Rye Bonfire Report 2011

Saturday 12 November saw the usual suspects out on the streets of Rye. Jimper, John Izod, Paul Carey and the gang were out organising, marshalling and collecting cash in large buckets for local charities.

It was the regular ‘night of fire’ Ryers have become accustomed to. A spectacular torchlight procession, sensational fireworks display and huge bonfire.

Ewhurst Bonfire Society 2011 RO Dec 2011Bonfire Societies from all over East Sussex attended with large contingents of members dressed in the individual ‘uniform’ of their group.

In contrast to days gone by it was an entertaining free family orientated celebration, not like the ones in days long gone when a wealthy resident in the High Street declined to subscribe to Bonfire Funds. On the great night a blazing boat was hauled through the town and broke adrift immediately outside his newly painted house. Unfortunately the heat was so great that a chain could not be affixed and the boat was left to burn out. It is understood that he became a regular subscriber…

A strenuous police effort to prevent the usual passage of a burning boat resulted in a cry for water. A bucket was hastily produced and the contents (paraffin) thrown on the flames.Bonfire 2011


In former days, six special constables were sworn in for ‘the fifth’. Four played cards and two kept a look out for the regular police.

The famous Burning Boat emblem that appears on the programme each year was designed by Mrs. Mackehnie in 1946.

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 in 1377.


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.

The events in Rye between 1840 to 1889 were, by some accounts ‘ a time of terror for many inhabitants’. There were running battles with the local police force and many extra constables had to be brought in from outside the area to keep any resemblance of control.Rye Bonfire RO Dec 2011

There has by tradition been verbal conflict between Bonfire Societies and the Sussex Police. Even to the point of effigies of local Police Chiefs being blown to pieces as the fire was ignited.

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.