A BRIEF HISTORY OF

BATTLE BONFIRE

photo by Roz South

1646

Earliest currently known records of an organised Bonfire Celebration in the Town of Battel. St Marys Church allocated 2 shillings and 6 pence in funds for gunpowder treason rejoicing. 

1676

 (approx) – John Hammond (Church Warden), Turns the Peppering Eye Watermill into a Gunpowder mill, and was believed to have been the first gunpowder mill in Battle and the town went on to be known as the finest gunpowder makers in England, `best perhaps in Europe`, supplying even the Royal Navy with gunpowder, along with Oak and other timbers. This remained open until 1874 when the Duke of Cleveland Refused to renew the licence to make gunpowder.

1686

Church Wardens, Thomas Longley and John Hammond are in charge of allocating St Mary’s Church Funds and allot 17 Shillings and 6 Pence for Gunpowder treason rejoicing.

1795

(approx) – The Head of the Battel Bonfire Guy is created, carved from a local tree. The Bodies were burnt yearly until approx. 1908.

1830

(approx)- Earliest known Chairman, William Brett, takes control of the Battle Bonfire Boys, Predating the forming of other societies in Sussex by at least 10 years. William Brett is Chairman until at least 1871.

1851

Using an Etching of Sussex Martyrs being burnt, Sussex Historian, Mark Antony Lower of Lewes, reprints and edits John Foxe’s account in the `Book of Martyrs` and creates the Cult of Sussex Martyrs, basing events on Battle Bonfire Celebrations. However, he does not directly create Lewes Bonfire, it began the following year, by his `followers`, and he publicly disapproved of the excesses of Bonfire Boys.

1857

Earliest known subscription list is attached to the yearly address. Subscription rate varies between 5 shillings to 1 shilling.

1870

Earliest Known Battle Bonfire Effigy is created and blown up. This Effigy was of John Jones, the Denham Murderer.

1871

Earliest mention of Saxon Fancy Dress being worn as a Costume in the Battle Bonfire Procession. It officially became the Main Costume in the early 1970s

1906

Sussex Country Council ban bonfires near public Highways. Battel Bonfire Boyes rename themselves ‘Battle Hill Bonfire Boys’ and move to Battle Hill, just outside of the town, and away from the public highway. This lasts a short time before renaming to ‘Battle & Battle Hill Bonfire Boys’ and then back to ‘Battle Bonfire Boys’.

1908

(approx) – A new Guy Body is created by Mr Barrow, owner of Battle Antiques.

1939

From the Start of the World War 2 Blackouts, most Bonfire Societies disband until the end of the Blackouts around 1945. However, the Battle Bonfire Boyes remain active and are allowed to place a single candle in the Bull ring, where the Bonfire should be located, every November 5th.

1940s – 1950s

The current body to the Guy is created.

1950s

The Homemade ‘Battle Rouser’ Firework is banned.

1976

Trustees of the Webster estate sell Battle Abbey. In the end, it is brought by American benefactors for £636,200 and hand over to the Department of the Environment. This was later taken over by the Historic Building and Monuments Commission for England (English Heritage), when it was created in 1983.

1981

Battel Bonfire Boyes have to start charging money for the yearly programme.

1984

Because of high police marshalling of the Battel Bonfire Boyes at Rye Bonfire the previous year, the society adopt a secondary uniform, that of a classic style Convict.

1989

Due to bad weather the last few years and a total raised amount 75p, The Annual Summer Fayre is cancelled after the last one. These were later brought back in 2007.

1990

Ex-Vice Chairman, John Goldsmith, leaves the Battel Bonfire Boyes to reform Robertsbridge Bonfire Society with Kate Noble.

1991

Monthly Meetings are moved from the Priory House Hotel, to the 1066 Public House. The Year also marks the Last Fun Run until 2009.

1995

Keith Leech & John Beeching of Battel Bonfire Boyes reform Hastings Borough Bonfire Society.

1996

Due to building work at the Abbey Battel Bonfire Boyes reluctantly leave the Abbey Green and hold the main event on the Battle Town recreation ground. This is a last minute change and from 1997 onwards, the event takes place on the Battle Field, behind Battle Abbey with a token Bonfire and Fireworks on the Abbey Green itself.

2007

Battle Bonfire Summer fayre relaunches.

2009

Battle 10k Fun Run relaunches.

2012

The main celebrations return to the Abbey Green.