Page last updated at 07:22 GMT, Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Bonfire visitors told 'keep away'

By Tanya Gupta
BBC News

Bonfire night procession in Lewes
The Lewes bonfire parades are a spectacle that many people want to see

Autumn is drawing in, bonfires have been built and pumpkins harvested in Sussex with people set to attend Guy Fawkes and Halloween events in droves.

But in Lewes - famous for its bonfire parades - and Pluckley, Kent - reputedly the most haunted village in England - locals are warning visitors to stay away.

Last year, more than 50,000 people converged on Lewes for its fireworks.

Each year, bonfire societies across Sussex, which controversially burn effigies of well-known figures that have included Anne Robinson, Saddam Hussein, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, draw huge crowds.

But this year, the event in Lewes has been scaled down with moves by the police, council and rail firm Southern to keep crowd numbers to a "safe and comfortable" level.

Tourism experts warn however, it could lose the area a valuable opportunity to make money.

Economic benefit

In Pluckley, the parish council had to take extreme measures after being overrun by thousands of cars in 2007. The Kent village went on to cancel any ghost-hunting events on Halloween.

Crowds of visitors had led to problems of drunkenness, criminal damage, intimidation of residents, and gridlock on Pluckley's quiet, country roads.

A notice on the village's website this year said there would be no entertainment provided for visitors, no barbecue, no hog roast, no beer tent, no fun fair, no ghost tours, and ghost hunters would not be welcomed on Halloween night.

Halloween pumpkin
Pluckley parish council tried to make Halloween a family event but gave up

In Sussex, Lewes Bonfire Council has warned visitors will face long queues and horrendous late-night travel, with young children set to be confused, frightened, and vulnerable to injury because of the density of crowds.

Brighton university tourism expert Dr Nigel Jarvis, who has researched the Lewes event, said there was no evidence to suggest people were more inclined to go to an event after being told not to.

However, he said the town's bonfire parades were "well known" and simply a spectacle that people wanted to see.

He questioned moves to keep the event local, and said the town could be perceived to be "insular".

The senior lecturer said: "The issue is whether you keep it for local residents. What does local mean?"

They have their right to choose who they want to burn
Dr Nigel Jarvis

He said Lewes stood to gain a "huge economic benefit", with thousands of visitors spending money in the area.

The danger would be that the event became too over-commercialised, he added.

"It's important that visitors realise its original traditions," he said.

"[But] some residents have little knowledge of how tourism adds to the economy.

"They wouldn't have an idea about how much money is brought in, and the organisers and council should think about it."

Bonfire night procession in Lewes
Sussex Police said more than 50,000 people converged on Lewes last year

The event has received national media attention for its burning of papal effigies, with objections inside and outside the town to the religious and anti-catholic connotations, he explained.

"Every year they may have a controversial figure," he said. "It's part of the tradition. They don't want to become too 'pc'. They have their right to choose who they want to burn.

"It adds to the notoriety and the appeal."

In Pluckley, parish clerk Jacqui Grebby who has lived in the village for more than 30 years said the area did not stand to benefit at all.

She said the village had one hotel, three pubs, and a village shop where people could spend money, but no car park.

'A quiet drink'

Problems with anti-social behaviour on Halloween night in previous years had led to extra security guards being hired, and the village shop being asked to take spirits off the shelves to limit drunkenness.

For three years in a row, the parish council tried to run ghost tours but the village was overrun by visitors, she said.

"We tried to turn it into a family event," she said. "Everyone came and continued to come.

Pumpkins in Sussex
Towns and villages in Kent and Sussex are gearing up for seasonal events

"By 8pm, the village was totally gridlocked. It was totally horrific. It defied description."

Last year, Halloween was cancelled in Pluckley, with the result that nobody came, and the same would happen this year, Ms Grebby said.

But Pluckley also had a second identity as a rural idyll - as the filming location for the TV programme The Darling Buds of May - and countryside lovers were welcome, she added.

She said: "If you want a quiet drink, we're happy for you to come.

"If you expect to see ghosts, no self-respecting ghost would be seen alive here at Halloween.

"In Faversham, they say they have got a lot of ghosts.

"And in Tunbridge Wells, they say they get ghosts in the Pantiles - we're more than happy for the ghost-hunters to go there."


Some villagers in Pluckley said they were not consulted on the move to cancel Halloween

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