Lewes is known as the bonfire capital of the world due to its great history associated with 5th November. It is the biggest celebration in the UK with 80,000 visitors each year. We have a look at the history of how the night began and how things have changed in Lewes.
Bonfire night is an annual celebration in England that has been celebrated for hundreds of years. It stems from 5th November 1605 when a group of English Catholics tried to assassinate King James I because he was a protestant. They intended to blow up the Houses of Parliament so that a Catholic royal could replace him.
The Gunpowder Plot was led by Robert Catesby who rallied a team together that included a man named Guido (Guy) Fawkes. Guy Fawkes’ responsibility on the day was to guard the gunpowder barrels but he was caught red handed after the guards at Westminster Palace were tipped off by an anonymous source. After his capture, Fawkes was tortured for several days in an attempt to make him reveal the other members in his group. His punishment for attempting treason was to be hung, drawn and quartered but he escaped a slow and painful death by jumping from his execution post and breaking his neck. The following January an Act of Parliament was introduced to make 5th November a thanksgiving day for the ‘joyful day of deliverance’. This day was originally celebrated by bell ringing and bonfires and the Act remained in force until 1859.
Bonfire night has been a huge part of Lewes’ history for centuries. The celebrations normally got out of hand and ended in riots throughout the small Sussex town. Bonfire nights occurred sporadically and randomly until the 1820s when a group of Bonfire Boys in large numbers would celebrate with fireworks and bonfires in the streets of Lewes. Official Lewes Bonfire Night celebrations began in 1795 when the Sussex Weekly Advertiser reported a bonfire and fireworks outside the old Star Inn. Due to riots by the Bonfire Boys, Police made several attempts to put a stop to the Lewes celebrations but had little success. The first two bonfire societies were formed in 1853, which still exist today along with five others. These allowed the event to be more like the organised celebrations we know of today.
These days Lewes receives around 80,000 visitors on Bonfire night to the 16,000 population town. The event includes parades with fireworks, bonfires, burning effigies and the carrying of 17 crosses to commemorate the 17 martyrs who were burned at the stake in Lewes. Pubs will be opening their doors to floods of people looking to celebrate over a mulled wine this Thursday 5th November. Your best method of travel would be train, or if you live nearby get a taxi or bus. Parking isn’t much of an option with limited spaces and road closures.