The magic of Sussex bonfires

To celebrate the first anniversary of Sussex Bylines’ inaugural issue, we asked some of our key contributors to write a short piece on the subject of “What Sussex Means to Me”. From memories of being a student at the newly built Sussex University in the sixties while living in shabby digs in Brighton, to the enduring ancient magic of bonfire night in Lewes, our writers have submitted a wonderfully eclectic mix of mini personal essays…

Lewes Bonfire Night 2019
Hastings Bonfire Night – photo by Rick Dillon

Bonfire nights are back! After a year’s absence, and as the days grow shorter, Sussex Bonfire Societies will once again take to the streets – pandemic guidelines permitting – ostensibly to celebrate the death of that bloke who wanted to blow up Parliament in 1605.

But it’s become much, much more than that. The sight of costumed marchers, their faces illuminated by flaming torches, caught up in the hypnotic beat from the accompanying drummers, feels thrilling and incredibly ancient… Meanwhile, the ‘victims’ sacrificed on the bonfire are invariably modern: at the last Lewes bonfire, in 2019, they burned an effigy of a urinating Boris Johnson, amongst other political “Guys”. Lewes Bonfire night is by far the biggest spectacle in the county, on November 5. But 15 other towns play their part, the season crackling into life in Uckfield in early September.

I’ll be there when my own town, Hastings, takes to the streets on October 16. Here in Sussex, Bonfire night isn’t just for children – and it never loses its magic.

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