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Diary of a South Street Smuggler

Tony Murrell, owner of Murrells Bed and Breakfast in Lewes, has already got his stripy smuggler’s jumper out of storage and has started the run up to this year’s huge bonfire celebration.

This will be the third year that Tony and wife Nicky have been part of the South Street Bonfire Society and will be parading through Lewes on 5 November along with the hundreds of other locals. Altogether, there are seven Bonfire Societies in Lewes, each with their own smugglers colours – South Street’s are brown and cream.

Tony loves being part of the procession and all that Bonfire means. ‘It’s nights drawing in, temperatures dropping, heavy dew in the morning, the ritual of donning my smuggler’s uniform, the smell of bonfires, smoky nights, processing, marching and mayhem in the streets, ‘ he says.

Bonfire in Sussex goes back hundreds of years and one of its most important events historically was the burning of 17 Protestant martyrs at the stake in the middle of Lewes in the 16th century.

And don’t go thinking it is just about the night of Guy Fawkes. ‘Many other towns and villages in Sussex celebrate Bonfire like we do here in Lewes. The first “out meeting” of the season is in early September in Uckfield,’ explains Tony. ‘Bonfire season runs right through to the end of November.’

Traditionally, Lewes always has its bonfire celebrations on 5 November. However, the processing run-up has already got under way for this year.

‘The weekend just gone we processed at Hastings – always a good, riotous night out!’ explains Tony. ‘This time it was combined with the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, so lots of battling Normans and Saxons on top of marauding bonfire boys and girls. We had a very wet start but such is life. Bonfire boys aren't bothered by the weather! So we marched forward in a great procession through the town bearing flaming torches and flanked by drumming bands, culminating in a huge bonfire on the beach with fantastic fiery fireworks.

‘Once I get home, tired and happy, I really enjoy taking off my blackened and smoky jumper, smelling bonfire on it. Oh, yes, the reason we look so dirty: we never ever wash our bonfire clothes!’

The next stop on the Sussex Bonfire trail is in two weeks’ time in Newick. ‘Another night of mayhem and carnage in the streets of Sussex,’ promises Tony.

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