Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators failed to blow up England’s Houses of Parliament in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Every year on November 5th, this misfire is celebrated across the United Kingdom with fireworks, bonfires and the burning of effigies. One of the most famous celebrations is held in Lewes, a small village in East Sussex, with thousands of people filling the streets.

The night is a rich tradition of fire and patriotism. Each year the bonfire societies march through the city in fancy dress (costumes) to giant bonfires where they burn effigies: Guy Fawkes and Pope Paul V are always featured. In the past, they have burned effigies of George W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Osama bin Laden, local politicians who have opposed the celebrations – pretty much anyone the society feels deserves some vilification.

It’s definitely not a PC event, but it is quite the party.


Commercial Square Bonfire Society bonfire night in Lewes

The Commercial Square Bonfire Society often wear Native American garb at the parade in a tradition that comes from the 1880s, when members came back from working on the railroad in America. The costumes are worn out of respect for the persecution of the Native Americans that was witnessed. Photo from 2009 by montpelier.


Smugglers marching in the Bonfire Night parade

A popular costume is that of a smuggler. Each society has its own smuggler sweater color scheme. These are red and white, so they are members of the Waterloo Bonfire Society. Photo from 2006 by Matt Browne.


Parade in Lewes for Bonfire Night

Along with the traditional smuggler costumes, there is a theme of "pioneers" with people dressing up like the American pioneers, Puritans, Zulu warriors, Greek or Roman soldiers, and more. Photo from 2009 by Camus Live Art.


Sussex Martrys Crosses in Lewes

It isn't just about Guy Fawkes for those in Lewes, it's also about the Sussex Martyrs – in the 1550s in Lewes, seventeen Protestants were burned at the stake as heretics by the order of Queen Mary. The crosses are burned and carried in their honor. Photo from 2007 by Dominic's Pics.


Marching in the Guy Fawkes parade in Lewes

The pope in the 2009 parade. The Pope and the Catholic Church are traditionally those "hated" on Bonfire Night; however, according to Emma Tucker, a writer for the UK Newspaper The Times, she has watched the events from the steps of the Catholic Church since she was three, and she's "never seen anything remotely ugly." Photo by montpelier.


Lest We Forget

One of the traditional chants for the night, stanza one: Remember, remember the Fifth of November / The Gunpowder Treason and plot / I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason / Should ever be forgot. Photo from 2008 by Mark Bridge.


Guy Fawkes on his way to the bonfire

Stanza two: Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes 'twas his intent / To blow up the King and the Parliament / Three score barrels of powder below / Poor old England to overthrow. Photo by Docklands boy.


God Save the Queen

Stanza three: By God's providence he was catch'd / With a dark lantern and burning match / Holler boys, holler boys, ring bells ring / Holler boys, holler boys, God Save the Queen! Photo from 2008 by Mark Bridge.


Flaming barrels of tar at Lewes Bonfire Night

Flaming barrels of tar end up tossed from the Cliffe Bridge into the River Ouse. Stanza five: Burn him in a tub of tar / Burn him like a blazing star / Burn his body from his head / Then we'll say old Pope is dead. Photo from 2009 by montpelier.


Crowds in Lewes for Bonfire Night

The celebration gathers massive crowds. If you're going to go, then go early! Try to get there by noon if you can. And don't expect a hotel room in town - check out nearby Brighton or Eastbourne, though be warned that the train stations and train cars will be absolutely packed. Photo from 2009 by Camus Live Art.


Fireworks and the popes and effigies ready to burn

Photo from 2009 by Docklands boy.


Silhouette in front of one of the bonfires

Each society has a separate bonfire. Photo from 2007 by Dominic's pics.


View of Lewes on Bonfire Night 2007

View of Lewes on Bonfire Night. Photo from 2007 by Dominic's pics.

What did you think of this article?