First Article Ever

The First Article from the First “Rye’s Own”

Bonfire Preparations for Rye Fawkes 1965

Preparations are now almost complete for the Annual pageant of Bonfire Night. There are many Guy Fawkes celebrations up and down the country but the Rye ceremony is unique. The most important event of the evening is not the burning of the guy but the burning of the boats. This ceremony goes back far beyond the time of Guy Fawkes’ attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament—some say it dates back to Viking times around the year 700, when, as legend has it, the people of Rye burned boats, captured from the Vikings, to warn off other possible intruders.

A much more probable starting date of this custom would have been the 14th century, when raids and counter attacks took place between the men of this Ancient Town and their French counterparts. Rye was ransacked and burned several times in this period of history, mainly because she was a member of the Cinque Ports Fleet which was at that time virtually the English navy. It is quite possible that when the locals were outnumbered by the French they burned their own boats to prevent them falling in enemy hands, Hence the expression “Rye burns its boats”.

Barrels of blazing tar sent rolling down Conduit Hill and the Mint were one of the hazards of Bonfire Night a hundred years ago. For one night of the year a reign of terror swept over the town.

Shops were bolted and barred and the windows heavily boarded and shuttered. Many of the more timid inhabitants fled the town for the night or locked themselves in their homes.

Black and White Minstrels 1964 Entered by Rye Womens Institute
Black and White Minstrels 1964 Entered by Rye Womens Institute

If there was a shortage of worn out hulks for the burning boat ceremony, the lads, loath to see their ancient tradition fade away, would supplement the supply with other odd vessels that happened to be moored in the Strand. Legend tells of a gentleman from Icklesham, gaily cheering the successive groups of men and blazing ships, when he noticed that the fine yacht ablaze from stem to stern had a familiar look about her. Too late, he realised he had been cheering the destruction of his own vessel.

The promotion of Bonfire Night in Rye is carried out by the Rye & District Bonfire Society, believed to be the oldest Bonfire Society in existence. Nowadays the Bonfire Society keeps well within the law but all the old traditions are still observed. Throughout the year, members raise funds to under~ take the enormous task of organising this most popular annual event. As the day draws near activities increase and the final preparations are made. A giant bonfire is built on the Town Salts, dozens of floats are decorated and lorries and tractors are transformed into all manner of weird and wonderful creations for the Grand Procession.

The famous Rye bloaters are prepared, lights burn far into the night in many local homes as needles and thread are brought into service and many colourful costumes are made ready for the Fancy Dress Parade.

In the early hours, long before daylight, the well known flag is hoisted over the Landgate. As soon as dawn creeps over the Town the flag is in sight to all. As the day progresses, visitors come into the town from near and far. At 7 p.m. the big moment has arrived. A sharp report of the maroon signals the start of the procession and from the Key members of the Bon distance comes the sound of bugles and drums as the

many bands that take part in the parade set the pace. The sounds draw nearer and soon the tableaux and floats are passing the town centre in a profusion of colour and sound, such as caññot be observed outside the walls of this ancient town.

The flaming torches stretch back as far as the eye can see. The crowds are thickest at the famous Landgate Tower as the colourful and noisy spectacle bursts through the great archway, that has survived fire and tempest through wars and bonfire night alike, from the very year of its erection to the present day, a feeling of carnival, festivity and revelry are in the air and unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

Many thousands of people line Hilders Cliff to watch the gigantic firework display and wait for the climax of this great evening—the burning boat. A well known celebrity sets fire to the massive pyre and an ear-splitting cheer goes up as the flames reach high up into the night sky.


For those who have never -witnessed a Rye Fawkes Pageant before, here are a few hints as to where to obtain the best vantage point.

The procession assembles at Tilling Green Estate at 6.15 p.m. and sets out on its journey round the Town at 7 p.m., via Ferry Road, Cinque Ports Street, Tower Street, High Street, The Mint, The Deals, Wish Street, Cinque Ports Street, Landgate and Bedford Place and then disperses. The fire­works display takes place on the Town Salts, a short distance from the bonfire at 8.30 p.m. The display lasts an hour. Rye Fawkes is chaired down Hilders Cliff to the Bonfire at 9.30 p.m.

As the procession travels twice along Cinque Ports Street, this is, of course, an obvious place from where to view but if you have small children it is wiser to watch in another street as Cinque Ports Street is rather vulnerable to street fireworks.

Those with cameras will get the best results at the Landgate Tower. This is also the spot chosen by the television people.

For those who want to see everything without having to move about, the best point is the Lookout on Hilder’s Cliff. From here the entire pageant can be seen—alipost from beginning to end.

The famous Rye bloaters will be on sale at the corner of the Salts, opposite Bryan’s Garage prom the special Bloater Boat.


Pamela Duncan, better known as Sister Doughty of Emergency Ward 10, will be lifted into the now famous sedan chair at 9.30 p.m. on the 6th November and set off down Hilders Cliff to “doctor” the Rye bonfire. She will be treading the footsteps of many famous people—Noel Whitcombe and Alfie “Bootsie” Bass—to name but two, that in the past have successfully accomplished this formidable task. Several other members of the Emergency Ward 10 team will also be present to judge the floats and fancy dress in the procession.

Rye Bonfire Boys 1965
Rye Bonfire Boys 1965


Rye & District Bonfire Society formed to celebrate in traditional manner the ancient customs and divers uses of “The Fifth”.

Also to give practical assistance to any charitable organisation and to work for the well being of all people who live in and about ~Rye Royal’ .

Reprinted from the very first “Rye’s Own” November 1965