Bonfire society set to celebrate 120 years

Lindfield Bonfire Society to mark 120th anniversary SUS-140619-105923001
Lindfield Bonfire Society to mark 120th anniversary SUS-140619-105923001

The history of bonfire in Lindfield is a long and interesting story, and Lindfield Bonfire Society are proud to be celebrating their 120th Anniversary in 2014 with a party at the King Edward Hall in Lindfield on Saturday June 28 between 7.30pm and 11.45pm.

Tickets are priced at £10 each to include live music, a disco, finger buffet, and we will also be drawing our Grand Prize Raffle on the night.

Lindfield Bonfire Society to mark 120th anniversary SUS-140619-105934001

Lindfield Bonfire Society to mark 120th anniversary SUS-140619-105934001

A huge selection of prizes include members enclosure tickets the the Longines Horse Show at Hickstead, family tickets for the Bluebell Railway, and Dinner vouchers for the Bent Arms, Stand Up Inn, Red Lion and Paolino’s.

Music is being provided by Sounds Wicked Disco, The Stinky Bishops, Sharon Wright and Paul Burris. Tickets for both the party and the raffle may be purchased from SWALK in Lindfield High Street and Sarah Lacey Drycleaning, 1 College Road, Haywards Heath.

The people of Sussex have been lighting ceremonial bonfires since Celtic times, originally on the eve of Samhain on November 1st at summer’s end.

In the ninth century the Christian Church adopted the date as All Saints Day, and Samhain became All Hallows E’en, or Halloween as it is now, which is still celebrated with the lighting of candles in hollowed out pumpkins.

Following the discovery of the gunpowder plot and its attempt to blow up the King James I and his Parliament, a night of celebration was decreed on November 5.

The tradition of burning the Guy doubtless predates this as the burning of effigies goes back much farther in time, and Guy Fawkes was actually executed by being hung drawn and quartered.

By the 1850’s, there were three bonfires in Lindfield High Street, on the Common, outside the Bent Arms and in front of The Red Lion. Anything the bonfire boys could lay their hands on would be burnt, especially firewood stacked outside the houses lining the High Street.

Tar barrels would also be set alight and rolled down the Street. The bonfire boys would wear a Smuggler’s dress of white trousers and striped sweater continuing the tradition of the men who regularly smuggled tobacco, brandy, silk and lace up from the river Ouse to Paxhill House.

Local folklore also holds that there is still a smuggler’s tunnel from the Ouse to the Bent Arms cellar that passes through the churchyard.

Ordinarily, the Police stood by and allowed the riotous behaviour to continue, unable or unwilling to interfere.

The authorities usually had the gates outside the Toll house removed for safe keeping on November 5, but in 1884 the road was converted into a Parish road and the tolls were abolished.

There was much rejoicing as the bonfire boys were allowed to remove the gates, break them up and burn them on all the fires around the village.

Finally, in 1894, following pressure from local magistrates, authorities and residents the Lindfield Bonfire Society was formed with the aim of holding an organised display in the Village every 5th November, thus making it one of the oldest Societies in Sussex and Kent. (This is also the reason why Lindfield celebrates on November 5, whilst many ‘newer’ Societies nights range between September and the end of November).

This did not entirely end the mayhem; during celebrations following the end of the Siege of Mafeking in 1900, things got really out of hand when a wagon loaded with wood attempted to pass the Bent Arms bonfire.

The horses were set loose, the wagon and load were put into the bonfire, and the paint on the Bent Arms was left blistered and ruined. As a result, twenty men were fined half a Crown each.

Although celebrations were suspended during the First and Second World Wars, the Anscombe family were instrumental in keeping the tradition going, and set pieces included a Loch Ness Monster in 1935, and a circus complete with elephant in the late 1940’s.

As the 1970’s progressed the Society nearly folded due to lack of members, and this continues to be one of our greatest obstacles to continuing this important tradition.

I’m sure many of us can recall that bonfire building used to begin at least a week before the 5th, much to the excitement of the Village children and was added to by all members of the local community.

Sadly the construction has to be done on the 5th these days and can only contain wooded pallets due to increased legislation and because it was often set ablaze before the day.

We are often asked why we carry burning crosses during the procession. These commemorate the three martyrs who were burnt near Holy Trinity bridge at the bottom of Black Hill during the 1500’s. Many other Sussex Bonfire Societies commemorate martyrs who came from their towns and villages, including Mayfield and of course Lewes.

For a lot of our members bonfire night is about remembering, and some of our members carry tributes in memory of family, and being so close to Remembrance Sunday you will also see some poppies too.

We gladly welcome members of all ages, from those who wish to support us with their annual membership fee, to those who want to join our lively Committee and help with organisation, those whose interests lie in torch making and dipping, and even fusing fireworks with the possibility of training and qualifications to become part of the Firing Team.

As well as holding our own celebrations we visit and march with a number of other Societies including Chailey, Fletching, Burgess Hill, Mayfield, and Newick.

We also hold fundraising events throughout the year such as the enormously enjoyable Pub Music Quiz at the Stand Up Inn and the Craft Fair in November as well as producing the highly popular Village Calendar.

Please support us throughout the year, as the cost of staging this wonderful free to attend event is now approximately £8,000 and continues to rise as the costs of insurance, marshalls, road closures, and health and safety continue to rise each year.

The street collection made on the night is in aid of local children’s charities. We can only continue as a Society with your help, and it would indeed be a very sad day should we no longer be able to continue the tradition of November 5 celebrations in our historic village.


Report and pictures contributed by the Lindfield Bonfire Society.