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Most of what we know about Battle Bonfire in the 1800s comes from the latter half of the century. For a time, each year the Bonfire Boyes gave an address which said about events that year. Three Addresses are currently known in records. This headed the years subscription lists and were mostly written in rhyme. These subscriptions are a good source for information on how much was donated in street collections for charity. This was using the full use of the word `subscription` which is a sum of money given or pledged as a contribution, payment, investment, etc...

William Brett

Mr. William Brett is our currently oldest known Chairman, He was Chairman from 1834 to Approx 1872. He also was in change of letting off the Fireworks, but reports also state he was helped by, and later replaced by Mr. Whitelock and Mr W. Longely , but he is still recorded as supervising. In his Business life, he was a Firework Manufacturer and probably (most likely) made some of the fireworks that were let off as part of the display. Mr. Whitelock and Mr. Longely were also Firework Manufacturers. But if you think he was the first chairman, you would be wrong. Mr. Brett was also the Master of Cemories for longer then he was Chairman, a role that was different from that of chairman, as one year, he was still voted in a Master of Cemories, as well as someone else being chairman. His time as M.C. ran from between 1824-1830 till about 1882. This predates his run as Chairman, but we currently do not know who was chairman before him.

Others need to try it

This report of Battle Bonfire appears in the Sussex Agricultural Express on the 13th of November, 1841;
Fifth of November. -The celebration of the anniversary of the detection of the papist conspiracy, was kept up with the usual spirit and good feeling, to the admiration of several strangers, who were unused to such proceedings. If the respectable inhabitants of other places would follow our example and join in the fun, they would not have a riot on such occasions, but rather contribute to the amusement of those who have a scarcity of it.

Street Collections

Currently, the street collections for six years in the 1800s is known. In 1857, a total of £3 and 6 Pence was raised (equal to about £225 in 2010), In 1858, £3 7 Shillings and 6 Pence was raised (equal to about £265.61 in 2010), In 1876, £13 3 Shillings and 2 pence was raised (equal to about £965 in 2010), in 1882, £17 19 shillings and 6 pence was raised (equal to about £1,410 in 2010), in 1885, £9 and 17 Shillings was raised (equal to £830 in 2010), and in 1892, £13 5 Shillings and 6 Pence was raised (equal to about $pound;1,130 in 2010).

The earliest of the currently known subscription lists and addresses are from 1857 and the address has been transcribed below:

Once more over Delhi stern Justice does reign
To punish those burkes who own nature have shamed,
There Women and babes have been savagely slain
And deeds perpetrated too dark to be named.

Our foes who proclaimed Englands glory had set,
Shall see her triumphantly rise in her might,
In sorrow, not weakness, her troubles were met,
With no succour save Heaven`s, she won the fierce fight.

A Curse for the fiends who have broken all laws,
A tear for their victims - the lovely and good,
A sigh for the heroes who fell in their cause
A cheer for the Brave who the shock have withstood.

The "Fifth" is the day that we Battle Boys prize
To keep up traditions and annual fires,
To show all the treacherous Nana`s and Guy`s
That Britons inherit the pluck of their Fires.

To fully understand it, it is best to know what was going on that year. The Siege of Delhi is mentioned the most, starting with the first line. It was part of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 when alot of the Indians under British rule tried to rebel, one of the main leaders was Nana Sahib (who is mentioned in the second to last line). He was on the British side but decided to turn against them. He pretended to still be on the British side when he and his men were allowed entrance to a British magazine, however once in there, he announced that he was talking part in the rebellion and was seen as a traitor of the time, thus this compares him with Guy Fawkes. If you are unsure, the word `Succour` (8th line) means help or assistance, Thus the line says the British won the fight with no help but heaven`s.


The Following lengthy article was found in the Hastings Observer, 1870:

