A brief history of South Heighton Bonfire Society
South Heighton has for many many years (more than those originally involved would care to admit!) had a firework display. Once upon a time, before safety was an issue, it was held behind the Village Hall (a space so small you probably wouldn’t even be allowed to set off the display there now, let alone have people standing by watching it!) and the fireworks discharged by some of the more foolhardy members of the village hall committee. Later, obviously for safety reasons, it was moved to the recreation ground which has since become the SHBS fire site.
In 2002 the village hall committee decided that it would be a great idea to have some sort of ‘procession’ (and I use this term lightly)! A few people (they shall remain nameless to protect the guilty) got together in costume with a few ‘torches’ – heavy lumps of wood with petrol soaked MDF nailed on the top (safety has always been our number one priority!) We marched from the village green past (!) the Hampden Arms and down the Hollow to the accompaniment of the famous South Heighton ‘bell with no donger’. We proceeded to light the bonfire and then the fireworks were set off.
At some point soon after this an odd (very odd) few of those present in the procession, who had survived to tell the tale, were having a drink (just the one of course…) in the pub when they thought that actually starting up an official bonfire society as a sub committee of the village hall would be fantastic. These things always do seem like a good idea after a few!
Early in 2003 a meeting was set up at the Flying Fish and South Heighton Bonfire Society was born. A group of people had come together with an interest in bonfire; some were ignorant of Sussex bonfire tradition, some had been/were members of other societies, some just loved fireworks, some were nuts and some had turned up for the pub quiz on the wrong day!
That year we staged our first march through the village, allowing anybody in the village to join in, dress up and carry a torch. We proceeded to the firesite where Nevill Bonfire Society gave us (and incidentally still do give us) a fantastic firework display. It was a great success, the village loved it and the village hall committee, who provided the cash, made a small excess for the first time in ages.
In 2004 the society started going to out meetings with other bonfire societies. The first was Uckfield (traditionally the first march of the season) in September; there were only four members but over the year more started going and a good time was had by all. The climax of the year was when SHBS was invited to march in Lewes on 5th November as guests of Waterloo Bonfire Society. A new improved banner was made and about 30-40 members turned out and a fantastic night was had by all.
Another great season followed in 2005 with some important improvements to our own night – it was once again hard work but a great success. We even hired a minibus to go to out meetings and some of us went as far afield as Hastings. Once again we were lucky enough to be Waterloo’s guest on 5th November. This time we hired a coach so we could all travel together in style (the previous year the current chairman and two other members ended up on the last train home complete with the banner – we’re such a bunch of professionals!).
Since starting the society has gone from strength to strength and we now have around 200 adult and 70 junior members. The procession has got more organised and now, for safety and insurance purposes, only members of SHBS and invited guests can join in and carry torches. We are constantly fundraising and planning the next year’s event.
All volunteers, pressed men and women, and people who don’t understand the question are welcome. Seriously, we need your help if we are to build on the success of previous years. Staging a bonfire march is hard work – raising funds, torch making, marshalling our procession, setting up the fire site etc.
South Heighton Bonfire Society needs you!
Roger (Jolly) Clayton, Chairman