Bonfire Boys: The Events of 1846

While researching my family history, I came across a surprising record. In 1848, my great-great-great grandfather, John Stanbridge, was sent to prison for rioting. Click here to see the record. Another Stanbridge, named Thomas, was convicted of the same crime on the same day. What was it all about?  The answer was a real eye-opener!

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“Our readers scarcely require to be informed of the riotous proceedings which, under the guise of celebrating the Gunpowder Plot, have for many years disgraced the town of Lewes.”

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The grossest outrages and excesses have year after year been committed on the 5th of November, when large numbers of people disguised with masks and armed with bludgeons have held possession of the town, rolling tar barrels about the streets and letting off squibs and rockets.

Several attempts have been made to put down the nuisance, but all have failed, the “Bonfire Boys” opposing and out-numbering the strength sent against them.

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Elated by their success they last year rolled a number of tar barrels to the door of Mr. Blackman, a magistrate who had denounced their lawless conduct, and lighted them sufficiently near the door to cause serious apprehension that his house would be destroyed.

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Alarmed for the safety of his property, Mr. Blackman went out to remonstrate, when the ruffians maltreated him to such a degree that he was obliged to keep his bed for several weeks.

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This affair determined the Magistrates to take this year decided steps for the suppression of the riots.

Next: Special Constables


Source: Sussex Agricultural Express, 23 October 1847, excerpt transcribed by Jim Etherington of the Lewes Historical Society and kindly provided via email, August 2011.  More sources…