The Burning of the Clocks

Saturday being taken up with the matter of shelving, we declared Sunday a holiday. To this end we did our weekly shop on Friday evening, instead of Sunday morning as we usually do, leaving the day clear. On the way home, we had stopped off at Liverpool Street station to buy train tickets for Brighton.

Mermaid (Brighton Marina)
Mermaid (Brighton Marina)

We had not been to Brighton for a while and today held an added attraction: the Burning of the Clocks. I have no idea where this originates or whether it is an ancient ceremony or a modern invention. I don’t remember ever hearing of it when I lived in Brighton. It is intended to celebrate the solstice like the other genuinely traditional festivals Hanukkah or Diwali.

Dancing Pirates
Dancing Pirates, Gardner St, Brighton

This event takes place after dark and before then we had things to do. The day was dry and clear and not too cold. Brighton is a good place to wander around, so we wandered around it. We took a bus to the Marina and did some of our wandering there.

Back in the centre, we started to search for lunch and chose Capers1, where we had carrot and coriander soup, followed by Vegetarian sausage and mash, all very good.

Brighton Museum
Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

After lunch we continued exploring Brighton and very soon reached that lovely place, the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. There was an exhibition entitled Paintings Unwrapped, which was worth seeing, but the permanent collection is already enough to keep you absorbed for many an hour. In fact, we usually concentrate on one or two sections each time we go.

Other museums might care to note that Brighton Museum & Art Gallery allows you to take photos without any limitation and without making you sign a silly piece of paper.
I can see no reason why ordinary people should be prevented from taking photos and posting them on their blogs, the more so when the museum is receiving public funding.


Brighton Museum (furniture )
Brighton Museum (furniture )

The museum, sited in what would have been the stables in the days of the Prince Regent, has a very pleasant tea room, where we relaxed with tea (Assam) and shortbread after our visit. The museum itself if well organized and is a very enjoyable place to visit.

We thought that the Burning of the Clocks was to start at 7:30 and, as we had a couple of hours to spare, we took a bus to Churchill Square and Starbuck’s, where we could wait in comfort and warmth for the event to begin.

William IV Gate, Brighton Pavilion
William IV Gate, Brighton Pavilion

We had the time wrong and by the time we reached the route of the procession, this had already begun and crowds had gathered, making it difficult to move about.

There is a procession, with what might be loosely termed music (mainly the enthusiastic pounding of drums), in which groups of people carry lanterns shaped like clocks. Each group creates its lanterns according to the theme which I believe was “Babel Rebuilt”, this year. All of the lanterns are fabricated from the same materials for reasons which will become apparent.

Clock lanterns
Clock lanterns

The people carrying the lanterns may also be in costume and perhaps decorated with lights. There are also vendors, selling light-sticks, flashing bunny ears and other similar artifacts so that many in the crowd are also lit up.

The procession makes its way slowly through the town to the seafront and moves along Marina Drive past the Aquarium. Crowds line both sides of the road and the various levels on the landward side.

Brighton Pavilion (detail)
Brighton Pavilion (detail)

On the beach is a structure, built according to the year’s theme. How this represented “Babel Rebuilt” was not obvious to me but it didn’t matter. The lantern bearers hand over their lanterns and these are placed inside the structure. People then withdraw and the final phase begins with fireworks set off the within the structure. Then, finally, the fire ignites, burning the lanterns and the flammable parts of the structure.

Canopy of lights, Clock Tower
Canopy of lights, Clock Tower

In view of the huge crowds, I was worried that our train would be packed and that we might not even get aboard, so as the first flames flared, we left the scene and made for the bus stop. We were not sure the buses were even running (it turned out that they were), so when a taxi drew up, we took it and thus reached the station in good time. Our train left 16 minutes later and was not at all crowded, much to my relief. The train took us to London Bridge where we caught a bus home.

If we go to Brighton next year to follow the Burning of the Clocks, we may book a hotel for the night so that we can watch the whole event without worries about getting home aterwards.

127 Gardner St, Brighton, BN1 1UP 01273 675550


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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