Sussex Bonfire celebrations are notable for the use of costumes and is a significant element which distinguishes bonfire festivities in the county from those of other parts of England. Chiddingly Parish Bonfire Society’s choice of attire are unique, meaningful and all reference English or local history. Let’s have a look at our selection of wear, starting with the Smugglers…
The distinctive striped Smuggler Guernsey sweaters are synonymous with the bonfire traditions of Sussex. Originally worn as a communal uniform during the more riotous and disorderly period of bonfire celebrations in the mid 19th century. To avoid individual identification by the authorities, the smugglers disguise gave Bonfire Boyes and Belles anonymity from the authorities intent on ending the tradition. - They failed! (We Wunt be Druv!)
The famous smugglers dress continued to be adopted by newly established organised Bonfire Societies later on, with different societies acquiring differing coloured "hoops" as a statement of pride and affinity towards their own society.
Most societies subsequently went on to adopt more flamboyant attire inspired by costumes from throughout the world, as well as maintaining the "semi-official" Smugglers dress. The Smugglers is not traditionally considered a ‘costume’ though, and is very much a proud uniform - “If you’re a famous smuggler, you’re doing it wrong!”
Chiddingly Parish Bonfire Society’s distinctive smuggler colours are navy blue, gold and sky blue, and were chosen by the Society’s initial steering group, in October 2020, from a wide selection of balls of multiple colours sprayed across the ‘long table’ within the Six Bells, in search of a unique and attractive colour set. This prominent and contrasting colour combination is inspired by the two shades of blue from the uniform of Chiddingly Primary School, and the gold is that of the ‘Sussex Martlets’ - an heraldic device which has represented the County of Sussex for many centuries.
The Society’s Smugglers is complete with traditional white trousers, black boots, neckerchief and can be worn with or without a hat.
FIRST PIONEER - PRE 1950s AGRICULTURAL WORKER
The members wearing the more extravagant outfits are termed "Pioneer”, and Chiddingly Parish’s First Pioneer was chosen to reflect the rural nature and heritage of the parish. This is the Society’s original Pioneer dress, adopted by the initial steering group, again, in October 2020, and is a very easy to put together at short notice for new members.
If you’d like to mill around as a miller, be happy as a hop picker, be a budding brick maker, suit a Sussex smock, look tremendous as a trug maker, be seen as a cider maker, be chirpy as a chicken fatter, or manifest as a milkmaid - then this is the costume for you!
As long as it is pre-1950s and rural in nature, then it's in!
SECOND PIONEER - RICHARD III - WARS OF THE ROSES
This is the Society’s newest costume and was adopted at the A.G.M. in February 2023 following the suggestion by committee members Rob M. and Paul. This dress reflects and highlights the heritage of the Society’s emblem which is derived from the ‘Chiddingly Boar’ - a 1480s silver livery badge lost or discarded by an esteemed supporter of the Yorkist, King Richard III, and later found in the Parish of Chiddingly in 1999. The badge is now kept in the British Museum. Most livery badges were made of cheap bronze or pewter, however as the ‘Chiddingly Boar’ is silver, was probably a gift to an important nobleman!
The Wars of the Roses (1455–1487), also known as ‘The Cousins’ War’, were a series of civil wars fought over control of the English throne in the mid- to late fifteenth century. These wars were fought between supporters of two rival cadet branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: Lancaster and York.
The Wars of the Roses was one of the bloodiest periods of English history, leaving approximately 105,000 dead, with 3% of the entire male population of England killed on a single day - the Battle of Towton in 1461. The hostilities took a decisive turn in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field with the death of King Richard III - but the less the said about that, the better! - “Loyaulté me lie!”
THIRD PIONEER - PLAGUE DOCTORS
The Society’s Third Pioneer, Plague Doctors, was adopted in August 2021, following the suggestion of members, Sam and Lara. Originally the Second Pioneer, the Plague Doctors references the Society’s establishment during a pandemic, Coronavirus (Covid-19).
A plague doctor was a physician who treated victims of bubonic plague during epidemics mainly in the 16th and 17th centuries. These physicians were hired by cities to treat infected patients regardless of income, especially the poor that could not afford to pay.
This menacing costume is certainly an eye-catching sight through the dark streets of Sussex, and is very much a crowd favourite!