Rye Fawkes In Our Time

Sixty years ago in 1945 the Second World War had just reached it’s terrible conclusion with the discovery of the death camps in Europe and the dropping of two atom bombs on Japan.

The British military survivors of the six year conflict had returned home to their families and were picking up the pieces. By November they were looking to have fun again and the Rye Fawkes Pageant was revived in that same year.

The Mayor of Rye, Alderman J. Cooper, announced that “The people of Rye and their neighbours have experienced many grim incidents of the War during my term of office. A ‘Guy Fawkes Pageant’ should help to recapture some of those joyous moments of the past that are so worthy of preservation.”

In the offices at “Rye’s Own” is a battered file which bears the title ‘Bonfire Nights 1946-53. Contained therein is a treasured 1946 programme which says so much about Rye at that time. It records the names of the men and women who were the heart and sole of the town. Ernie Odell the Cycle Man, Alfred Horner who was to become one of the greatest Mayor’s this town has ever seen, Arthur Paine, Jim Pilcher, George Pope, W. Clark, Mrs. M. H. Mackechnie, E. H. Stutely, J. H. Langton, Reginald Prebble, John Winter, Clifford Bloomfield, Bobby Edwards, Frank Taylor, Walter Dawes, Miss J. Downey, C. Standen, Vic Clark, Miss J. Larkin, Mrs. J. Lee, L. Adair, Mrs. Ashbee, Mrs. W. Bodilly, Ernie Goddard, Frank Small, Mrs. Stonham, P. Jempson, Miss Lister, Les Page, Frank Bourne and Sonny Martin to name just a few.

New Ryers may not recognise many of these names but those who have been around a while will recall most of them with great fondness.

The Bonfire celebrations were a much less inhibit ed event than those we know today. There were few regulations, no insurance and the whole thing was run on a lot of common sense, good luck and the ability of the Rye Fire Brigade to cope with any problems.

In 1945 one of the tableaux, “Mutiny on the Bounty” suffered bad luck. Coloured flares set light the sails and the blaze necessitated the attention of the National Fire Service (as it was still known) who were handicapped by the fire igniting a large number of fireworks in the boat. (‘Twas a grand show!)

In 1947 the Firework display was staged by Joseph Wells & Son ‘Sole Pyrotechnists to Henley Royal Regatta’, the programme proudly announced. Efforts were made to entice Sir Winston Churchill to become Rye Fawkes in 1953. Sadly he declined the offer. He had possibly heard of the terrifying trip that each occupier of that sedan has to endure going to and coming back from the giant pyre. Indeed, when the famous musical comedy actress Evelyn Laye was announced in the programme it did also state she would present the prizes at Bryan’s Garage IF she survived the trip.

By 1953 the ‘Dragon of Rye’ with a ten foot long tongue of flame shooting from it’s mouth with a terrifying roar, had been introduced to the procession. It was such a brilliant creation it was taken from town to town winning prize after prize. These days he would not be welcome by ‘Health and Safety’ and would be banned from the streets. Today we have his much gentler grandson, the Jolly Green Dragon.

Of the fifty or so advertisers in the 1953 programme only four businesses still exist. Adams, Frank Goulden’s, Dennis the Ironmongers and Rose Anne. Alas so many old Rye firms are no more.

This year’s event will be its usual colourful success but those that remember the crisp November nights of yesteryear will recall those great figures and characters who lit up the night on the fifth in days gone by.

From “Rye’s Own “ November 2005

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