Speaker Secretary Ian Rutter reports:
Our speaker for September was Andy Thomas, who gave us a presentation about a place close to his heart – the town of Lewes. He reminded us that it is still regarded as the County Town of Sussex, even though the county is now split into three separate administrations; East and West Sussex and the unitary authority of the City of Brighton and Hove.
The first part of Andy’s talk encompassed a brief description of the town, which was developed on a group of iron-age mounds. The Victorians flattened some, but the castle still stands atop one that remains. He also gave us a flavour of the history of Lewes, with particular reference to the seventeen Protestant martyrs, who were burned at the stake during the persecutions by the Catholic Queen Mary in the period 1555 to 1557.
This lead on neatly to the Lewes Bonfire Celebrations, reputedly ‘the largest in the world’. How did they become so big? For a start, there are not just one, but seven bonfire societies, each putting on a parade and firework display. They are joined at various times by another twenty to thirty bonfire societies from all parts of Sussex. The festivities do not just commemorate the uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, but also the death of those seventeen martyrs of circa 1556. Although the streets are covered in litter and firework detritus when the celebrations finish in the early hours, by the start of working hours a thorough cleaning job has ensured that the people of Lewes can go about their business as if the celebrations had never happened.
Andy’s collection of photographs, almost all taken by himself, vividly illustrated the talk and it was no surprise when he received a very warm round of applause, proposed by Past-Chairman, Ian Hills, in his vote of thanks.