Northiam Bonfire Society is proudly part of the Sussex Bonfire tradition. Although we reformed as recently as 2012, we celebrate the deep history of the region, thankful that our modern events focus on family and unity rather than the cultural and social divisions of earlier times.
Our story and history is detailed below, after a video of our main event...
Northiam Bonfire 2022
Today's Northiam Bonfire Society came into being in 2012 as a direct result of the goodwill surrounding the village celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. Having organised a weekend celebrating our recent history and revelling in our community spirit, we felt that forming a Bonfire Society would enable villagers to embrace the Sussex Bonfire traditions and provide a focus for fun and fundraising. Nick Searle took the initiative, contacted Sussex Bonfire Council, and called us all together on Monday 10th December when the Society was formally founded.
Over the years the annual Bonfire Procession and Fireworks has become a very popular event in and around Northiam and now regularly attracts crowds in excess of 3,000. To raise the necessary funds the Society also organises a number of other events throughout the year and these have also become popular, emphasising the fact that any NBS event is well worth attending.
Each year, the street collection at the event is in aid of local good causes.
Northiam Bonfire History
Word had it that there was a Bonfire Society in Northiam in earlier times, but until very recently no proof could be found. However, by searching back through local newspapers we have found that the Society has quite a history.
In November 1882, the Hastings & St Leonards Observer reported on
“The first demonstration of the Northiam Bonfire Boys… At 7.30 the members of the Society met on the Green in front of the Six Bells Inn and, headed by their banner and the Northiam Brass Band, paraded the village in full costume. The principal character of the evening was Sir Garnet Wolseley on his splendid charger. Returning to the Green, a grand display of fireworks took place and a large bonfire was lighted, in which Guy Fawkes was burnt. Everything was carried out in a satisfactory manner. It is estimated that there were 1,000 persons present.”
By 1892 the event is referred to as a carnival.
“The spectacle was of a more imposing character than any of its predecessors. There was the usual perambulation of the village, and the proceedings closed with the igniting of a large pile of combustibles in Doman’s Park (kindly lent by Mr Piper)”.
A week later it was reported that Mr Johnson & Mr Edwards, both grocers of Northiam were in court having been found storing 46lb of gunpowder without a licence!
Two Society members were up before the bench in 1906. Thomas Larkin & Charles Dunk were charged with “being attired in the King’s uniform whilst not serving in the military forces” at the bonfire celebrations. This was in breach of the recent Uniforms Act, to which both men pleaded ignorance. The Chairman of the Bench (Col. Frewen) considered this not to be a serious offence and so let them off with costs of 5s 6d each.
The idea of collecting for good causes was introduced and in 1910 it is reported that the Society gave £3-10s-9d to East Sussex Hospital. These contributions seem to have continued until 1925 when the Society folded.
Nine years later in 1934 the Society was up and running again. At their annual supper at the Crown & Thistle, Captain Cyster (President) said “He was pleased to see the revival of the Bonfire Society after a lapse of nine years. A great deal of work was involved in organising the carnival, and the members and committee had carried out that work well”. He read out letters of thanks from the Earl Haig Appeal Fund and the Northiam British Legion.
For the next few years the Society continued to donate to the East Sussex Hospital, giving over £10 in 1935 and again in 1937, which is the last mention we have found of the Society to date. Presumably its activities were curtailed by the war. If any resident has any further information or photographs of bonfires past, we would be delighted to hear from them.