Sussex Bonfire Societies
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.
The logistical set up required for the events often starts as early as February. This has led the Societies to pool resources and work together on each other's bonfires. This creates associated processions, with large festivals like Lewes and Hastings going on late into the night. 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.
The Mayfield bonfire celebrations commemorate two of the Lewes Martyrs who were from the village and four more martyrs that were executed in the village, on a site opposite the current Colkins Mill Church in Station Road, on 24 September 1556. A stone monument to the Martyrs stands in the church's grounds. Mayfield's torchlit procession and carnival takes place on the Saturday nearest to 24 September.
Societies and processions can be broadly grouped into two main categories Carnival and Bonfire. Typically and not exclusively certain characteristics apply to each group. Carnival societies are generally much more family-oriented evenings where people turn out to have fun and make merry with music and laughter. Bonfire Societies are often the less family-oriented evenings typically with more drinking and debauchment occurring. However with ever increasing restrictions by Sussex Police this is reduced.
List of Bonfire Societies
- Lewes – for more on these societies see Lewes Bonfire.
- Barcombe Bonfire Society
- Battle (Battel Bonfire Boyes)
- *Bexhill Bonfire Society* Bexhill Bonfire Society Facebook page
- Chailey Bonfire Society
- Chiddingfold Bonfire (Surrey)
- Crowborough Bonfire & Carnival Society
- Cuckfield Bonfire Society
- East Hoathly & Halland Bonfire & Carnival Society
- Eastbourne Bonfire Society
- Edenbridge Bonfire Society (Kent)
- Ewhurst & Staplecross Bonfire Society
- Firle Bonfire Society
- Fletching Bonfire Society
- Hailsham Bonfire Society
- Hastings Borough Bonfire Society Hastings Borough Bonfire Society Website
- Hawkhurst Gang Bonfire Society
- Herstmonceux (The Merrie Harriers)
- Icklesham (Robin Hood Bonfire Society)
- Isfield and Little Horsted Bonfire Society
- Lindfield Bonfire Society
- Littlehampton Bonfire Society
- Maresfield Bonfire Society
- Mayfield Bonfire Society www.mayfieldbonfire.co.uk
- Newick Bonfire Society
- Robertsbridge Bonfire Society
- Rotherfield & Mark Cross Bonfire Society
- Rye & District Bonfire Society
- Seaford Bonfire Society www.seafordbonfire.co.uk 
- Shoreham-by-Sea Bonfire Society
- South Heighton Bonfire Society
- Uckfield Bonfire & Carnival Society
- Vines Cross Bonfire Society
- Whatlington Renegades
Defunct Bonfire Societies
- Arundel Bonfire Boys Society
- Bognor Bonfire Society
- Brighton Borough Bonfire Society
- Brighton Bonfire Boys
- Chichester Bonfire Society
- Clapham and Patching Bonfire Club
- Crawley Bonfire society
- Five Ashes Bonfire Society
- Hooe Bonfire Society
- Horsham Bonfire Society
- Landport Bonfire Society
- St Anne's Bonfire Society
- Society based at the Blacksmiths Arms pub.
- Society based at the Jolly Sailor pub.
- Newhaven Carnival Society (which replaced the former two in 1902).
- Frog and Duck Bonfire Society (Newhaven)
- Ridgewood Bonfire Society (Uckfield)
- Worthing Bonfire Society/Bonfire Club
- Shoreham Bonfire Boys
- Culture of Sussex
- Guy Fawkes night
- Jack in the green
- Lewes Bonfire
- Marian Persecutions
- Richard Woodman
- We wunt be druv
- Christopher Whittick, ‘Hurdis, James Henry (1800–1857)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 6 Nov 2009
- lewesbonfirecouncil.org.uk, accessed November 2009
- "cliffebonfire.com". cliffebonfire.com. 2013-10-31. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- "c-s-b-s.co.uk". c-s-b-s.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- "lewesboroughbonfire.co.uk". lewesboroughbonfire.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- "njbs.co.uk". njbs.co.uk. 2013-09-27. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- "southstreetbonfiresociety.co.uk". southstreetbonfiresociety.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- "southoverbs.com". southoverbs.com. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- "waterloobonfire.co.uk". waterloobonfire.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- "barcombebonfire.co.uk". barcombebonfire.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- "battlebonfire.co.uk". battlebonfire.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- Chailey Bonfire Society (2013-01-27). "chaileybonfire.co.uk". chaileybonfire.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- "chiddingfoldbonfire.org.uk". chiddingfoldbonfire.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- [dead link]
- [dead link]
- "esbs.org.uk". esbs.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- "firlebonfire.com". firlebonfire.com. 2013-10-26. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- "hailshambonfire.org.uk". hailshambonfire.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- "hawkhurst-gang-bonfire-society.org.uk". hawkhurst-gang-bonfire-society.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- [dead link]
- "Robin Hood Bonfire Society, Icklesham". Users.globalnet.co.uk. 2000-11-05. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- "lindfieldbonfiresociety.co.uk". lindfieldbonfiresociety.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- "Littlehampton Bonfire Society". Retrieved 3 February 2014.
- "newickbonfire.com". newickbonfire.com. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- "robertsbridgebonfiresociety.com". robertsbridgebonfiresociety.com. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- "ryebonfire.co.uk". ryebonfire.co.uk. 2013-07-31. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- Seaford Bonfire Society. "seafordbonfire.co.uk". seafordbonfire.co.uk. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
- "shorehambonfire.co.uk". shorehambonfire.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- www.pixelpuppet.co.uk/www.splashdesigncreative.co.uk. "Welcome to the South Heighton Bonfire Society". Southheighton.com. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
- "uckfieldcarnival.co.uk". uckfieldcarnival.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-11.