Isfield & Little Horsted Bonfire Society

The History of ILHBS

Bonfire societies of Sussex are an age-old tradition dating back to the first two Lewes societies, Cliffe and Borough, which were set up in the 1850’s, whilst the other Lewes societies were founded later in the 19th century.  Although the ‘Remembrance of the Gunpowder Plot’ decreed by King James has been celebrated throughout the country since 1606, the Lewes societies are also marking the deaths of the seventeen Lewes Martyrs who were burned at the stake between 1555 and 1557.

Towns and villages throughout Sussex have their own bonfire society and the Isfield and Little Horsted Bonfire Society was formed in 2008, making us one of the youngest societies.  The foundation of the Society was an evolution of bonfire related activity in the village which goes back some decades, originally under the auspices of the Little Horsted Primary School PTFA and then landlord of the Halfway House, Paul Mundy followed by Andy and Linda Brooks of The Laughing Fish pub

By 2008 the costs and effort in organising the bonfire night became prohibitive but fortunately at the same time local residents Chris Ashford and Beth Hazelwood (now Hall) decided to set up a society in the village and in January 2009 the Isfield and Little Horsted Bonfire Society was launched with 19 members, most of whom are still involved to this day.  Immediately the tradition of fundraising to pay for the annual fireworks display was established, with a race night being organised on 15 March.

Each bonfire society has its own banner which is proudly carried at the head of their society in all marches.  The ILHBS is no different and our banner was designed by Nic Ashford, winner of a design competition.  It reflects images of the villages, with the steam train of the Lavender Line spouting flames of a bonfire, supported by two laughing fish, symbols of the Society’s headquarters: the Laughing Fish pub.




Another bonfire tradition is costume with societies choosing their colours for striped jumpers and costume theme – no two societies have the same colours or theme, ensuring that every procession is full of variety.  At ILHBS our colours are green and red striped jumpers, worn with white trousers and black top hats, which members personalise with feathers, masks, badges and netting.  Some also carry display swords to add authenticity to this traditional ‘smugglers’ costume.  In addition some members create costumes on a Persian theme to add colour and sparkle to the procession.  

Since inception ILHBS has had four chairpersons: founder Chris Ashford, followed by Andy Payne, Andy Brooks and the current Chair, Timmy Fordham and an active and supportive voluntary Committee consisting of Secretary, Treasurer, Captain of Bonfire and those responsible for  Membership, Fundraising, Social Events, Health & Safety, Transport and Minutes.  Membership of the Society is now nearly 100 strong, ranging in age from 7 to 80 years of age, with a strong core of active members ensuring the events all go to plan, getting involved with effigy building, staging the annual music festival Isfest and fundraising at the village summer fete.  But additional help is always welcomed from members, particularly from the younger age groups: after all they are the future of the Society.

Our family friendly bonfire night is always held on the last Friday of October, which often coincides with half term.  This means we do not clash with the longer established society events that usually take place on Saturdays from September to December, and also means that as a society we’re able to participate in the Lewes event which always takes place on 5th November, regardless of the day of week (apart from Sundays).

As a Society we have to fundraise in order to pay for our firework display and the insurance requirements that go with the staging of such an event.  We’ve got pretty good at it too, and so always also give a donation to other charities at the end of each year.  Beneficiaries have included Help for Heroes, Community First Responders, Adult Cystic Fibrosis, Care for the Carers, the Uckfield Lions, the Sussex Air Ambulance and Riding for the Disabled.

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A tradition at most Sussex bonfire events is the communal recital of the Bonfire Prayer, the first verse of which most of us learned as school children:

Remember, remember, the fifth of November

Gunpower treason and plot

I see no reason why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes ‘twas his intent

To blow up the KinG and the Parliament

Three score barrels of powder below

Poor old England to overthrow


By God’s providence he was catch’d

With a dark lantern and burning match

Holler boys, holler boys, ring bells ring

Holler boys, holler boys, God Save the King!


What shall we do with him? – Burn him!

What shall we do with him? – Burn him!