“But it’s fireworks night, we’ve got to stay.” I was confused. It was the middle of October and definitely not 5th November. But I was in Hastings for the weekend and about to have another encounter with the Bonfire Societies of Sussex.
These bonfire societies have been going since the 19th century and have a fireworks celebration down to a tee. You hear it before you can see it, and smell it before you can see it. The first indication of the procession of torches is the drumming. You can feel as well as hear the beating of the drums. Mostly it’s a steady beat, with the occasional group jazzing it up with a carnival rhythm. This isn’t your usual fireworks party, with some sparklers in a muddy field. Covering the whole of the town centre, you can’t escape it and I found myself almost marching in time.
The smell of smoke and burning torches is the next give away, and then you can see the torches.
Society members with their faces painted and resembling everything from skulls, pirates, devils and almost any kind of creature you can imagine process in their groups. Each has their own drummers and they are easily distinguished by a uniform of varying striped jerseys.
The streets are packed and it’s a family atmosphere, despite the numerous pubs along the route. At the third time of passing, I thought I was accustomed to the noise, but the local society decided to release some big bangs – you might want to consider bringing ear plugs.
There’s definitely a special breed who gets involved with this, but what better way to spend you autumn evenings than travelling between villages supporting this age-old event. Sparkling flares, smiling faces and a true feeling of tradition and history – and that’s before the fireworks started.