This page will give you a little bit of an idea as to how our bonfire came about and how we have changed over the years.
But first, here's a list of the various local groups that have benefited from the money we have raised:
South Milford County Primary School
Monk Fryston C of E Primary School
Monk Fryston Community Association
South Milford Football Club
South Milford Junior Football Club
South Milford Playing Fields Association
Sherburn Scouts and Cubs
South Milford Brownies
South Milford Guides
South Milford Pre School Group
St Mary’s Church, South Milford
St Wilfrid’s Church, Monk Fryston
South Milford Cricket Club
The Osgoldcross and Elmet Rotary Club
In addition, we have supported smaller groups such as the South Milford Flood Group and made a number of one off donations for community purposes.
The History of the South Milford Bonfire and Firework Display
By Andrew Robinson
The history of the South Milford Bonfire and Firework Display essentially dates back to the summer of 1989 and the ancient monument of Steeton Hall. The site had been bought by a York businessman. Mr Shann, aged 33 at the time, was a wealthy entrepreneur who, after being banned from driving spent £500,000 on a new Hughes 500 helicopter. His company, P C Shann Developments, was looking to re locate from Seaton Ross, near York, to Steeton after buying the 260 acre site for around 1.2 million pounds.
The plans were for three substantial production areas and ten magazines for the storage of explosives. There were also plans for up to 120 tonnes of explosives to be produced and up to 8 test explosions per day. There would be 50 staff . There were concerns by villagers who feared the site could become an attraction for undesirables, including the IRA and terrorists.
A village meeting was held with 1000 residents out of 1390 villagers attending. The chair of the Parish Council was then David Sample and local councillor and farmer, Arthur Cawood, were amongst the most vocal at this stage.
Not withstanding thousands of letters to Selby District Council and having the then MP, Michael Allison, on board, the villagers were told they must raise a considerable sum of money to fight the planning application. It was estimated £15,000 would be needed but, in the event, considerably more money was required.
A retired head of a school for young offenders, Frank Rigby, started the South Milford Conservation Group in both an attempt to raise awareness and raise funds to support the public appeal.
Each Sunday villagers met and walked the paths close to Steeton Hall and, in March 1990, they were joined by their MP and over 400 campaigners to protest and walk around the Hall on public footpaths. One of the banners read “SHANN THE MODERN DAY GUY FAWKES”
At this point over 800 objections were lodged and finally Selby District Council rejected the latest of many new plans by the company. A public enquiry was scheduled and the final say would be down to the then Environment Secretary, Chris Patten.
The new group, led by Frank Rigby and with my wife Hilary heading up the press and publicity campaign, organised many events including a fun run, a car boot sale, a 60`s dance and a bonfire and firework display.
There were two bonfires in 1990 and 1991 and they were held on land owned by the Batty Brothers just off High Street.
The attending numbers from these events are rather sketchy but probably attracted up to 300/400 people with a team led by John Fleming from the local Playing Fields Group in charge of the fireworks.
All the facilities were cobbled together by volunteers and fireworks were set off one at a time as another was positioned in the ground. Back then I am not sure if the operatives even wore helmets!
The events encouraged a spirit of community and unity to both raise funds and fight the plan. Again, the records are sketchy, but we probably raised just under a thousand pounds.
By late 1991 the battle was won and whilst the group maintained an active role in the village with other fund raising activities the bonfire was not one of them so in 1992 there was no event.
At that time Frank Rigby was also a key player in the formation of the new Rotary Club that was based at Milford Hall - The Osgoldcross and Elmet Rotary Club. I was a founder member and the club has just celebrated its 25th charter anniversary. Sadly, due to other commitments, I resigned from the Rotary Club in 2014, but the villages have continued to be well supported by this very active club, which now meets at Monk Fryston Hall.
Back in 1993, and while still a member, I asked the Rotary club if I could try and resurrect the bonfire fundraiser with the club running it as a community event. Richard Ford, a bank manager and the first President, told me to “crack on”.
I sent letters out and appealed in the South Milford parish magazine for volunteers and I received just one reply – from John Fleming!
We met and discussed the merits of trying again with the event being run under the The Osgoldcross and Elmet Rotary Club banner but with a separate organising committee. We invited local community groups and the church, primary school and playing field committee in South Milford agreed to participate.
