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Bonfires - Then and now
Monster's Drums
- you've heard them, now read all about them
Mad Jacks Morris - you've seen them, now read about them
Same Sky - Incredible and inspirational
Smugglers and Smuggling in the Hastings Area - Hastings' Local area website
Map of the route

Pictures from the 2000 event, possibly the best yet!
2000 - Click Here for Pictures around the firesite
2000 - Click Here for Criers and Fires 2000

The 1999 Event was a magnificent event - 
1999 - Click Here to see just how good it was!
1999 - Click Here to see if your Bonfire Society has been immortalised
1999 - Click Here to see the Internationally famous Town Criers who took part in the procession "Criers and Fires"


What is involved in being a member of Hastings Borough Bonfire Society? looking back on (hmmm, lets see now...) about ten month’s membership, the words 'fun' and 'enjoyable' spring to mind. I have always enjoyed a bonfire and firework display, and so originally, I joined to take advantage of the coach transport arranged to attend other displays throughout Sussex. Apart from actually helping to build the fire, I didn't think much more could be involved. How wrong can you be!

Whilst the latter few months of 1998 were occupied with both the local event (October, combining Guy Fawkes celebrations with the commemoration of that invasion) and attending others (from Fletching to Rye, Robertsbridge to Lewes, and more), the new year brought much, much more into focus, There have been the fund-raising events, including a Summer Fun Day (bit damp this year!) and a pub crawl. Members have helped at the Hastings Marathon, Half-Marathon, 10km Road Race and the Beer Festival, marshalling public salety.

We have taken part in the Old Town Carnival, Rye Medieval Festival, the Hastings May Day celebrations, Rye Raft Race, and the opening of local businesses, Hastings  Country Park Silver Jubilee and the magnificent Walking the Fish gave us the opportunity to renew  contact with Same Sky, a group of artists with incredible skills in putting on amazing displays- anyone who was lucky enough to see the models have agreed to repeat their 
pyrotechnic display at this years’ Hastings Bonfire on 9th October.Now we are back into the Bonfire season once again. and enjoying that heady mix of warm fires on cold evenings, brilliant displays in utter darkness, and the spine-tingling experience that is, simply, Bonfire. On the horizon, though, are all the other possibilities throughout the of sea-life created for that seafront parade will know how good they are! Same Sky coming year, another action-packed twelve-month with a host of new friends, and amongst the fore-most will be the Millenium celebration display, set by the Bonfire Society for Hastings Borough Council. Members are free to do as much, or as little, as they wish - just joining helps us raise the money to pay for the display, and through that, to collect funds on the night to benefit many local charities.

Come along and enjoy the pageant - and you could join this growing crowd of friendly, relaxed individuals who together make up HBBS.

Pete Welch



Bonfire started as a direct result of the activities of a group of conspirators who sought to overthrow the Protestant King James 1st and establish a Catholic monarchy on the English throne. These conspirators were led by Catsby and were almost snccessfuil in their attempt to blow up King and Parliament on November 5th 1605 with 36 barrels of gunpowder stored in the cellar of the House of Commons. One of the conspirators, Guy Fawkes, was caught in the act and King and Parliament were saved.

King James decreed that his lucky escape should be celebrated in perpetuity. The commonest form of celebration in those days was to light bonfires and set off fireworks. It happened for virtually any celebration and this was just one of many fire festivals held during Stuart times.

After the English Civil War 1647 saw the establishment of the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector. One of the edicts of his government was that public holidays of all kinds should cease as they were a waste of resources and people should be working rather than enjoying themselves. Even Christmas was abolished. The one exception was November 5th, as this was a celebration of deliverance from a potential Catholic monarch, a celebration that the Protestant Cromwell felt important as the only celebration of the year, it became popular and grew to become the large event we still see today. When most other popular holidays and customs were restored by Charles the Second November 5th continued as one of them. It was a popular celebration as it could be used for any occasion as the political climate changed. It could be pro Monarch, pro Parliament or anything else that seemed to fit. Bonfire always was and still is broadly political and patriotic. Though it has always been a custom of the people and an expression of their will, rather than the particular rulers of the time.
Annually Bonfires were lit across England on November 5th, these were no organised displays, but local parties. These celebrations continued until the French Revolution of 1789. The revolution in France sent a shudder through British Aristocracy. The government reacted by suppressing any public gatherings for fear they would get out of hand The bonfire celebrations with their political undercurrents, which although patriotic were not necessarily in favour of any government, were considered to be particularly likely to turn into anti-government riots. The period following the French wars led to a large military regime being established and soldiers became commonplace across England. When not fighting the French they were used to maintain "public order". This time was also the beginning of the industrial revolution, people became employed in factories and towns, the rural communities were broken
This all led to the decline of the celebrations across most of the country. The people of the southern counties from Sussex to Devon organised themselves into societies to continue the custom. Smuggler costumes and black faces as disguise were used for the first time, these were to prevent being recognised by the authorities. Effigy burning of unpopular people and people opposed to bonfires became common. There are references to effigy burning on Hastings beach in the 1820s. At this time torch lit processions and style of celebration we see today were established. The first Bonfire Society was established in 1847 in Lewes in response to the Riot Act being read in the town. The St. Leonards Society was formed in 1859 and in 1860 the larger Hastings Borough Bonfire Society was formed. By 1884 there were five societies in the town, all with great rivalry.

There is no mention of any anti Catholic feeling in Hastings, even when riots were happening elsewhere in response to the re-stablishment of Catholicism in England in 1850. In 1884 it was cause for comment that both "Romanists and non-Romanists" were members of the Hastings Bonfire Societies. When the new Catholic church was built in Hastings Old Town the Bonfire Boys were encouraged to riot by the anti Catholic Tories. The church was surrounded by constables, but nobody turned up. The Bonfire Boys had gone to St Andrews Square to protest about the Salvation Army, which, as anti drink, were considered a much bigger threat

The late nineteenth century saw a concerted effort to suppress Bonfires across England, the banning of fires on the street in 1905 and the banning of fireworks on the streets in 1909 more or less stopped the custom. It survives in Sussex because of the organised Societies.
Two World Wars have helped to kill Bonfire and Hastings was a casualty of the second. My own conversations with elderly people in the town confirm they had had enough of fire and loud bangs.

The Sussex Bonfire Societies now celebrate every weekend from the end of August to the end of November, thus allowing us to attend each others celebration. The Hastings Borough Bonfire Society was established in 1995 to continue the custom and traditions of our forebears. We have chosen the nearest Saturday to October 14th, (the Battle of Hastings ), as appropriate for this town.

Long may Bonfire continue!

Keith Leech

Building the Bonfire

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Photos copyright (c) Ion Castro 2000