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Brighton Journal | 29th February 2020

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Everything You Need to Know About Lewes Bonfire

Everything You Need to Know About Lewes Bonfire
Marie Hayward
  • On 4th November 2019

Every 5th of November the quiet town of Lewes comes alive with the biggest bonfire event in the UK.

The History

Lewes Bonfire not only marks Guy Fawkes Night but also commemorates the memory of the seventeen Protestant martyrs burned at the stake for their faith.

The history of bonfire night celebrations on November the 5th have origins with the foiled Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Later, an Act of Parliament passed that the 5th of November would be a day of thanksgiving to mark “the joyful day of deliverance”.

Bonfire celebrations in Lewes were rather random before the 1820s when a large group of Bonfire Boys started celebrating with fireworks and bonfires. The events were rowdy and disruptive. The police drafted in officers from London to sort out the riots and fighting.

By 1850, the bonfires became more like the modern-day processions.

In 2017 when the Lewes Bonfire Borough Society agreed to end the tradition of blacking-up and wearing skulls and horns as a part of its Zulu costumes.

What to see

Across Lewes, the seven bonfire societies have their own parades, firework displays and bonfires, marked with individual costumes and colours. The seven societies are:

Cliffe: Started in 1853 is the joint oldest society with Lewes Borough. They are the only society to continue to “burn” an effigy of Pope Paul V at Bonfire. They wear black and white smugglers jumpers and Viking and French Revolution costumes.

Commercial Square: Founded in 1855, this society is marked by gold and black smuggler jumpers, Native American and American Civil War soldiers costumes.

Lewes Borough: Formed in 1853 this section can be picked out by their Zulu and Tudor costumes. Smugglers wear blue and white jumpers.

Nevill Juenvulle: Created specifically for children, this society is dressed in green and white smuggler sweaters and Medieval and British Military costumes.

Southover: Disbanded in the mid-19th century and reformed in 2015, Southover can be recognised by the iconic burning cross in their parade. They have a samba band, wear red and black jumpers and dress as monks or pirates.

South Street:  This society dress as 18th Century British colonials, English Civil War soldiers and they wear smuggler jumpers of cream and brown.

Waterloo: Reformed in 1954 this society wears costumes of Ancient Greek, Romans and Mongol Invaders. Their smuggler jumpers are red and white.

Where to get tickets

You have to buy a ticket for your preferred venue site. Each group has a different atmosphere, some are more family-friendly and others are for more hardcore party-goers.

You can get your tickets at any independent retailer or pub, or the Lewes tourist information office or at the Bonfire Society Weather here.

Travel Disruptions

To ensure that overcrowding doesn’t happen, there are multiple road closures after 4.45 pm.

  • A27 junction with A277 Brighton Road
  • A27 junction with A26
  • A26 junction with B2192 Ringer Road
  • Kingston Road junction with Wellgreen Lane
  • A275 Offham Road junction with Plumpton Road
  • A27 junction with Southerham Lane

Locals and visitors don’t recommend you take your car, it’s better to take public transport instead.

If you’re taking the train, please be aware of rail closures aswell:

  • After 5pm, no trains will call at Lewes, Glynde or Southsea stations.
  • No trains will call at Cooksbridge station after the 5.20pm service to Eastbourne.
  • No trains will serve Falmer station after the 6.40 pm service to Hastings.


Featured Image: Lewes Bonfire parade © Miles Sabin.


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