The burning issue of the Lewes bonfire

2 11 2012

Studying in Brighton is fun, there’s no two ways about it. There’s always something going on, whether it’s naked bike rides along the seafront, vintage car rallies or superhero marathons. This week, the talk is all of the bonfire celebrations at Lewes, a gorgeous historic market town just a few miles from Brighton.

Two of Brighton Journalist Works’ MA students Robert Henry and Diego Zurita were fascinated by the annual  Guy Fawkes celebrations in Lewes.   Billed the biggest bonfire in Britain, if not the world, Lewes’ annual celebration rarely passes without a note of controversy.

Here’s what they wrote about it:

Last year as upwards of 60,000 people took to its Saxon streets, emergency services had to deal with 127 incidents of potential harm and twenty three arrests were made for drunken or anti-social behaviour.

In recent memory there has also been the fall-out from the burning of the Osama Bin Laden effigy as well as the race hate investigation that stemmed from the burning of a model gypsy caravan in Firle, in the build up to the Lewes event.

Though, perhaps all such incidents pale in comparison to the infamy associated with the more traditional aspects of the Bonfire. To some, an event at which anti-papal banners and chants are brandished in the build up to the burning of a dummy Pope Paul V can be viewed as nothing other than flagrantly anti-Catholic. To others, such occurrences form part of a pageant which aims to celebrate England’s dark past in the manner of a Horrible Histories narrative.

Taking the issue to the heart of the town, we asked people on the streets of Lewes how they feel about this historic event.

How do you feel about Lewes bonfire?

“It’s great. We need to keep our traditions. It gets people together. They didn’t like it much when they burned the traveller’s caravans but people need to lighten up, don’t they?” Marilyn Gould, 64, Lewes

“It brings the community together. It’s a really special night for everyone.” Brett, 24, Lewes

“It’s a big community thing and a lot of the money goes to charity. To an extent it’s a great thing but I think they have to behave themselves, the bonfire society people. They’re not the police.” Steve Jacques, 50, Lewes

How do the people of Lewes feel about the bonfire and its history, generally?

“I think some people do take it very seriously and it does really mean something to them. I don’t quite get it. A lot of people go into it and they don’t really know why they’re doing it, they know somebody else that does it, friends of friends.” Jayne Zaloumis, 31, Lewes

“Some people feel threatened by it but it’s a part of history. If you lived here all your life you understand it but some people that move into the town aren’t quite sure how it works but once you talk to them they understand.” Paul Kinch, 41, Lewes

“All the people’s families have been doing it for generations. I think if they tried to stop it happening there would be quite a lot of protests.” Grace Harwood, 14, Lewes

“It’s mostly just a pageant. I’m sure there are pockets of anti-Catholic feelings but that’s their problem. I think most people take it on that superficial level.” Steve Jacques, 50, Lewes






One response

5 11 2012
Marching on Bonfire Night, Lewes, East Sussex | My Mind Bursts

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