Although 2020 was a challenging and tragic year, Covid-19 has helped highlight how fortunate we are to live In Mayfield and Five Ashes, with its wonderful environment and strong community spirit.
Back in the summer, in that heady time between lockdowns, when we were briefly able to meet outside, a small group from the Bonfire Society got together each weekend, to disassemble our torches and pack away the equipment normally used for our Carnival Procession. We were disappointed not to be holding the Carnival, but even more so when we realised that it also would not be safe to hold our Christmas lunch and party for senior citizens. It is normally such a cheerful and sociable afternoon of food, wine, music and laughter so we wondered if there was a way in which we could spread something of the spirit of the event to our senior citizens. A Secret Santa perhaps?
The Bonfire Society usually hosts the Christmas party for 90 people but knew there would be many more isolated by the virus and, knowing that MAYFACS had delivered two Secret Afternoon Teas over the summer, we approached them about a joint venture, and discovered they were thinking exactly the same and were intending to approach us! So began a secret mission which grew and grew, from a few dozen people baking mince pies and making Christmas decorations, into more than 70 people putting together the Christmas surprise for over 230 people. By combining our resources and ideas we were able to spread a little joy to so many more people.
We at MAYFACS usually have several Christmas parties lined up for our various groups, all delivered with customary good cheer, delicious food, cheesy cracker jokes and entertainment from local school children. At our meeting with the Bonfire Society, little did we know that Freya’s good idea, “What about a Christmas CD as a gift?” would lead to where it did! The CD morphed into “Good Cheer for Your Ear!”. By approaching local music and spoken word talented people we solved the biggest problem of copyright issues, and the content was sorted. All that remained was stitching it together and burning 250 CDs!
Our lovely helpers went to such lengths to design and create the many elements of the ‘Secret Santa’. Who knew that new Health and Safety regulations meant that 250 fir cones needed to be soaked in vinegar and baked in the oven, before they could be hand painted and turned into Christmas decorations? Or that we had so many creative people in the village who could write a story, play an instrument, sing a song, produce the sound for a CD, design a trendy CD cover or paint a Christmas card? Or that we have the ‘Poet in Residence for the Ashdown Forest’ in our midst?
Over the months of planning and preparation, everyone worked hard to keep it a secret, with coded conversations in the queue for Truffles and the Deli, as we swapped recipes for cheese stars, or trial runs of mincemeat recipes, as first-time bakers tested their skills on their unsuspecting families. Dog walkers passed on names of people who could bake, and those who couldn’t(!) and WhatsApp messages were sent saying, “What size cutters should I use?” for cheese stars.
All the while this preparation was taking place, MAYFACS were pulling together the final list of recipients, which, like the idea, kept growing. Extremely willing volunteers were recruited to do the deliveries. Spreadsheets were created to match recipients to volunteers, addresses were verified, and Christmas hats were brought out from the cupboard in readiness. Local supermarkets were raided for large cardboard fruit boxes. Assembling the goody bags was carried out Covid-securely, 2m apart, face coverings and in gloves. In the words of one volunteer, “it made everything almost feel normal for a short while”.
Then came the day of distribution. To avoid people coinciding at pick up time, all volunteers were given a time slot to collect and be given instructions on when and how to deliver. It worked like clockwork, and South East Today reporter, John Hunt, came with his camera to film and interview us. However, sadly, that was the day our little news item was overtaken by the new Covid-19 restrictions so we didn’t get our 30 seconds of fame, but many photographs were taken. And Simon Heaton made a wonderful video. We made so many people very happy. The members of the Bonfire Society, who were involved, and all at MAYFACS, worked so well together and achieved so much more by combining than working individually. It is surely a model that can be used again, by us and with other groups. It was all achievable mainly because of the time and commitment of volunteers, to whom we should give so much credit. As to how much it meant, here are a couple of the many, many ‘thank yous’ we have received: “Just a little note, with a big thank you and all your volunteers, for the Christmas bag of goodies you gave us. It was almost like delving into the sock at the end of the bed, that Santa had filled, when I was a child! One tasty treat after another.
What a wonderful lot of kindness and ingenuity this hideous virus has brought out in so many people, the proverbial silver lining. It’s really heart-warming, thank you again.” “I am so grateful for your wonderful surprise package, delivered on Saturday. What a fantastic effort you have all made, all the delicious goodies, the packing and then delivery. Thank you so very much for your hard work, effort and cheerfulness. It is much appreciated by us all.” Next year we very much hope we will be back to the parties and the Christmas cracker jokes (they’ll still be the same ones!).
December is normally a lovely end to the year when we don our festive jumpers and serve a Christmas lunch and afternoon entertainment for around 90 senior citizens. Last year we were dancing in the aisles to rock and roll. Sadly in this difficult year it was not safe to hold the lunch and so instead we decided to deliver a bit of festive cheer with a mini hamper. We teamed up with MAYFACS to try and reach more people and together we ended up making Secret Santa gift bags for 230 people. A wonderful army of over 40 bakers, makers, assemblers and deliverers helped us put together the gift bags: making 500 mince pies, 500 cheese stars and 250 gingerbread biscuits; plus 250 fir cone decorations and a hand painted Christmas card. That's an awful lot of pastry! MAYFACS also teamed up with local musicians and singers to put together a special CD of uplifting music.
We would like to say a huge THANK YOU! to everyone who helped make this possible.
