Lewes Bonfire Night

by Hannah-Louise Bland
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Bonfire Night (also known as Guy Fawkes Night and Fireworks Night) is a uniquely British celebration which takes place on the evening of the 5th November each year. The celebration is to commemorate the unearthing of the Gunpowder Plot against the King and Parliament in the early 17th Century. Guy Fawkes - the most famous of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators - attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London with 36 barrels on gunpowder in an attempt to kill King James I of England, his family and most of the aristocracy.

Even though the failed assassination was masterminded by Robert Catesby, Fawkes (left to guard the gunpowder due to his military and explosives experience) was captured, tortured and executed on the basis of high treason against the King.

Those who are experiencing a Bonfire Night celebration for the first time will be pleasantly surprised. The building of bonfires and the flamboyant and thunderous firework displays provide great entertainment for everyone, whilst effigies of Guy Fawkes, primarily made from straw and old clothes, are often burnt on the bonfires.

A town almost impossible to top for its grand Bonfire Night celebrations is the small town of Lewes in East Sussex. In Lewes, this event not only marks the date of the uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot, but also commemorates the memory of the seventeen Protestant martyrs.

This event is organised by the seven local bonfire societies. Effigies of Guy Fawkes and Pope Paul V, who became head of the Roman Catholic Church in 1605, are paraded raucously through the steep, cobbled streets of Lewes by villagers dressed in unique costumes, carrying flaming torches whilst letting off bangers.

Once the parades are complete, the crowds make their way to one of the several bonfire sites of Lewes, located on the surrounding hills. Villagers won’t find a better view anywhere else -  from these great vantage points you can see all the firework displays in surrounding towns and villages from miles around.

The streets are closed to cars and the town is totally transformed for this annual celebration. As exciting and fabulous as these festivities may be, they are genuinely run by the people of Lewes for the people of Lewes and outsiders are usually discouraged from visiting on this day, due to overcrowding and partly because this is a local affair.

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