Lindfield Bonfire Society members are very proud of the long tradition of bonfire in Lindfield. The earliest records of 5th of November celebrations in Lindfield date back to 1881. There were the customary street fires, dragging of tar barrels and much riotous behaviour.
There used to be three bonfires in Lindfield: one on the Common, one outside the Bent Arms and a third in front of the Red Lion. The bonfire boys were an unruly lot and would burn anything they could lay their hands on. There is a report that one year a gentleman who was cheering the boys on to keep adding fuel to the fire discovered the next morning that the wood had been appropriated from his own garden!
During the celebration at the end of the Siege of Mafeking in 1900, things got really out of hand when a wagon loaded with wood attempted to pass the bonfire outside the Bent Arms. The horses were set loose, and the wagon and its load were put into the fire and destroyed. The paint on the Bent Arms was left blistered and ruined. The result of this mayhem was that 20 men were fined half a crown each.
Ordinarily, the Police stood by and allowed the riotous behaviour to continue, unable or unwilling to interfere. The authorities usually had to remove the toll gates for safe keeping on the night of the 5th, but in 1884 the road was converted into a parish road, and tolls ceased to be collected. To the rejoicing of the local people the gates were finally removed from use and the bonfire boys were allowed to break them up and burn them on their fires all around the village.
Finally, in 1894, following pressure from disgruntled locals and the authorities, the Lindfield Bonfire Society was formed with the aim of holding an organised display in the village every 5th of November. The tradition continued through the 1900s, but was suspended during the First World War. During the 1920s and 30s the Anscombe family
were instrumental in keeping the celebration going, and the highlight in 1935 was a giant set piece featuring the Loch Ness Monster! Celebrations were also suspended for the duration of the Second World War, though there was a small celebration in 1945 to mark the end of the war.
During the 1950s the bonfire building began at least a week before the big night, and there are reports of the bonfire being set ablaze by hooligans prior to the 5th, followed by frantic rebuilding. In the 1960s Bonfire Night continued to be widely supported, especially in 1960 when Lewes had to cancel their celebrations due to flooding – the Lindfield fire was lit that night by 400 torches!
As the 1970s progressed, the Society nearly folded due to a severe lack of members – a problem we also face today. In 1979 the set piece was a spectacular windmill with moving sails. In the 1980s Martin Durrant began to build the Guy which has topped 15 feet high on occasion. Indeed, there was one year when the Guy couldn’t join the procession because it was too tall to go under the telephone lines on the route!
We are now into the 21st century, and determined to continue the tradition of bonfire celebrations in Lindfield. On the night of the 5th November we hold a children’s fancy dress competition attended by many local children whose ingenuity never ceases to amaze. We have seen Harry Potter, a postbox and letters, Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, Flower Pot Men, and even a Viking Invasion! If your children enjoy dressing up then please encourage them to enter – it really is great fun. We also welcome anyone from the local community to come along and enjoy the show.
After the Fancy Dress we form up for the procession, and encourage all the children who have dressed up to join in and walk with us. We set off with the Band and flaming torches from Pondcroft down Black Hill and along Hickmans Lane past The Witch Inn public house. The route continues along Pickers Green to join the High Street opposite Malling Priory where we turn right and march down the High Street to the Common. Once on the Common the bonfire is lit and the fireworks begin.
The cost of this event rises every year, as has the regulatory burden. Lindfield Bonfire Society is a non-profit making organisation, and in order to survive and entertain we rely upon the support of the local community, both financially and practically. Throughout the year we hold fundraising events to raise funds for the night. On the night of the celebrations, our street collection proceeds are donated to local children’s charities