'E VENTIS VIRES - From the Wind, Strength'
Whether you’ve lived in Sussex all your life or you’ve just moved here, Bonfire season is hard to ignore. Since the nineteenth century we’ve made torches, sewed costumes, packed Guys and piled up kindling across the county for ten weeks of smoke and chaos. So why do we do it?
While the whole of the UK recognises November 5th in some way, Sussex’s Bonfire celebrations are about more than just Guy Fawkes. As a region we have a lot of history in the flame, from the 17 Protestant martyrs famously burned in Lewes during the 16th century to Seaford’s own shags, who as we all know lured ships carrying cargo onto the rocks with fires lit along the coastline!
Seaford & the Gunpowder Plot
On the night of 5th November 1605, Guy Fawkes was caught under the Houses of Parliament,
“Three score barrels stored below – Merrie old England to overthrow! “ .
A few days earlier, on 26th October 1605, a Catholic peer, Lord Monteagle, received an anonymous letter warning him to stay away from Parliament as there was likely to be a “big blow” to the government. Monteagle immediately alerted the authorities and the infamous Gunpowder Plot was discovered. Guy Fawkes was caught virtually red-handed and, although he originally gave a false name, he was tortured until the full details of the conspiracy were extracted. Prior to his death in 1622 Monteagle was given lands at Seaford by the King “in consideration of good service”. It is most likely that this ‘good service’ was saving the King from Guy Fawkes, therefore our town has a unique connection with the Gunpowder Plot. The land in question was towards the east of Seaford in the area now known as Chyngton.
Lord Monteagle plays an integral part of our celebrations and you will usually find him at the head of our procession
History of the Seaford Shags
The first mention of Bonfire night in Seaford dates to 1850 when the ‘Sussex Express’ reported that the anniversary of the ‘Popish plot’ was celebrated in the ‘normal way’ in Seaford with tar barrels being rolled through the streets. This indicates that the bonfire night had been celebrated in Seaford for many years earlier.
A large bonfire was always needed to burn the effigies and this was usually constructed on the waste ground in front of the New Inn (now the Wellington) on the land now occupied by the Cross Way Church. In the old days this area was known as the ‘Beame Lands’. The bonfire boys wore elaborate disguises in an attempt to hide their identity to the police and magistrates. In 1864 some even wore bonnets and crinolines.
Records of other yearly bonfire celebrations are sporadic for the remainder of the 1800's, There is no record of bonfire celebrations in Seaford in 1888 and for several years after.
The next Seaford Bonfire Night reported in the local press was on 5th November 1891. There were four parades which set off hourly from 6.30pm. Each parade marched through a different part of the town but the mayhem and anti-catholic undercurrent of the previous parades seems to have been dropped. Indeed there is no mention of the Pope either being mentioned in speeches or being burnt in effigy in the local press from 1881 until 1903. The Volunteer Fire Brigade marched in the procession in full uniform although reports make it clear that the “Policemen” were not part of the regular force!
Again in the early 1900's sporadic celebrations did occur but didn't seem to start up again after the end of World War 2 during which it was illegal to light bonfires and set off fireworks.
The Seaford Bonfire and Carnival Society
In March of 1972 the Seaford Bonfire and Carnival Society was formed and put on its first event in the November of that year. The events continued annually and in 1976 Seaford claimed to have the longest bonfire parade in Sussex with well over 1,000 people taking part. This is amazing considering that the society was in its infancy and the size of the nearby Lewes parade!
1977 was the Silver Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen and in June that year the Seaford Bonfire Society were honoured to be invited to Windsor to take part in a torchlight procession. Along with members of other Sussex Bonfire Societies they led the procession through the streets to Windsor Great Park where a huge beacon had been erected.
The bonfire society procession in 1977 appears to have been the largest for many years and a professional produced programme was produced. Three Military Bands and a Jazz Band were booked to accompany the Grand Procession which ended at the Martello Fields Bonfire site.
Unfortunately, despite the massive parade and obviously hours of time organising, this seems to have been the last parade for the Seaford Bonfire & Carnival Society and it broke up shortly afterwards.
Seaford Bonfire Society
2010 - Present Day
Seaford Bonfire Society was initially reformed in late 2010 producing its first event in October 2011
The society has grown from strength to strength since reforming and now produces one of the largest bonfire events in the Lewes district, as well as attending and supporting many other society out-meetings across the bonfire season.
The Society is extremely proud of its highly inclusive and dynamic membership, with over 250 active members.
First Pioneers - Pirates
Second Pioneers - Saxons
Smugglers - Purple & Grey
The Seaford Bonfire Committee
Head of Operations