Have fun and help others – That should be the motto of the Rye Bonfire Society. Already, just a few weeks after their fantastic efforts on Rye Fawkes Night, where all the money collected is presented to local charities, they are back on the streets raising money to for the 2005 Celebrations.
Many thousands of pounds have to be raised to put on the spectacular free event which is considered to be one of the best in the country. There will be raffles, fete’s, coffee mornings and possibly another Auction of Promises which proved so popular last year.
Rye’s tradition of ‘Bonfire’ goes back even further than Guy Fawkes. Burning boats were dragged in procession through the streets of the town as far back as 1400. It may well have started after the successful return raid on the French the year after the dastardly attack on Rye by a French raiding party whose unmerciful act of rape, pillage, burning and theft of the Church Bells left the town in a sorry plight.
The following year the men of Rye, aided by their good friends from Winchelsea, returned the compliment and retrieved the bells. They also seized the French boats and burned them in the streets. This may well have been the start of the tradition of dragging a burning boat through the streets of Rye on Bonfire Night, a tradition which continues, under the jurisdiction of Rye Bonfire Society, until this day.
Safety regulations have limited the spectacle of ‘the burning boat.’ Fifty years ago it was a blazing inferno, often scorching the paint off doors in the narrow areas of The Mint and melting the plastic covering off telephone wires above, for safety sake it brought up the rear of the procession and was always followed closely by Rye Fire Brigade. Fireworks were exploded in the streets and bloaters were served from another old boat that was dragged around with and open fire on which the fish were cooked. One Hundred years ago it was even more dangerous to watch the processions and antics of the late Victorian and Edwardian antics of the “Fifth”.
Several blazing boats were towed through the streets. There were more than one bonfire society and rivalries among them led to pitched battles. Barrels of burning tar were rolled down Conduit Hill and Market Road many took the opportunity to settle old scores, one man cheered as a blazing vessel was dragged through Cinque Ports Street, until he realised, to his horror, that the yacht that was burning from stem to stern belonged to him!
‘Bonfire’ has come a long way in 100 years.
“Rye’s Own” January 2005
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