Applications have been received for the 2019 championship. The firing order will be announced nearer the time based on a drawn order.
The 2019 competitors are:
1. Cliffe Bonfire Society
2. Hastings Borough Bonfire Society
3. Hawkhurst Gang Bonfire Society
Cliffe Bonfire Society
Although the ‘Fifth’ had been commemorated before 1853 in the area of Lewes known as Cliffe it is generally accepted that the Cliffe Bonfire Society was formed in that year. The Society adopted the ‘Guernsey’ costume for its members and, accompanied by a band, its torchlight processions paraded through the streets of the Cliffe area dragging blazing tar barrels, displaying banners proclaiming ‘No Popery’ and carrying papal and political effigies.
Until 1906, when street fires were banned, Cliffe Corner continued as the firesite, and here the Cliffe’s display increased in size and ingenuity. The traditional effigies of Pope and Fawkes were frequently accompanied into the fire by local notorieties or opponents of Britain’s imperialist ambitions.
Following World War One Cliffe resurrected its celebrations retaining all the traditional elements including the ‘No Popery’ banner and the burning of a papal effigy. During the 1920’s Cliffe withstood constant criticism for this practice and when, in 1933, the then Mayor, J.C.Kenward, wrote to Society requesting the discontinuation of the offending effigy the Cliffe declined. This determination to maintain the true Bonfire traditions of the ‘Fifth’ led to the Society being ostracised by the other Lewes bonfire societies. In the 1950’s the Bonfire Council attached pre-conditions to Cliffe’s participation in the United Grand Procession, the Society being permitted to join only if the ‘No Popery’ banner was not carried. Cliffe rejected this offer, and while it now plays a full part in the Lewes Bonfire Council’s activities the Society has maintained its independence by refusing to join the ‘United’ procession. The Cliffe continues to march alone on the ‘Fifth’, taking the view that the Society is ‘Strong enough to Stand Alone’.
Since the 1970’s successive committees have worked strenuously, not only to raise the necessary funds to put on the best celebrations in the town, but also to accumulate sufficient funds to secure the long term future of the Society. In 1980 land and buildings were acquired to provide permanent premises, in 1983 the Society became legally constituted, becoming Cliffe Bonfire Society Limited and in 2003 Cliffe’s celebrations were made secure by the purchase of its own firesite.
Cliffe has relished the notoriety surrounding its controversial activities. It has drawn strength from this and as the 20th century came to a close Cliffe was growing ever stronger, with a memberships heading towards a thousand. With its future secure, Cliffe has continued to mount ever more spectacular celebrations that are the envy of the rest of Lewes.
Hastings Borough Bonfire Society
Hastings Borough Bonfire Society is a volunteer-run Society which manages the annual Hastings Bonfire event. It is the longest free Sussex bonfire celebration of its kind in the country, always taking place on the Saturday of Hastings week in October and attracting tens of thousands of spectators.
Hastings Borough Bonfire Society has existed in its present form since 1994 and is a revival of events that used to take place across the town pre-war. The Society wear striped smugglers jumpers in red, gold and blue, the colours of the Hastings coat of arms and is unique for pulling a 12’ Guy as part of the torch-lit procession. Hastings Bonfire Society collects for local charities and always welcomes new members.
The effigy is traditionally a local, sometimes controversial, matter, and the Society also recognises the unique history of the America Ground, with the town crier announcing independence as part of the opening ceremony for the event. The climax of the evening is the fireworks display which includes blowing up the effigy with exciting and colourful explosions.
This year the event is taking place on Saturday 19th October from 7pm, starting at the White Rock Hotel.
Hawkhurst Gang Bonfire Society
Hawkhurst Gang Bonfire Society is a very small Kent based Bonfire society but Borders Sussex on 2 sides. We have membership of around 20 but follows the traditions of a torch light procession, a very loud beacon lighting on the Moor and what has been called by many the best fireworks display of the season.
Hawkhurst was formed back in 2012 when local resident Robin Palmer wanted to start a fireworks display for the local community after the last society in the village stopped back in the 1970’s. Since 2012 we have gone from a small display with no torch lit procession in our first year, to the big finale you now see with over 25 visiting societies and around 3000 members of the public crammed into a 1 miles procession route.
The Society took on the famous Hawkhurst Gang name, who were a group of Smugglers who use to the Sussex coast of Rye and Camber to bring in tea and other contraband goods into the country back in the 1700’s. The original Hawkhurst Gang were very dangerous and some of the most feared men of Kent, Sussex and the south of England. We decided to use the name to keep this history of the gang alive but to also bring good to the village and the surrounding area. The society wear stripped smugglers jumpers of orange, green and black with tri-corn hats or any other smugglers attire. We have a bucket collection on the evening of our event and this money goes to local good causes. We also have fundraising events thought the year to raise the much needed funds for our event.
This year will be our 8th torch lit procession and display taking place on Saturday 23rd November and as usual we will finish the season off in the tradition Sussex bonfire style. We start from The Royal Oak Pub and finish on The Moor with lighting the Beacon and a big firework display. As usual we will be low on volunteers and members to help on the day so if you can help or would like to become a member then head of over to our website or Facebook page.