Remembering the Horsham Bonfire Boys

The Horsham Bonfire Boys of the 1930s
The Horsham Bonfire Boys of the 1930s

A meeting in a chicken house in the 1930s led to the rebirth of Horsham’s Bonfire Society, thanks to the efforts of three boys.

The town had once been known for its large-scale activities every November the 5 but, over the years, interest seemed to have waned.

Step up Jesse Gratwicke, Fred Potter and Harry Laker. The trio organised their very own gunpowder plot, recruiting three of their friends to ignite the project.

Within three years, the Bonfire Boys numbered 18, with each paying a shilling a year to purchase fireworks and other bonfire necessities.

They also moved their meetings from the chicken house to the front parlour at Mrs W Manvell’s house.

This picture belongs to Pearl Anscombe, who has lived in Broadbridge Heath all her life.

It was taken by a West Sussex County Times photographer and shows the boys with their doomed Guy at Horsham football field.

The report read: “The Monday night blaze was preceded by a ‘full-dress’ parade, with the Guy on his carriage.

“The procession started at the bottom of Park Terrace West and marched via Clarence Road, Oakhill Road, New Street, Park Street, North Street, London Road, Springfield Road, West Street, round the Carfax, along Brighton Road to Gorings Mead, at the top of which the torch-bearers ‘lit up’ and formed a flaming bodyguard for their effigy, which sat unperturbed in the ‘tumbrill’, now carrying its silent burden on the last short lap before destruction.”

There were around 300 spectators at Gorings Mead when the parade arrived, and close to 600 by the time young Jesse had led the chanting of the old ‘Remember, remember the fifth of November’ rhyme.

Some of the crowd let him know he had been speaking too long by firing rockets over the bonfire! Do you recognise any of the boys in the picture?

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