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Cliffe Bonfire Society

View along Cliffe High Street on Bonfire Night
Cliffe High Street

An Orange Skeleton In An English Cupboard

If the English have a national day, it is not St. Georges's Day on April 23, which scarcely anyone remembers, except for the small patrician society of the Knights of St. George, but Bonfire Night on November 5. This is genuinely national in its extent, but is it national in its symbolism? Its origins, of course, date back to the attempt of the English Catholic, Guy Fawkes, and his accomplices to blow up the King and Parliament in1605, and it does seem that the date has been remembered more or less annually ever since. Today the significance of the event is purely historical, even ahistorical, at least for the vast majority of English people. In Brighton, for example, as in many other English towns and cities no doubt, the main public event of this autumn night is the firework display at the local sports stadium, which is organised by the Rotary Club; profits, as would be expected, going to charity. The point of the proceedings is the spectacular firework display. It is a family event and the spirit of the occasion is a purely party one.

But seven miles away from Brighton, in the historic town of Lewes with its Norman castle, its narrow medieval streets, and its beautiful flint faced buildings, Bonfire Night is celebrated rather differently. Here the festivities consist of the torch light processions of the six Lewes bonfire societies, which take it in turn to march round the narrow streets of the town centre and back to their assembly points. The marchers are made up of costumed contingents of pirates, smugglers, redcoats, 'Red Indians', crusaders, sailors, angels, Scottish highlanders, and so forth. The processional part of the evening ends with the United Grand Procession when the societies march together before splitting off to go to their own firesites at the edge of town for the customary firework display and bonfire, except that is for one society, the Cliffe, which refuses to take part in the Grand Procession.

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Effigy of George Bush
Tony Blair is Teddy Blair
No Popery banner hung across Cliffe High Street
George Bush Tableaux
Tony Blair
No Popery Banner

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