stay is required.

We hope you enjoy the videos posted by Bonfire Boys Lewes 2016 featuring the Key Ceremony by Borough Society and the night itself!

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