Gunpowder, treason and plot. Burning boats, a fire breathing dragon, a touch of anarchy – Rye bonfire night is almost here, continuing a tradition in Rye going back to the late 14th century. Rye – surrounded by the sea from three sides and a heavy stone wall on the other – was ransacked and burned to the ground by the French several times in this period, mainly because she was a member of the Cinque Ports Fleet. It was quite possible that when the townsfolk of Rye were outnumbered by the French, Ryers would set fire to their own vessels rather than risk them being captured.
In the 18th century, the boat burning continued – although without any threat from the French. For one night a year a reign of terror swept through the town. If there was a shortage of worn out boats for the boat burning, the men of the town would supplement the supply with boats moored at The Strand! As the town prepares to seal its streets, Rye Bonfire Boys (and girls) are planning a spectacular evening for the 13,000 and more people who are expected to line the streets on November 8.
The procession through the streets will involve 25 different performing organisations, including bonfire societies from all over Sussex, marching bands and local groups. The societies process in order of age – the oldest society first. Rye Bonfire Society members traditionally wear red and black stripes with painted faces, originally so the local constabulary would not recognise them!
The procession starts from Mason Road on the Tilling Green estate at 7.50pm and makes its way through the town before descending onto the Salts for the lighting of the bonfire at approximately 8.45pm followed by the grand fireworks display at 9pm. The name of this year’s Rye Fawkes is not yet confirmed. Rye Fawkes is the honoured guest who presides over the festivities and is chaired down to light the bonfire from the High Street. Previous Rye Fawkes have been Rye’s much loved Priscilla Ryan, Spike Milligan, Rod Hull and Emu, Paul McCartney, Vic Reeves, William Hartnell and most excitingly of all in 1956 Norman Fawkes, a direct descendant of the original Guy.
An effigy will be sacrificed on the bonfire. Its form is kept a closely guarded secret but it is always something appropriate and timely. The Rye Bonfire Society has raised and distributed many thousands of pounds of charity funding for good causes in and around Rye and needs to raise £10,000 a year to stage this spectacular event. They hope that you will enjoy immensely your visit to this year’s event and dig deep into your pockets for all that loose change to feed the collecting buckets. For more information including a procession map visit their website.
Photo: Tony McLaughlin