Page last updated at 20:34 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009

Town stages bonfire processions

Bonfire parade in Lewes
Six of the seven bonfire societies in Lewes were staging events

Tens of thousands of people have crowded into the narrow streets of Lewes to attend the East Sussex town's bonfire celebrations.

Months of preparation went into making effigies which were being paraded through the streets before being burnt.

Roads were closed, trains and parking restricted and police kept crowds at a "safe and comfortable" level.

Assistant Chief Constable Robin Merritt said it was being kept as "a Lewes event for local people".

He said: "Certain parts of the town become very dense - that is lots of people gathering, feeling uncomfortable, and maybe concerned about their safety.

"This year, working with the community and working with partners, we've actually tried to make sure that this event is for Lewes.

When I started off in the bonfire societies, it was more of a demonstration. It's got better every year
Keith Austin

"It's for local people, and we've tried to discourage other people from coming into the area."

Lewes MP Norman Baker warned against scaling down the event too much.

He said: "People who come to bonfire and take part in bonfire are very responsible, but they also know the risks and they enter it with open eyes.

"I think if we end up with a society where all these sorts of things are closed down, we're much poorer for it."

Keith Austin, from Southover Bonfire Society, who has been involved in the event for 48 years, said that over the decades it had changed from being a "rabble".

Bonfire parade in Lewes
Each society has its own stripey top and cap known as "smuggler colours"

He said: "When I started off in the bonfire societies it was more of a demonstration. It's got better every year."

He added: "It's nice to have a lot of people here. We sell lots of tickets and lots of programmes. The pubs do well, the small shops do well, the food people do well, and it's jolly nice to have them here."

When asked about the crowd numbers and safety concerns, he said the issue was about "trying to find this delicate balance" and he added: "We might be there now."

Six of the town's seven bonfire societies were staging processions in the town on Thursday night.

Each society had a parade followed by a bonfire with fireworks at sites throughout the town later in the evening.

Some of the societies claim to date back to the 19th Century, and each one has a motto and its own stripey top and cap - known as "smuggler colours".

Roads were set to remain closed until about midnight, with parking suspended throughout the town and normal parking controls due to resume at 0900 GMT on Friday.

Print Sponsor

Bonfire visitors told 'keep away'
27 Oct 09 |  England
Procession crowds to be limited
15 Oct 09 |  Sussex
Bonfire celebrations scaled down
30 Sep 09 |  Sussex

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