Every English village has, for centuries, set at least one day aside each year for celebration, whether it was the May Day revels or a fair that has its origins in pagan ritual. The discovery of the Gunpowder Plot in the seventeenth century provided the excuse for another annual event that lightened the dark days of famine and unemployment in the eighteenth century.
In Liphook, as in every other Hampshire village, the local common-land provided faggots for THE ANNUAL BONFIRE. At the turn of the century, the bonfire was still the centre of attraction, although it appears that fancy dress of a rude and ready style had also become traditional. Local boys still collected wood from the local common land, especially Wheatsheaf Common, which was close at hand, albeit strictly speaking, the boys had no right to collect wood from the commons – it being the ancient prerogative of the commoners!
In 1901, it is thought that the Bonfire Boys, or Old Boys, as the usual gang of wood collectors came to be known – at length acquiring a title that remained with them – conceived the idea of using the celebrations to aid local hospitals. Encouraged, we are told, by Monty Hickman, Herbert Meech and Percy Read, a committee was formed from various tradesmen, shop owners and local dignitaries including:
- Albert Smart, Butcher (PRC)
- John Fairburn – (Bromleys) ( later Inwood Stoves)
- Frank Wilson – Bramshott Stores
- John Redhouse – Railway Hotel
- Jimmy Williamson – Hairdresser and Newsagent
- George Poole – General Supply Store (later Cortes)
Monty became the first Chairman and thus it would appear the first official event of the Bonfire Boys Club, a fancy dress parade, dancing around a huge bonfire in the old Fairground Field in Station Road started in November 1901 followed by the first parade and carnival procession in 1902.
The committee decided that subscribers of one shilling per year each could become members of the Bonfire Boys Club. The funds raised to assist in offsetting expenses incurred.
His earliest recollection we have was 28 subscriptions, but by 1911 this had grown to 79. It was agreed that the main object of the Club was to raise money for local hospitals at Haslemere and Guildford. Committee Meetings were held on a regular basis until 1913 in a room at The Railway Hotel, with kind permission of John Redhouse. When the First World War broke out, activities were suspended and resumed in 1921. Again war came in 1939 and the first post World War Two carnival was held in 1947.
The Liphook Bonfire and Carnival tradition has continued unbroken since then.