Mayfield Bonfire Society
ABOUT MAYFIELD BONFIRE SOCIETY
The Mayfield Bonfire Society has held a carnival procession in Mayfield almost every year since 1892, except during times of war and typhoid infection. Unfortunately, during the war against the Covid-19 virus, an event was not held in 2020, but we aim to be back in 2021.
Mayfield has had bonfire groups for many years and the earliest record we are aware of for an official Mayfield Bonfire Society is one formed in 1892. Members of the Society, known as the Bonfire Boyes and Belles, work throughout the year to raise money and host the carnival. It is held on the third Saturday of September, being closest to the date of the burning at the stake of four protestant martyr’s in Mayfield on 24th September 1556, whom the event now commemorates.
At over a mile long, with 5,000 burning torches, the Mayfield carnival procession is believed to be the longest in Sussex, other than the Lewes Grand United Procession on 5th November. Thousands of people flock to the village each year to take part in the carnival and watch this spectacular event.
MEET OUR TEAM
I joined the Boyes and Belles in 1950, took over as Chairman in the 1980s and spent 25 years in that role. Under my Chairmanship, we brought back the fireworks and wreath laying, which had been dropped several years before, and introduced the Burning Crosses. Membership dropped in the 1980s to around 15 compared to over 40 in the 1950s. In 1986 it was just Norman Bell and I who cut all the torch sticks from May to September. Long live The Boyes and Belles!
My first experience of Carnival would have been as a teenager back in the 1980s when I was living in Tunbridge Wells. I personally became involved with Mayfield Bonfire society when Jo Lee ( longtime chairman) asked me to help photograph the Carnival around 10 years ago.
My main reason for joining the society was not actually to dress up and to go walking on Carnival nights rather for me it was helping to keep the amazing tradition alive in the village in whichever way I could which now means helping to run social media, photographing and helping to find volunteers.
We were amazed when, just over three years ago and newly moved to the village, the Mayfield Bonfire Carnival parade came right past our front door in September 2017. What a spectacle! Flames, noise, drums, music! We followed the procession of hundreds of blazing torches up to the High Street amid crowds of local people and visitors all enjoying the superb event organised by MBBB. We had lived in Tunbridge Wells for years and knew a little about the annual Lewes bonfire but didn’t quite appreciate the size and reach of Sussex Bonfire, nor its long history. The significance of such a tradition in Mayfield really struck home so having retired from my job as a school secretary, I took on the role of Membership Secretary of the Mayfield Bonfire Society. I have yet to walk in any of the carnival parades in which MBBB participate, preferring to help out ‘behind the scenes’, ensuring memberships are organised, as well as helping with other fund raisers and events throughout the year. My contribution is small but the rewards of being involved in something so significant in the history of this lovely village are enormous
I moved to Mayfield in 1965, although my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents all lived in Mayfield at various times. I first got involved in the Carnival at a very young age participating on the W.I.’s float, that was built on the farm where we lived, later progressing to organising the lighting and sound systems on it. When older I was a barrier marshal for many years, and then ran the event for a number of years, devising the Event Management Plan and on the night as “Event control” liaising with the Police, Council and Fire Brigade to ensure the event ran smoothly and safely. I have been an active walking member, committee member, Secretary, Treasurer, and Director, and continue to take an active part in the organisation of the event.
Rob, who has lived in Mayfield for about 40 years, is MBS Treasurer and a Director. After retiring early from employment as a chartered engineer in the paper industry I went rock climbing a lot and worked as village handyman. Also I helped run various village societies eg History Soc. and now enjoy cycling, long walks and collies.
After watching Carnival for many years, in 2017 I joined MBS and have walked at several events, and been a barrier marshal here, then joined the committee last year.
“I love the Sussex Bonfire tradition, with its off the wall atmosphere of noise, torches, mayhem and beer! Taking part is special, visiting other villages. I encourage everyone to get involved with Carnival, the biggest annual event that Mayfield has to offer. This year has been difficult, but MBS will survive!”
Catherine moved to Mayfield in 2015 and was so taken by her first experience of carnival that she was walking and carrying a torch in the procession the following year and soon joined the committee to help out. “It was a great way to make new friends in the village and be part of this wonderful tradition; dressing up and going to other village processions is good fun and the highlight for me is the senior citizens Christmas lunch.”