EASTBOURNE BONFIRE SOCIETY
The modern day Sussex Bonfire Societies trace their origins back to the 16th century martyrs and the 17th century “Gunpowder Plot” Hence the Bonfire Prayer “Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November . . . “
Eastbourne Bonfire Society was originally formed in 1855 and was joined by the Old Town & Upperton District in 1881. Other societies followed, namely the East Ward, St Mary’s Ward, Old Town, and in 1892, The Butcher Boys. In 1893 however, EBS changed its name to the Original Bonfire Boys and celebrated on Nov. 9th to coincide with the Lord Mayor’s Day. This left them free to go to Lewes on 5th and for the Lewes Societies to come to EBN on 9th. The West Ward was formed in 1894 giving a total of Seven societies. However a few years later only two of these were still operational and the celebrations ceased to be celebrated on such a grand scale early in the 20th century.
The Old Town rekindled in the 1950s and changed their name to Eastbourne Bonfire Society in 1964, only to dissolve in 1966 when the treasurer ran off with their funds.
During the past century, regular bonfire celebrations in Eastbourne were scarce. But in 2001, a group of residents and bonfire enthusiasts, supported by the then Duke of Devonshire as Society President, and with Cannon Charles Lansdale as Chaplain, set out to rekindle some of the old traditions. Our current President is Stephen Lloyd.
Grand plans were made for this most ambitious event and it was decided that the RNLI would benefit from the charitable collections. But despite several major setbacks and several cancellations, then Chairman Derek Legg argued a strong case against health and safety executives, town bosses and East Sussex Highways but to no avail.
When the main site at Eastbourne seafront fell through at the last minute, a scaled down procession took place, with support from several visiting societies including Hastings, Cliffe and South Street at the back-up site at Pevensey in Church Farm Field.
2002 saw new and exciting problems when the Police and emergency services refused to support the event in Eastbourne because of the free Brighton beach concert put on by DJ Fat Boy Slim. Understandably this massive non ticketed event had caused some major problems, but as the EBS Chairman rightly stated “Something which takes place in Brighton with a DJ in the middle of Summer is slightly different to something in Eastbourne in the middle of Winter”. Plans were agreed to hold the event on the Seafront near Princes Park & Fort Fun, but this had to be cancelled when the Fire Service proposed a strike on the day and the Police withdrew their support. A decision to celebrate instead at the previous year’s Pevensey site was dealt a serious blow, when a group of residents and local farmers had complained that the procession had caused noise and distress. So sadly the event was called off, an we became a “Walking Society” taking part in other bonfire events throughout the county.
Polegate Town Council had initially backed EBS for the 2003 celebrations, but again East Sussex County Council refused their consent. The local farmer refused permission to use his field for the fireworks and some residents vociferously opposed the event.
2005 saw a massive swing of support for Eastbourne Bonfire Society. With donations still going to local charities, EBS began to gain more support within the community. This year, the event was to be held at Fort Fun in partnership with Eastbourne Borough Council.
In 2009 Eastbourne held its procession on the Lower Prom from the Wish Tower to the Pier & back to the Bandstand, with the beacon & fireworks on the Bathing Beach. This successful event allowed 2010 to follow the same route and help EBS in building a good reputation.
At last in 2011 we were given permission to walk on the road from Fishermen’s Green to the Bathing Beach Fire Site, and still light the beacon! The newspaper reports were filled with praise from the public and support for EBS.
After discussions with the Environment Agency in 2012 it was agreed to let us have a bonfire on the beach. As the Greensand reef is a Site of Specific Scientific Interest, EBS had to ensure that no permanent pollution or damage was caused. This year also saw the “EBS Rocks the Redoubt” a highly successful fund raising event for Eastbourne Bonfire Society, Delmeza Children’s Hospice, Canine Partners and WRAS. The public in EBS was so positive that, in April, we were presented with Eastbourne Herald Leisure & Tourism Attraction Of The Year Award. A fantastic bonfire night was enjoyed by thousands of spectators and was reported as “…the most spectacular display yet.”
2013 saw the start of the procession move to the Crown & Anchor, our new headquarters, and the adoption of two phases; first we walk East & return and then walk westwards to the bonfire site. However when insurance costs escalated and sponsorship was hard to find, Southern Water stepped in and offered their support which was greatly appreciated and saved celebrations for that year.
2014 saw the first Steampunk Festival and Grand Ball organised by the Eastbourne and Hailsham Steampunkers Industrial Pioneers which was funded by EBS. This event was a great success and helped to raise funds for bonfire night and promote Steampunk culture. It was also a year of remembrance as EBS showed their respect in commemoration of 100 years since the start of World War 1. A beach firepainting of poppies was constructed and War Poetry was read out.
The success of the Steampunk Festival was built upon for 2015, with a wider range of entertainment and stalls and was generally well received by the public. This year also marked the 410 anniversary of the failed Gunpowder Plot! At the fire site, the public were welcomed to the Sunshine Coast to see our spectacular Sun effigy, which featured on the front cover of the 2016 programme.
And so to 2017….As our membership grows, so does our desire to be bigger and better and improve on the previous year and build an event bigger spectacular event for our community and for those visiting Eastbourne on the night of our Bonfire procession. The Steam Punk festival www.steampunkfestival.co.uk, continues to go from strength to strength and is now an established EBS event in the calendar. We will continue to tirelessly support our chosen charities and raise awareness and as much money as possible on their behalf, and continue to light Eastbourne for our tradition and for our community.