We chose (and wherever possible still do) the nearest Saturday to the 5th of November. This is because of the huge task of setting up and clearing the site afterwards.
The event, with tickets then being sold at 50p each, was very similar to those held previously and attracted similar numbers. The equipment was borrowed from willing supporters and the grass field returned to its green field state by lunch time the following day. I asked John to be Chair - a role he diligently and stoically managed until his retirement in 2010 after which it was handed over to our new Chair, Bob Kirton. John remains on the committee and we are indebted to him for his advice and his ability to embrace change as the event evolved and continues to evolve into what we have today.
Most importantly, the ethos then, as is now, was that all funds raised would go back to the supporting groups within the village and that the event would retain its traditional bonfire and firework display concept as a family attraction as well as being alcohol free. We would, wherever possible, provide all the catering ourselves, sell the fayre and bonfire goods on site and support local businesses.
That first year (1993) £1,962 was handed to the local groups who supported us.
After the first official bonfire, and following the appreciative reception from villagers who were keen that another should be organised, we ran it again the following year.
The first major changes occurred when we decided it would be worthwhile to purchase the equipment that we needed. So, each year, a rolling programme of reinvestment was started.
Today we have a massive inventory of equipment - such as shipping containers for storage, stalls, cooking equipment and barbeques etc. - that is freely used by other groups many times year to support their own fundraising activities.
The committee and volunteers, comprising of people representing the various groups, changes from time to time as new parents and volunteers replace existing members. The changing of committee members serves to keep the group fresh and evolving as enthusiastic volunteers from different backgrounds and disciplines, offer creative and innovative ideas.
What has become known now as the ‘South Milford Bonfire and Firework Display’ ran on the same site until 2007 when it was no longer available to us. We looked at different locations around the village but failed to find a suitable replacement site as safety concerns and the volume of people now attending had grown significantly.
South Milford, as a village, does not have much grassland – it being mainly arable and whilst we were unable to source a suitable location, in 2008 our friends in Monk Fryston stepped in to offer a “year on the road “ which maintained the unbroken annual record of the event.
It proved a real test to try and find a site in order to bring the event back to the village but, after many months of negotiations, we were able to secure the site that we now use. However, for the first couple of years, we are at the mercy of local farmers to lend us some additional land to use as a firing zone for the firework display.
In 2012, nine acres of grassland to the north of the village stream, off Mill Lane, became available and I bought it in order that we could have a permanent site for the fireworks. This has given us the setting to provide an annual event which, subject to tweaks and improvements each year, has given us a permanent location.
As part of our environmental impact we decided to run a free bus service from surrounding villages direct into the site. Last year almost 2000 people used this facility.
Today, in 2016, the ethos from the first event remains the same – that all funds raised will be returned to participating groups. Community groups from Monk Fryston are now involved and we hope to include groups from Sherburn in Elmet in due course.
Despite some extremely cold nights, serious local flooding issues, adverse winds and many rain storms during the day, the South Milford Bonfire and Firework Display, has never been cancelled.
We enjoy a reputation as probably the best of its kind in and around the north of England. We are also proud that, due to a stringent health and safety policy with medical support on site, we have a good safety record which is also largely attributed to the meticulous planning by the committee and the expertise of supporters.
Our link with the local Rotary club remains and it is still their headline charity.
The South Milford Bonfire and Firework Display is totally dependent on the 250 people who give freely of their time to facilitate the event and who continue to work tirelessly for the benefit of others.
Some interesting facts:
*Since its inception over £250,000 has been distributed back to local groups.
*The firework display itself, after many months of planning, takes a team of eight experts a full day to set up. We would like to thank Dave Partridge and his team for this.
*Currently over five tonnes of explosives are used.
* The bonfire built on the day is estimated to contain over 250 tonnes of old wood.
*The Committee starts meeting in April - just three months after closing the previous year’s event.
*2015 saw the first “e –tickets” sold and this will be repeated in 2016.
*We cook 1000 burgers and 1500 sausages in under two hours and the meat and bread are sourced from our local butchers and bakers.
*We sell 25 gallons of hot punch (a secret recipe!) and 2,000 cups of tea and coffee
*We sell 1500 toffee apples and 1000 bags of candy floss
* The event in 2015 was our biggest and we distributed over £30,000 for local groups.
*In 2016 we have added to our Facebook page and Twitter account and our dedicated website provides a lot of information including parking.