The Gunpowder plot at Battle
The Bonfire Boys` Preliminary

The anniversary of the discovery of gunpowder plot was once more celebrated in this town on the evening of the 5th, when our "bonfire boys" had a good turn out. One speciality they can proudly claim as their own — the quietude and good order which always characterise the proceedings but it must not be taken to mean any lack of spirit. "What is worth doing at all, is worth doing well", is the motto of our bonfire boys. The inhabitants of this town never have to fear any riot or disturbance on this occasion for the committee of the "bonfire boys" always make such rules, which they strictly enforce, that nothing dangerous, annoying, or offensive shall take place by any of their party. In accordance with the custom of former years, the "bonfire boys" held several meetings prior to the fifth for the purpose of arranging matters and receiving the names of those who wished to join in the proceedings. The leader of the affair is Mr Wm Brett who for nearly forty years has held this responsible position, and with the assistance of a good committee, the affair was got up as it should be. Early in the day it was pretty clear that there would be fine fun in the evening, for we saw a vast deal going on that was quite sufficient to lead us to this conclusion. Makers and sellers of fireworks were rushing about in all directions, some soliciting orders, some carrying out such as were ordered, while others were very busy assisting the leaders of the affair in completing the necessary arrangements; then we saw loads of faggots brought into the town to pile up for a monster fire on the market green — and then there were the little juveniles almost frantic with their everlasting "Remember Remember" — then the shopkeepers and tradesmen busily engaged in waiting on their customers who have thronged in from the country early, fearing perhaps they might get squibbed if they came at night, so that the business of Saturday night was for once transacted in the early part of the day.
The Event.
The muster was called for six o`clock at head quarters — the Wellington Inn, kept by Mr Christmas, where the members, numbering upwards of one hundred, assembled previous to making their start. Rockets and squibs were now being discharged in all directions throughout the town — hundreds of spectators were flocking in from all parts — the bells ringing merrily and everybody on the tiptoe of expectation. Eight o`clock is come the members leave head-quarters, band and all, for the market green, where they form in a procession, and a large one it is too, and no mistake, there are some tastefully made up characters of a miscellaneous description — marked blackened and painted. The signal for starting is given, the band strikes up with "The girl I left behind me". We never recollect seeing a more brilliant procession than on this occasion, or a better display of fireworks. The procession was something in the following order.— Bonfire boys with torches. Effigy of Guy Fawkes. The band of the bonfire boys. Banner "God save the Queen". Torches. The effigy of Kwan-Hwo. Banner "No Popery". Torches. Effigy of the Denham Murderer, carried on a man`s shoulders and stuffed with combustibles and fireworks. Three rows of torches. There were also amongst the characters that formed the procession two Indian chiefs, who stalked along with all the dignity imaginable. Six Tartars and Arabs were also to be seen amongst them, and excited no small amount of observation, one person, in the costume of Richard III, Charles II, the notorious Dick Turpin, the Girl of the Period, the Grecian Bend, a very good representation of a Gorilla, and many other characters of notoriety. The procession first passed up the High-street to the top of the town, back again to the corner, up Mount-street, then returning they re-passed through High-street, back to the Market Green, where the monster bonfire had been lighted and was now in full blaze, whilst from every part rockets and fireworks of every description were being let off. The march is not over yet — a little more for you, boys — over the hill, past the splendid old church into the lane, over the railway bridge and into St Mary`s Villas. Here, as at many other places in the town, they halt, for the purpose of affording a little music and fun to the inhabitants of this part of the town, who may be seen at the windows and every available spot looking with evident interest on the grotesque figures to be seen amongst the "bonfire boys"; and here we may also see several energetic members of the committee keeping a sharp look-out that no mischief is done by parties throwing rockets at the windows or at ladies who may have ventured out on the green sward opposite the houses. From these villas may be seen a vast deal that is taking place in the town with the fireworks, and the night is very imposing, and the grand old abbey is brilliantly illuminated by the glare of the bonfire. The march is now nearly finished, they return to the town again, where the fire is burning rapidly and where some thousands of spectators are witnessing the fireworks, which in immense quantities are being let off on the green. The "boys" are still marching, the torches blazing away, the spectators shouting as if something extra was taking place, and here is the effigy of the notorious Denham murderer, hung on a gibbet, set fire to and the combustibles with which he is stuffed explode and he is soon gone from our sight. The march is still continued, round the fire they go, several times amidst the shouts and cheers of the bystanders who just now are looking for fireworks which are to be let off from a platform in the centre of the green. The torches are hurled into the fire, the grand procession now terminates and this part of the programme is ended. The next is the discharge of a quantity of rockets, squibs, wheels and other contrivances of the pyrotechnic art by Mr Brett who as well as being at the head of this demonstration is also a firework manufacturer. The display was good and quite worthy of the character which he has acquired in his manufacture of fireworks for years past. Then there were the fireworks of Messrs Whitelock and Longley who are also engaged in this line and do themselves credit in selling a good article. At twelve o`clock the proceedings were brought to a close, the usual quiet of the town was restored, everything passed off in a quiet respectable manner, and we must congratulate the committee and those who take an interest in these proceedings on the successful termination of their labours. That they are acceptable is shown in the general support which the gentlemen of Battle always give to the affair.

