Saturday 13 November is Bonfire Night in Rye. An event not to be missed. Quieter and much less dangerous than years gone by, as Jimper’s Bonfire stories in his latest publication illustrate, but no less exhilarating.
The Bonfire Flag will fly proudly over the Landgate as is the tradition and some poor terrified celebrity will be chaired by Rye Firefighters through a throng of shouting and cheering spectators. The firecrackers will go off as he, or she, is carried through the Landgate above the heads of the vast crowd in Kings Street, then on to set fire to the huge pile of pallets reaching up into the night sky.
There will be many older folk in the vast crowd around the bonfire and watching the spectacular firework display who let the mind slip back over the years to those Bonfire events of years gone by.
After the last War the Rye Bonfire Society was made up of a group of men and women who had recently experienced the terrors and uncertainties of war. They had been bonded together by a common cause, to defeat Hitler and all he stood for.
Now these Ryers were determined to enjoy the peace and set out to make Rye Bonfire Night an event for young and old alike to enjoy. They became the entertainment leaders, not just on Bonfire night but on many other occasions throughout the year.
They held fantastic concerts, variety shows, fetes and appeared at every other town function, even doing the Father Christmas Delivery Service on Christmas morning. They had their own song, the words of which were forgotten over the years. “Rye’s Own” has done some research and, low and behold, discovered the words and melody on an old film soundtrack from the fifties. It would be a nostalgic gesture if the Rye group in this years procession were to sing the song as they paraded around the town.
We Are The Bonfire Boys
We are the Bonfire Boys
We are the Bonfire Boys
We know our manners
We collect the tanners
We are respected wherever we go
When we walk along Cinque Port Street
Doors and windows open wide
We’re the boys that make most noise
We’re the boys who built the Guy
We are the Bonfire Boys
The Famous Rye Bonfire Emblem
In the 1964 programme Chairman Bill Carey wrote: “We shall ever be indebted to Mrs. MacKechnie, the well known Rye artist, for the brilliant design of “The Burning Boat.” This emblem is now widely recognised as being synonymous with the Ancient Town of Rye. It is there to see each Bonfire Day, emblazoned on the Society Flag, as it stands out proudly above the Landgate. It has been reproduced on thousands of posters, programmes, letter headings, badges, in the press, both here and overseas, and more recently on ties and headscarves. We are justly proud of our badge of membership.”
The 1947 programme was filled with little anecdotes about the burning boat that was hauled around the streets.
‘A leading reporter of The Evening news is in the opinion that Rye’s “Burning of the Boats” has a pagan origin.’
‘ Rye Burns its Boats is a modern slogan but a very ancient custom. Tradition has it that whenever a boat was captured from the harrying Frenchmen of the 14th. century, it was hauled triumphantly through the cobbled streets and burnt in a prominent position as a warning to the marauders at sea.
It has been stated also that the Danes were similarly treated, but – it can be said that before Guido Fawkes made his effort – “RYE BURNT ITS BOATS”
“Many years ago, a worthy citizen, a member of a local shipping firm, was seen enthusiastically watching a torchlight parade in the midst of which a burning boat was being carried.
He was happily unaware that the boat was his own property and not so very old at that.” (Rambler of the Sussex Express).
‘A strenuous police effort to prevent the usual passage of the burning boat resulted in a cry for water. A bucket was hastily produced and the contents (paraffin) thrown on the flames.’
‘In the 1890’s the grandfather of our herring curer, Mr. Jarrett, lost a boat by fire on the ” fifth.”
Commencing with a donation of 5/- from the Mayor, grandad collected a sum £10. 5s., before accepting advice to stop.
The boat that was burned was worth approx. 50s.’
‘A wealthy resident of the High Street declined to subscribe to funds. On the great night a blazing boat was hauled through the town and broke adrift outside his newly painted house. Unfortunately, the heat was so great a chain could not be affixed and the boat was left to burn out. It is understood he became a regular subscriber in after years’
“The Vikings”- By Rye ShipyardWorkers – 1946
“Rye’s Own” November 2004
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