By Maxim Rickard
The Cuckfield Bonfire and Fireworks - this year to be held Saturday 7th November - is in its 29th year. Or is it?
The bonfire event as we know it today was established after the great storm of 1987. However, it seems the village has a bonfire history dating back to the 1800s. We are grateful to Cuckfield resident and local historian Andy Revell who has unearthed some newspaper clippings that tell of earlier celebrations on a grand scale.
Hastings and St Leonards Observer - Saturday 11th November 1876
CUCKFIELD – The Fifth of November was celebrated here on Monday by the Bonfire Club, the town being crowded with visitors from all parts, it being calculated that not less than 2000 persons were present. The main procession started from the Rose and Crown, the Bonfire Boys’ head quarters, soon after 8 pm. There was a capital display of fireworks during the evening, and the proceedings were conducted with strict propriety and decorum, the members of the club, which is well supported, acting as special constables to keep order, and everything passed off quietly.
Agricultural Express - Friday 7th November 1890
CUCKFIELD GUY FAWKES DAY – Guy Fawkes Day was not by any means forgotten, the Cuckfield Bonfire Society carrying out a very successful demonstration. Shortly after seven the first procession was formed at the Rose and Crown. Headed by the Burgess Hill Fire Brigade and the Cuckfield Town Band the processionists, completely disguised in the most fanciful of costumes, carrying torches and accompanied by blazing tar-barrels, paraded the streets.
The costumes were of the most varied character— policemen, soldiers and sailors, Highlanders, Zulus His Satanic Majesty, King Charles and Henry VIII’s.
The procession marched to the King’s Head Hotel and the White Hart Inn, and after brief rest, retraced its way back to the Rose and Crown. In a meadow close by the head quarters a bonfire was lit, and amid general rejoicing, much cheering, and display of fireworks, Guy Fawkes was consigned to the flames.
More recently what started in 1987 as a response to a natural disaster has since developed into one of the village’s major annual fundraising events.
An enthusiastic committee plan the event - a huge task given today’s complex health and safety, insurance and public order needs - with the aim to run a safe, spectacular and fun evening and raise money for good causes.
Written into the constitution of the Cuckfield Bonfire Society is that all funds raised, after costs, go to young people in education locally. Over the years, many thousands of pounds have been raised for Holy Trinity Primary School, Cuckfield; Woodlands Meed Special School; Kangaroos in Haywards Heath; Cuckfield Playgroup; and the Cuckfield Museum.
The event has grown to the point where we can be hosting upwards of 6,000 people who require access to the site, viewing areas and a wide range of refreshment choices - all safely and efficiently delivered. We couldn’t do this without some 45 additional volunteers who help with car parking, site security and marshalling the firework and bonfire areas.This year’s event will be held on Saturday 7th November with gates opening 6pm, bonfire lit 6.45pm and fireworks to music at 7.30pm. The event is being held in the beautiful grounds of Cuckfield Park, courtesy of the Mayou family.
Visitors can expect the usual HUGE bonfire decorated with many Guys made by the children of Holy Trinity Primary. Bright FM’s roadshow gets things swinging until the bonfire is lit - by tradition by the newly elected Mayor of Cuckfield - followed by a professionally run firework display, choreographed to music. There will be a host of food and drink stands raising money for the stallholders’ own good causes and, as you would expect at a family event, strictly no alcohol.
A fantastic evening in prospect for all the family and, with such a rich history and worthy causes to benefit, this is surely a village tradition worth supporting.