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Published: June 20th 2017
Geo: 51.5002, -0.126236
November 3 – 5: Guy Fawkes Day in Lewes
November 3, Thursday
Landed at Heathrow and made my way to
what would be my home for the next two weeks. This was the
International House of the University of Westminster, a university
residence hall located in the Lambeth borough of London. It is in the
Southwark area not too far from the Lambeth North (temporarily
closed) and the Waterloo underground and train stations and the
London Eye. I stayed in the same facility back in 2012 while
attending the Summer Olympic Games. The neighborhood is off the
tourist radar, and the residence hall is across the street from the
Imperial War Museum which is my most favorite museum in London.
November 4, Friday
The morning was spent walking through
the government district in Westminster; you know: Big Ben, 10 Downing
Street… The walk ended at the Horse Guards parade ground (note:
same place where beach volleyball was competed during the Olympics)
where the daily changing of the horse guard takes place. It was a
very impressive show. Although one could not walk up to the military
horses there were police horses nearby who were willing to be petted
by the public.
Photos: D1-0010 thru D1-0030.
At 2:00 I met the tour guide from
London Walks who was going to shepherd a group
of a dozen tourists on
a Sherlock Holmes tour. The weather was nasty so I was using the hood
of my rain coat. Unfortunately, the hood hindered my peripheral
vision so that when the group cross the Stand the guide zigged but I
zagged. After walking one block I realized that I had been separated
from the tour group. Back tracking didn’t achieve anything so I
called it quits for the day.
November 5, Saturday
Bonfire Night (aka Guy Fawkes Day) in Lewes
This is it. This is the day for which I
had been waiting for nearly two years.
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and
I know of no reason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid
To prove old England’s overthrow.
But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A number of years ago I read an article
in the Wall Street Journal about the town of Lewes which sees its
population grow from 15,000 people to 50,000 on November 5 as people
come from places
such as London (fifty miles away) to help celebrate
the largest Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night in the UK and perhaps the world.
There are seven bonfire societies in town of which six celebrate on
the 5th with processions and bonfires. Each society has
designated two outfits for the celebration; these include ancient
Greek and Roman warriors, French revolutionaries of 1789, Native
Americans, English civil war soldiers, Tudor royalty, Genghis Khan
and fellow Mongol warriors, American civil war soldiers. Did I leave
anyone out? This sounded so fascinating that I put it on my bucket
list, and lived it in 2016.
Because of severe parking restrictions
which includes blocking the roads in and out of town the main means
of getting into Lewes is on the train that goes from London to the
beach town of Brighton. However, this transportation method got
screwed up when the train operators union declared an “industrial
action” (i.e. “strike) for that weekend which meant that while
the London – Brighton train would still run it would not stop in
Lewes from between 12 noon on Saturday to 12 noon on Sunday.
Fortunately a meetup group chartered a bus from London to Lewes and
back so I paid the full fare even though I was only going to ride
back with them.
Mindful of the 12 noon deadline
Saturday I took an early train and arrived in Lewes around 11 am.
What a scene! Bonfire society members were on the street in either
full costume or wearing the default uniform of a striped sweater and
white pants. Shop owners were boarding their windows just like the
folks in Miami do when a hurricane blows through the town. From what
I have read the pubs have bouncers to keep out the non-locals or they
shut down for the day. One society had set up a life size statute of
Guy Fawkes with a cup in hand while one of its young members was
shouting “A penny for the Guy”. If you are a regular viewer of
the BBC Sherlock series you will remember the episode when Sherlock
and/or Watson are accosted by kids requesting a penny for the Guy and
Watson later ends up inside the bonfire. This tradition is fading
away as Halloween is taking over as the dominant celebration of the
Photos: D1-0040 thru D1-0090.
At 5 pm the processions (one for each
society and a combined one) started down the main street. There was a
remembrance ceremony at the World War I memorial in the center of
town. 2016 represents the 100 anniversary of the Battle of the Somme
where the British forces
had 60,000 casualties on one day so there
were fiery displays commemorating that. Somewhat reminiscent of a Ku
Klux Klan march there were society members carrying burning crosses;
however, these were to honor seventeen Protestants who were burned at
the stake by Catholics forces in Lewes over four hundred years ago.
The processions were family affairs. Kids maybe as young as ten years
old were marching with torch in hand. Altogether 26,000 torches are
burned tonight. I mentioned that one society dresses in French
revolutionaries outfits; this group pushed a small scale guillotine
through town (D1-0180). There were large scale effigies of the Pope
and of Donald Trump which were be tossed into one of the bonfires. In
recent years these have included Putin, Prime Minister David Cameron,
and disgraced soccer head honcho Sepp Blatter. I am sure that there
were many years when Margaret Thatcher effigies were burned.
Photos: D1-0095 thru D1-0190.
I connected with the meetup group and
we walked a mile to where the Waterloo bonfire society had its
bonfire. It was very crowded so we could not get close to the flames.
Looking at my photographs and videos I guess that the fire was maybe
15 – 20 feet in diameter. The evening ended with a decent fireworks
display that lasted as long as the
July 4 show at Seattle’s Lake
Union. The bonus is that we could see the fireworks shows of two
other nearby bonfire societies.
Photos: D1-0200 thru D1-0210
After the fireworks the group made its
way to where the bus was located for the two hour ride back to the
Chapham Station in southwest London.
What a day and night!
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