Where to start.. That is a very detailed article which gives alot of information about the bonfire in the end of the 19th century. We know William Brent was the chairman, The route is also given pretty clearly. The Effigy of the Denham Murderer is one of the earliest currently known effigy as we know them today, in that it was stuffed with fireworks, hung up and blown up as a set piece. More information on him is on the Effigy page. The effigy of Kwan-Hwo is just a likeness, and not an effigy as in the set piece. As to how Kwan-Hwo is.. currently unknown.

For at lest 30 years, Battle`s Gas powered street lights had Glass cases, as per normal, and the street lights were NOT lit on the week of bonfire. However, for a couple of years, things changed and a couple of letters from an unknown guy (signed `Verbum sat Sapienti` (words from the Wise)) who made comments about the fact the glass was NOT removed and the gas was lit. This first letter made the point saying: `Although every possible care is taken by the Acting Committee of the Bonfire Boys, and indeed, all the members, to avoid damage to property, it becomes nearly impossible to prevent strangers, who then flock to our little town from all parts, hurling squibs and other explosives at such a fair mark as a lighted lamp, surrounded by glass, presents?`

A week later, when his advice about removing the glass was NOT taken, he followed it up with another letter that saw print. In it, he stated about how bad it was that the street lights even had to be lit with the torch lits, and after the procession, were unlighted because ( as with the rest of the week), the moon light was good enough to see by. Part of his letter is as follows: Again, however, the indefatigable lighter went his rounds, and again, the lamps (all but one, vide police report) twinkled and blinked most joyously to each other across the old market green.
And now, Sir, please mark the absurdity of what followed. Immediately after the procession of the Bonfire Boys had passed through the streets, the poor perambulating carried-out of these imbecile orders is again sent around with commands (from the poor Mayor again!) to extinguish the whole!

The ID of this person by forever be unknown.

A Local, but currently unknown paper printed the following article on the Bonfire on the 5th of November 1885:

5th November 1885
Guy Fawkes Day - Guy Fawkes Day was celebrated this year on a larger scale than hitherto, the bonfire society having offered prizes for the best dresses and comic make-up. The prizes were award to W. Holt, W. Breach, G. Tutt and W. Turner. After this a procession was formed, eventually repairing to the Market Green, where the bonfire, the material for which was given by the Duke of Cleveland, was set alight and effigies burnt. A Feature of the evening was a display of fireworks, by Mr. Longley.

This article seems to say the Fancy Dress Prize contest started in 1885. This contest took place before the Bonfire Event and lasted into the 1990s, when it was stopped. It was then brought back in a minor form in the early to mid 2000s.

Another Local newspaper had article the following year about the Bonfire. It is unknown if this is from the same local newspaper but it is likely:

5th November 1886
Gunpowder Plot - The fifth of November was celebrated in the customary manner on Friday evening. The Streets were paraded by the Bonfire Boyes with their usual display, and the proceedings terminated with the burning of the effigy on the Market Green. The weather was very unfavourable to the masqueraders. The front windows of the Abbey Hotel were taken by Lady Brassey, so that her ladyship could command a good view of the proceedings.

In the past, Bonfire Night was Always on the fifth, so If that was a Friday, so be it. However, for a long time now, Battel puts on the event on the closest Saturday to the Fifth (Or the first Saturday in the month). This was due to a number of reasons, mostly work related. Many people are at work on Fridays, so it is impractical to get people together to put on the event and to carry it out on a Friday. The Event itself mostly starts getting ready on the day before, and people are pretty busy all day of the event, and often on the day after too.
Lady Annie Brassey and her husband, Sir Thomas Brassey, were minor local nobles from Normanhurst Court, which is now Battle Caravan Club Site. They also seem to be supporters of the Bonfire as it is recorded that they both worked as Street Collectors on the Night in 1885 (Raising £1 each, equal to about £50 each). Most of the Charitable work done by Lady Brassey was for St. John Ambulance Association, but in November of 1886, She took a voyage on her and her husbands yacht, the Sunbeam, to help improve her health in India and Australia, but on the way to Maurituis, she died of Malaria on the 14th September, 1887, Aged 47. Sir Brassey, later Baron Brassey, (Son of Thomas Brassey, a world famous railway contractor, who built large part of the railway system in England, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Eastern Europe, India and Argentina) was later made Governor of Victoria and the namesake of the Brassey House Hotel in Canberra, died in 1918 at the age of 82.