We moved here in 1997, on the strength of having enjoyed a pint in one of the many local pubs.
Lewes is the historic county town of East Sussex, twinned with Waldshut- Tiengen in Germany and the royal town of Blois in France. It is a town that has always punched above its weight, and it has a reputation for vigorous independence.
Home to Harvey’s Brewery, which in 2016 took on the motto We Wunt be Druv, the town’s identity dates back at least to the Battle of Lewes in 1254, when a group of rebel barons led by Simon de Montfort challenged the authority of King Henry III.
The barons’ victory is still hailed as the triumph of parliament over royalty. Although this is hardly the full picture, the town prides itself on taking a stand against powerful interests.
When the brewery chain Greene King tried to remove Harvey’s from the Lewes Arms, the town’s most iconic pub, it led to a boycott that lasted more than a year and — after unfavorable press coverage in every newspaper from the local Gazette to the Financial Times, and even the odd mention on national TV — the capitulation of the brewing giant to “the will of the people”.
The revolutionary thinker Tom Paine, author of the Rights of Man, lived in Lewes at the Bull Inn for six years in the 18th century, before moving to America.
Bonfire Night is unforgettable. Ostensibly, the bonfire celebrations respect the Protesrant Martyrs who died in Lewes during the period of persecution by Catholics, so some of the sentiment is anti-papal. But the bigger picture is more like a pagan festival.
Rather like the Carnevale when traditional authority is challenged and the mighty and powerful are ridiculed, each of the six bonfire societies builds effigies of those it sees as villains or perhaps as gaving overstepped their authority. These are paraded through the streets of Lewes on Bonfire Night, to the jeers of the crowds and the deafening rattle of firecrackers.
David Cameron, Angela Merkel, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein and even the town’s disliked NCP Parking Meters have all featured on the roll-call of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly who have headed the processions. It has to be admitted that bonfire celebrations are not always politically correct, and this has rightly attracted criticism. But the Bonfire societies seem over time to be becoming more sensitive to 21st century attitudes.