Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November


Don’t Miss this Year’s Great Event

Rye’s Bonfire celebrations could be older than Guy Fawkes himself. Some say that celebrations with bonfires in Rye were first held to commemorate the young men of the town’s retaliatory raid against the French in 1378 when they returned to wreak revenge, burning and pillaging and snatching back the Church Bells which had been stolen the year before.

Descriptions of the 1840 to 1889 Rye Fawkes Celebrations when burning boats were dragged around the town, seems a re-enactment of the 1378 raid when Ships laden with burning barrels of tar were dragged around the streets.

Kaddie Bonfire 06 Bonfire 1 Fire Rye Bonfire Nov 2005 Rye Bonfire 2005

The November Fifth events in Rye between 1840 and 1889 were, by some accounts, “A time of terror for many inhabitants”. There were two Bonfire Societies who fought running


battles with each other and the local police force when it got in their way. Many extra constables had to be brought in from outside the area to keep any semblance of control. Even then there was still much trouble and damage to property

Up to 1894 boats were stolen from their moorings and dragged burning around the town and barrels of burning tar were rolled down Conduit Hill.

Fortunately today’s celebrations have lost the “terror” element although, until very recently, the tradition of verbal conflict between Bonfire Societies and the Sussex Police continued. Even since the Millennium a disagreement between the Bonfire Boys and the ‘Boys in Blue’ resulted in an effigy of the Rye Police Chief being blown to pieces as the fire was ignited on The Salts.

There is only one burning boat now, and even that is very tame affair compared to those in fairly recent times. As late as 1970 the burning boat was always followed in the procession by the Fire Engine, just in case!

The Original Dragon of Rye
The Original Dragon of Rye

The Dragon of Rye was the brainchild of Gerry Bellhouse who owned the garage beside Monkbretton Bridge. The Dragon, an amazing feat of engineering, was built at the garage and hit the streets around 1949. It was sensational, breathing fire in spurts more than five foot long. It was improved the following year by building a model of Rye over the Dragons back, depicting him coming out of a large cave. It soon became a hit and top prizewinner in Carnivals and Bonfire processions throughout the area.

The photograph of the Dragon of Rye was taken by one of Rye’s greatest artists, David Sharp, and was kindly loaned by Ben Sharp.

Bloaters from the Boat
Bloaters from the Boat

Today’s torchlight processions are in some ways different from those of the 1945-75 events. Then the procession was made up of 20 – 30 tableau, four or five marching bands, children in fancy dress, a ‘Bloater Boat’, Burning Boat and cascades of ‘bangers’ let off in the streets.

These days the excitement of the night is retained but in a less dangerous form. There are numerous marching groups in fancy dress from other Bonfire Societies carrying flaming torches, drum bands, dancing groups and some floats. There is a new ‘Dragon of Rye’ not quite so fearsome as his predecessor, in fact he has got the nickname of ‘Jolly Green Dragon’, but he is, none the less, a marvellous attraction and a credit to those who have built him.

Personalities from all walks of life have been persuaded to light Rye bonfire over the years. In recent times two of the most popular were ‘Kaddie’ the BBC Television weather girl and Joe Brown of ‘Fire’ fame.


One of the most spectacular scenes was when Joe Brown was carried by Rye Fireman in the famous chair down Landgate with red flares issuing a bright red glow and amplifiers and large speakers blasting out Joe’s famous hit “Fire”.

This year’s event takes place on 11 November. It is a great family night out. The entertainment is FREE but do bring a pocketful of change to fill the collection boxes, it all supports local charities.

“Rye’s Own November 2006

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