Hastings Borough Bonfire Society
October 17th Hastings Bonfire Promises to be as big as ever despite the recession.
The annual Bonfire in Hastings to celebrate the Gunpowder Plot of November 5th and the Battle of Hastings will be as big as ever. Recent press reports have suggested that Sussex Bonfire is having problems but organisers at Hastings are confident that they can still put on one of the biggest and best displays in the Sussex Bonfire season. The event costs £16000 to stage and all of this is collected by volunteers throughout the year. Organisers stress that this is an event put on for the people of Hastings by the people of Hastings. It is not (as many think) a council run event.
This year for the first time the society will parade a piece of the flagpole from Fort McHenry in Baltimore, bombarded by the British in 1812 when the Star Spangled Banner’ was written. President of the Hastings Borough Bonfire Society Keith Leech said ‘The British were unable to take the US flag in 1812 but now we have ‘captured’ a piece of the flag pole and will carry it around to remind us of this part of our history. It was sent to us from the USA to burn but we couldn’t possibly do that when it will be much more fun to parade it around every year.’ In the 19th century people living on reclaimed land in Hastings declared themselves part of the USA in protest against local taxes. An area of Hastings is still known as the ‘America Ground’ and the Bonfire Society parade the Stars and Stripes on one of their banners to commemorate this. The piece of the Fort McHenry flag pole will be placed on this banner.
Hastings Bonfire is usually regarded as the first big Bonfire in the Sussex season. Although the rest of the country only celebrates Guy Fawkes on November 5th in Sussex the season runs for about 6 weeks. This is so each town and village can attend everybody else’s celebration. There are 32 towns and villages in the Sussex Bonfire Council. Hastings is unique because it has its celebration on the beach; the Hastings Borough Bonfire Society has been doing so for the past 149 years although it has grown over the past 12. Hastings boasts the largest bonfire in Sussex and one of the largest displays. There is always a secret effigy that is blown to pieces, usually a comment on local issues. Two years ago the celebrations were so large they could be seen from France and the Dieppe lifeboat was launched.
The event starts at 7.00pm with the lighting of the Hastings Beacon. The procession leaves around 7.15pm and 1066 torches are paraded around Hastings Old Town by members of Bonfire Societies from across Sussex in fancy dress. The procession then goes along the seafront to the town centre where at the Town Hall the Mayors of the Cinque ports, local MPs and Town criers of England (who participate in the national competition on the same day) join the procession to the beach. On the way to the beach the America ground is crossed and the Stars and Stripes banner lit. The Bonfire is lit at around 9.00pm by the Mayor and local MP Michael Foster. The traditional chant of ‘Remember Remember the Fifth of November’ is sung. The fireworks, (which cost £4000) are lit, followed by the effigy. Collections are made for local charities and at present all collections on the night are given away. The Bonfire Society are always disappointed that their efforts do not draw it more of a collection from the usually very large crowd. They believe this is because they think this is a municipal display paid from council tax. It is not, it is paid for by the volunteers themselves and local sponsors: although the assistance given by Hastings Borough Council is gratefully acknowledged.
Many Sussex Bonfires are being choked by too many spectators and the people of Lewes now actively ask spectators not to come. Given its location Hastings is one of the few Sussex Bonfires that still has the capacity to take large numbers of people.
Money is getting short and if the event is to continue more sponsorship will be needed next year.
The Bonfire Society asks people to remember that this is a traditional custom, not just a firework display and to stay safe. There will be fire, ash, smoke and a lot of noise, therefore wearing your best suit would be inadvisable. Children should be accompanied and not pushed to the front. Pets should be kept away and people of a nervous disposition should not attend. They ask that people do not bring their own fireworks, do not pick up any debris left on the road, do not cross safety barriers and that people keep away from the fire after the event because there are unexploded fireworks in the area and it is not safe. The Bonfire society cannot be held responsible for injury to people who deliberately cross safety barriers.
Keith Leech Press Officer HBBS
07947 43 9595