The earliest record we have of Bonfire Night Celebrations in Brockham is a photograph of a ‘Bonfire Boy’, L. Gilliam, dated 1888. The picture, taken at a photographic studio in Dorking demonstrates time, effort and cost and indicates that the traditions of Bonfire Night in Brockham was well established at this time.
The Dorking Advertiser began to report in some detail on the Bonfire Celebrations during the early years of the 20th Century. We know that the festivities ceased during both world wars. Detailed records are available from ‘Minute Books’ and various records from 1930 to date. Bonfires were built to celebrate both VE and VJ Day in 1945. A small bonfire was built to celebrate VE Day +50 in 1995.
The celebrations have centred around the building of a bonfire, firework display, torchlight procession and pig roast to this day.
When cricket was played on the Village Green work could not begin on bonfire building until the cricket season ended. The bonfire then was built in a few weekends and consisted largely of ‘hedge trimmings’ from farmers’ fields. Today, the Brockham Bonfire Celebrations are a model of event safety and organisation with highly experienced Stewards and Event Safety Coordinators.
We know the Blanch family moved to Brockham in the late 1920’s. Jack Blanch, who went to school with a member of the Brocks Firework family let off a few rockets and roman candles on the Village Green. Every year he would purchase a few more. Michael Smith, Jacks son-in law became involved and his sons, Martin and Thomas Smith as young lads joined the family in arranging the display.
As the display and fireworks continued to get bigger and the numbers attending the bonfire celebration grew, it was decided in 1982 to move the firework display off the village green. This enabled to display to be entirely ‘aerial’ and gave us safer distances between the crowd and the fireworks.
The Smith family now have a fourth generation of family members with Jack Blanche’s great grandchildren, Jacob and Lily being part of the display team.
The firework display is organised and arranged by a large team many of whom have been involved for many years. From humble beginnings to a firework display with four tonnes of fireworks from China, Japan, Spain Russia and Germany. The display takes 50-man days to assemble and clear away but takes only 12 minutes to fill the sky with pyrotechnic brilliance.
The Brockham effigy of Guy Fawkes has always played a very important role in the celebrations. He has changed from an almost life-like figure to sometimes a twelve-foot giant. To ensure young people are not frightened at the thought of burning a life-like figure whilst dressed beautifully our effigy is purely a caricature.
It is a great honour to be part of the team escorting the Guy to the top of the Bonfire. An honour most Bonfire Boys and Girls only ever experience once and the team are selected from those whose contribution to the success of the celebrations is enormous.
The celebrations have included a torchlight procession around the village for at least eighty years. The Procession is led by the ‘Red Devil’ a long-time tradition and once again this is a special honour given to either a Bonfire Boy or Girl. Many Bonfire Boys and Girls in Fancy Dress escort the Guy on its journey around the village followed by several hundred torch bearers and many hundreds of people who simply enjoy the walk around our beautiful village.
The Guy, a marching band and its escort arrive on Brockham Green at around 19.35 to fix the Guy to the top of the Bonfire. Once complete the torch-bearers encircle the bonfire and under close supervision are asked to place their torches at the base of the fire. Once lit, the fencing around the fire is securely fixed to keep the crowds safe.
The Roast Pig Auction
One of the oldest traditions of Brockham Bonfire is the roasting of a ‘two tailed pig’. This began in the 1930’s and has fascinated thousands of people over the years and provides a very memorable and enjoyable end to the evening. The ‘Roasting’ begins early on Bonfire day and culminates in an auction of ‘Prime Roast Pork’ immediately after the firework display. The Pig Roasters work all day to ensure a perfectly cooked pig. Our auctioneer then sells joints prepared by our local butcher. The auction is the site of much fun and bonfire banter, is a reunion site for many and has been opportunities in the past for much fun, merriment and even proposals! It is also a major fund-raising part of the evening contributing to the cost of running the event. During the early evening Pork Rolls are sold adjacent to the Pig Fire site.
Getting to the Brockham Bonfire
If you are driving to Brockham we suggest you arrive in the area between 18.30 and 19.00. The traffic is heavy. Whichever direction you come from please follow directions to the car parks. Please do not be tempted to park on the road side, especially on the A25. It is very important that we do not prevent emergency services access to all parts of the village.
A great many people will enjoy the walk from Dorking and additional busses run from both Dorking and Reigate. The drop off point is on the A25 and is a brisk ten-minute walk to the Village Green. Many of the car parks are a 20-minute walk to the Village Green so please allow yourselves plenty of time. Car parks are farmers’ fields, please do not leave any rubbish or litter in the fields.
We would ask you not to bring your dog and we suggest if you have very young children in pushchairs you watch proceedings from within the churchyard or the less populated areas. Please wear sensible clothing, hats and suitable shoes and remember it will be dark and may be muddy. Car Parking and our Catering stalls pay for the fireworks. The voluntary donations you will be asked to make as you arrive on the village green support the many donations we make to worthy causes and local societies we support. Finally, the number of people attending varies with the weather. Immediately after the fireworks a lot of happy revellers will leave the village. No need to join the rush, enjoy the catering stalls and join in the Roast Pig Auction or take in the ambience of the celebrations.