Why is Shoreham Bonfire not held on the 5th November?

Shoreham Bonfire Society

Shoreham Bonfire is held on the first Saturday after the 5th

We are sometimes asked why Shoreham Bonfire is not held on 5th, particularly in 2016 as the 5th falls on a Saturday. So here is, with help from Wikipedia, an explanation of all things bonfire…..

Sussex Bonfire Societies pre-date Guy Fawkes

Shoreham Bonfire Society is part of a long tradition of Sussex Bonfire Societies that run a series of bonfire festivals around Sussex and parts of Surrey and Kent from September to November.

The celebrations mark both Guy Fawkes Night and the burning of 17 Protestant martyrs in Lewes’ High Street from 1555 to 1557, during the reign of Mary Tudor.

The development of Sussex Bonfire Societies is explained in Wikipedia as follows:

The Sussex Bonfire Tradition began essentially as a glorified pub crawl. At the time it was common for workers to go house to house asking the residents for food and alcohol. To avoid repercussions as many of theses home owners were landlords or employers it was customary to either dress up in costume or to paint their faces black. This way the revelers were free to cause mischief and mayhem without fear of punishment.

These nights of revelry date back much further into history than Guy Fawkes and it was much later that the existing pagan traditions were appropriated for Christian and political aims.

19th century antiquary Mark Antony Lower is credited with starting the “cult of the Sussex Martyrs” aided by an etching by James Henry Hurdis of Richard Woodman and nine others being burnt. This led to the creation of local Bonfire Societies who commemorated these events. For example, seven separate societies organise events in the town of Lewes. On Fifth of November, the town hosts six separate bonfires.

Whereas Guy Fawkes’ night in most parts of Great Britain is traditionally commemorated at large public fireworks displays or small family bonfires, towns in Sussex and Kent hold huge gala events with fires, parades and festivals.

The tradition has remained strong for more than a century becoming the highlight of the year for many towns and villages in the Weald. The Bonfire Societies use the events to collect money for local charities.”

Sussex Bonfire Society events are spread over 10 weeks

The timing of Sussex Bonfires has evolved, as explained in Wikipedia as follows:

Due to the size and number of events and mutual collaboration, it became impractical to hold all the bonfires on the traditional Fifth of November. This resulted in the “bonfire season” to be extended over ten weeks through September, October and November.

Shoreham Bonfire Society family focused approach

In 2009 Shoreham Bonfire Society was set up to re-establish a tradition of a bonfire celebration on the beach. We wanted to take the best bits of the traditional Bonfire Societies but with a completely family focused approach… often referred to as a ‘Carnival Society’.

The Shoreham blueprint became:

  • Bonfire procession with a local community Samba band (no dressing up to date)
  • Building and burning of a great beach bonfire
  • A professional fireworks display
  • Carnival fun atmosphere with kids rides, local young bands playing and food/drink
  • Raising money for charity and local community groups
  • Local community involvement in running it and paying for it
  • Family focus, no alcohol, no throwing fire crackers, no mischief or mayhem, no lit fire torches or burning barrels of tar!

So, why the first Saturday after the 5th?

The day established at outset for Shoreham Bonfire was the first Saturday AFTER the 5th (also known as the day before Remembrance Sunday).

The first and most important point to note is that Shoreham Bonfire has to be held on a Saturday. Due to its beach location the bonfire must be built and burnt on the same day as we can not store wood or leave it on the beach overnight.

To give our unpaid volunteers time to build, burn and clear the bonfire site in 24 hours means we have to start Saturday first thing and finish clearing up prior to the Remembrance Service on Sunday morning – it’s a rush and hard work but so far we have got the job done!

However, there are many advantages of not clashing with other events that take place on the 5th including:

  • It helps us to get a big turn out to the event which is important if we are to raise money to pay for the self funded event and raise money for charity/local community groups
  • The 5th is a busy night for all the emergency services (police, fire, ambulance and coastguard) and so holding it on a different day reduces the impact on them. All of the Emergency Service are aware of our date/plans and we are also delighted to say that they are also able to come along and be a part of the event too (subject to call outs of course)
  • Fireworks are a popular part of the night and we use an expert professional fireworks team that are used to working major events and are used to the challenge of coastal locations. Their availability is a challenge as it’s a busy time for them and so selecting the day before Remembrance Sunday has meant that we have been able to guarantee a permanent slot on their busy calendar.
  • The same can also be said for our Security company who are an important part of the night’s safety and success
  • Some of those that help us out are from other Societies and so avoiding their own events is a necessity

And so, the first Saturday after the 5th, the day before Remembrance Sunday, has become the traditional day for our event.

Join us for a Sussex tradition

So please join us for a traditional Sussex night on the 12th November 2016 at Shoreham Beach Green for the procession, followed by bonfire, fireworks and entertainment.

All the details you need to know: what’s happening at Shoreham Bonfire»