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1953: Bonfire disaster turned to triumph

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

As Coronation day dawned in Haywards Heath the fine bonfire in Victoria Park representing the work of weeks, and with which the day’s rejoicing was to be capped in traditional fashion, was no more than a heap of grey ash and smouldering logs. Some malicious minded fire raiser had set it alight shortly after midnight, almost 24 hours ahead of schedule.

And Mr George Preece, assistant surveyor, and some of tile workmen of Cuckfield

Urban Council forgot about sound and television broadcasts and set about the task of rebuilding.

While they collected four lorry loads of wood, Rovers and Boy Scouts assisted by local residents carried hundredweights of inflammable material to the site in the park so that before dusk the volunteers had built another bonfire - bigger and better than its predecessor.

This spontaneous action of goodwill made the ceremonial lighting by the chairman of the council, Mr William Lindsay, an even gayer scene than was anticipated.

Special TV shows

It was typical too of the way in which all the towns and villages oI Mid-Sussex celebrated.

Everywhere there were special television broadcasts for old people and children, there were sports dancing, teas and presentations of souvenirs.

As tradition demanded, the centre of attraction at Lindfield was the beautifully decorated pond where, with the swans and their only cygnet safely fenced off, hundreds of spectators watched the young men of the village in beer barrels race across the pond, challenging the greasy pole with disastrous results, and in waterborne battles with mops dipped in soot and flour.

At Cuckfield where the 26th annual walking race took place, the trophies were won by youngsters Michael Brigden and Peter Pelham, but the cheers of the crowd rang out for 74-year-old Ted Lingley as he finished the 5.5 mile course in 67 minutes 40 seconds and in fourth place. Ted won a 100 yard sprint as a lad at Cuckfield celebrations in 1887 in honour of Queen Victoria's Jubilee.

Sussex Daily News, 3 June 1953

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.

Visit Cuckfield Museum, follow the link for details


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