Aptly described as ‘a head-on collision of Halloween and Mardi Gras’ in the Rough Guide to the world’s best festivals. Held on the 5th of November, Lewes Bonfire Night is without doubt one of the most dangerous, but impressive festivals I’ve experienced. With about sixty thousand people descending on the town each year, it closes down to traffic, while shops and offices wisely board up their windows and doors for the craziness that is to follow.
Five bonfire societies from different parts of the town compete to provide the most spectacular display. I followed the antics of Cliffe, which included burning barrel races, processions of hundreds of torch-bearing folk in costume, and a massive bonfire and firework display.
It doesn’t look like there’s much structure to the apparent anarchy, but it revolves around three themes: Guy Fawkes, the Sussex Martyrs and remembrance of the war dead. Cliffe, in particular remember the Protestant Martyrs of 1556, with “No Popery” banners hanging across the street and carried in procession. An effigy of the pope even went up in fireworks in much the same way as Guy Fawkes went up in flames.