Memories of our proud president, John Lewis
I joined the Boyes and Belles in 1950. The President was Mrs Steyning, landlady of The Middle House, the Vice-President was Harry Grinham of The General Store (now Middle House Deli) and the Chairman was Rev. T. B. Oliver, Vicar of St. Dunstan’s. Notable subscriptions to funds in 1950 were H. Buck newsagents, The Convent, Nappers Ironmongers, The Star Brewery, Tamplins Brewery, Westminster Bank, Miss Cummins (who gave the ground for the Bowls Club). Total collected £61 and 16 shillings. The committee included Jesse Mitchell, Olive Lausdall, Wyn Barton, Ena Rose, Alf Wicker, Charlie Smart (where the torches were made), Charlie Kingsland (whose wife made the costumes, later taken on by Jenny Bell) and Jack Richardson (who built the Queen’s float). Other members were Dr Shackell, Dr Taylor, Ted Law (the torch sticks were cut on his farm), C. W. Godden Haulage (later to become Wincanton in Love Lane), Luther Constable, who worked for Mrs. Sneyd-Hinneasley and Alec Isisuis of Mini Farm (the torches were dipped on his farm).
Bonfire was always held on 5th November and the procession stopped at The Rose and Crown, the Brewers Arms and The Railway Hotel, where the judging of the fancy dress took place in Station Approach. Homemade fireworks were let off all round the route they were called “Rebel Rousers”. The banner was made of cloth with the Village sign on it.
The parade was led by The Dagenham Girl Pipers, hot chestnuts were sold by people from London. It all ended on Court Meadow with a bonfire and fireworks let off by Len Harman. Top collector in the 1950’s was Mrs Morris. Later her daughters, Peggy Wicker and Eileen Smith, gave a cup for the best collector, which is given out to the present day.
In the 1950s South Street had its own Society, led by Arthur Slade, Alf Wicker and Charlie Kingsland and held their own night; Southmead Close also had their own night in November. I forget the year but along with Rotherfield, Crowborough, Uckfield, East Hoathly, Littlehampton, Seaford and Newhaven we formed The Sussex Association of Bonfire Societies and we moved our date to September to coincide with the Mayfield Martyrs.
We used to take a full coach load to all these events, winning Best Dressed society for many years in a row, with a new costume every year.
I 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!
It is a huge team effort to put on the annual Carnival, orchestrated for many years by the tireless former Chair, Jo Lee.
Work begins in early spring, when Ken Audsley leads a stick-cutting party to cut the thousands of torch sticks needed each year. Then Pete Allen and Kenny Streeter organise the cutting of 10,000 pieces of board and the drilling of 30,000 holes in preparation for torch-making. A group of volunteers, including the core team of Kevin Leeves, Stuart Neve, Mark Thomson, Christine and Michael Vangils, spend many an enjoyable summer Saturday morning assembling the torches outside the Scout Hut, with refreshments and encouragement supplied by Sylvia Leeves.
Meanwhile, Jo Lee and her twin sister Jill Pring, supported by their long-suffering husbands Allen and Malcolm, spend months getting all the behind-the- scenes activities organised. These include booking the fireworks, bands, Harvey’s beer, St John’s Ambulance and police support, writing the Health and Safety plans and applications for road closures, setting up the bar and catering, co-opting volunteers and liaising with the other visiting societies.
The Boyes and Belles also organise fundraising activities throughout the year, including monthly Bingo, the twice-yearly famous Quiz & Chilli, plus a summer music festival and bonfire plus the Build-a-Guy competition to raise the £9,000 it costs to host the carnival procession.
On the day itself, an army of volunteers is needed to help put up the signs and marshal the roadblocks, set up the radio communications and liaise with the police, set up and man the all-important bar, make cakes and sandwiches and serve refreshments for visiting societies, and carry collection buckets to raise funds for local charities. Most of the members and volunteers are helping behind the scenes, while up front, Alex Butcher dons his bespoke suit to commentate and a small group of Boyes and Belles dress up to lead the procession, carrying the Martyrs’ crosses and torches.
Other Sussex Bonfire Societies attend Mayfield’s procession and we also send a small group of walkers to represent Mayfield in their processions from September through to November. Some people love to walk every event, others just once or twice a year.
The year finishes with the Boyes and Belles hosting a festive lunch in December, providing a three course Christmas meal and entertainment for around 90 senior citizens, and distributing the funds they have collected to local charities, such as the Scouts and MAYFACS. Typically they collect £1,200 - £1,500 for charity in those buckets they shake at spectators during the carnival procession.
Many Boyes and Belles grew up with the Bonfire Society, walking in the procession as children together with past generations of their family, or helping collect the torches with the Scouts. People newly moving to the village have more recently joined the Society, and through this found new friends and a sense of shared purpose. The former directors, Jo Lee and Jill Pring, are now taking a well-earned break from many years of organising the Carnival, though the Carnival is in their blood and they will still be lifetime members of the Society.
It is so important to keep this history alive, and keep the tradition of the Mayfield Carnival going. You can help by getting in touch and being involved, either with the Society on the night, during the year helping with fundraising activities that raise the money to stage the carnival, or by joining the walking group that attends other societies events. These happen every Saturday in September, October and November, but you don’t need to go to every one! The walking group has a costume theme, but if you would like to try a few events out before making a costume, the Society has a number of striped jumpers that can be lent out.
Walking at these village events can be a great family evening out, being part of the spectacle, with some gentle exercise and usually a Bonfire & Fireworks at the end. For most events there is even a minibus to/from the village, so no need to drive!