Newick Bonfire Night

By Lyn Funnell

Bonfire Societies are very popular around East Sussex, many of them with traditions, like Lewes, dating back through several centuries.

They march through the streets wearing fancy dress, with each Society having a different theme, like smugglers or ornate Tudor costumes, carrying torches and  accompanied by marching bands.

Newick is held on the Saturday before the 5th November so that it doesn’t clash with Lewes.

Fireworks are thrown and let off everywhere with loud bangs while all this is going on.

It ends with a huge bonfire and amazing firework displays, often with a political theme.

The Societies travel to join other Societies, and the processions are well worth watching. They all meet through the year, both socially and to raise money for their torches and fireworks.

Newick Bonfire Society held its first celebration on 5th November 1937 and it’s gradually grown since then.

Their first set piece was in 1951, featuring the British Racing Motor, which was notorious for not finishing races.

The caption was Wun’t be Druv, and they still carry this banner.

The Torch Team supplies torches for all the participants, including their guests.

Their work usually starts with cutting the sticks on the first September weekend. The sticks are hazel, coppiced from several village locations.

The team now spends every weekend until the end of October, coppicing, cutting hessian sack and wrapping it round the torches, and securing them with wire.

On the final Friday and Saturday, the torches are dipped in oil and left to drain.

The Bonfire’s construction  starts to be planned about two weeks before the celebrations.

One week before the event, about eight trailers full of brush arrives. There is no machined wood, pallets, etc, and no prickly gorse!

The Guy. Note the boarded up windows of the house behind

The Friday before the Bonfire Night, a central pole is dug about five ft into the ground and a frame fitted around it about six ft off the ground. The finished bonfire, which is around 35 ft high, is ready at 2pm.

The finished bonfire

All this is done with the help of other Bonfire members, and with plenty of refreshments supplied all day.

The weather report was horrendous, always a British worry. But, as often happens, the report was completely wrong and, apart from a couple of seconds’ showers, the evening was mild and dry.

But Newick Bonfire Society wouldn’t be put off, because as they say, they Wun’t Be Druv.

Newick main roads were all blocked off at 6pm, so everyone could walk safely in the road.

The air was full of voices, a band playing, and the occasional bang and colourful displays of fireworks. Local families were having their own fireworks parties.

Everyone seemed to walking along with a plastic glass of beer in their hands. The atmosphere was happy and expectant.

The Grand Procession started at 7.15. Apart from Newick, there were 17 visiting Bonfire Societies, and several guest bands.

Some of the banners are old and quite heavy. The same people carry them year after year.

Everyone was carrying torches, and the bands played in between the Societies. The sounds echo for miles.

We went up the road to the pub for a drink, then walked back for the returning procession and the lighting of the bonfire and firework display.

Crowds had gathered to watch, and they were almost silent as the massive fireworks exploded above them in an expanding mass of colours.

I don’t know how long it went on for, but just when we thought it had finished, the sky would light up again with another giant display of stars.

When it had finally finished, the Bonfire Societies congregated again for the final procession and we crept away to escape along a country lane before the rush of people and cars headed for home.

What a wonderful atmosphere! It took a whole year of planning, but the results were well worth it.

Long may it continue. And there are plenty of other village Bonfire Nights still to come, with of course, the biggest of them all – Lewes.


  • Lyn Funnell

    Lyn is the co-owner of Unknown Kent and Sussex. She lives in Sussex. Lyn has been writing for most of her life, both Fiction & Non-Fiction. She loves cookery & creating original recipes. She's won a lot of prizes, including Good Housekeeping Millenium Menu & on BBC The One Show as a runner-up, making her Britain's Spag Bol Queen! She has had nine books published so far. History, Travel & Restaurant Reviews are her main interests.

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