Guy Fawkes, Bonfires And Firework Displays

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Bonfire night on November 5th is a British tradition going back over 400 years. All over Great Britain you will find children and adults celebrating with bonfires and fireworks and all because Guido Fawkes was caught trying to blow up the British Houses of Parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder on 5th November 1605. Bonfires were lit around London to celebrate the failure of his plot and they are still being lit all around the country. The story is told charmingly in the following video.

My Bonfire Nights Through The Last 50 Years

In the early 1960s I and my 4 brothers looked forward to November 5th immensely. Our mum would make plot toffee and we would excitedly watch the fireworks provided by our parents as a family group outside the house. Then for a couple of years we went to a bonfire organised by the local church. We were given pie and peas and plot toffee to eat while we stood around the bonfire and watched far more fireworks than our parents alone could afford.

We got more serious about bonfire night from the age of 10 and collected our own firework money. We made a guy fawkes out of pillow cases stuffed with old socks, dressed him up in old clothes and pulled him around the streets on a bogie shouting “penny for the guy”.

What’s a bogie? It was a rather large wooden go cart made by our dad that could fit 3 of us on. Our guys were admired so much that we earned an impressive amount for our firework fund every year. Come bonfire night our guy was burned on a bonfire just as there would have been thousands of effigies burnt all over Great Britain.

Near our house was what we called the spare ground, where some back to back houses had been pulled down. A group of us kids around 20 strong collected wood for our own bonfire for several years. We would knock on doors and would be given old furniture or anything flammable. It was an easier way of getting rid of unwanted items than it is today with recycling rules.

There was a lot of boarded up empty houses waiting to be demolished back then. For several years we plundered them for wood for our bonfire. Very unsafe and I shudder to think of the risks that we took back then.

There was an element of competition to build the biggest bonfire in the area which we usually won. We had to guard ours until the late evening to stop others from stealing our prog. It was best when we were given old sofas and chairs to burn. We would sit around small fires to keep warm and roast chestnuts or bake potatoes in foil. They always seemed to taste better baked in the fire rather than the oven.

The spare ground was eventually built over and since then I’ve only ever been to much safer organised bonfires. Last year I went with my daughter and grandchildren to an organised bonfire party in a park near Hemsworth in West Yorkshire. There was a large bonfire and lots of fireworks in a fenced off area to make it safer. Live bands playing and a funfair with lots of food stalls. We enjoyed it but for the fact that it had rained heavily beforehand and it was difficult to walk around the park without slipping in the mud.

Indoor Fireworks

One year I took some indoor fireworks to my friend’s house. Her young daughter Vicky had a bad cold and wasn’t feeling very well. We didn’t want to take her out in the cold and noise, but we didn’t want her to miss out on the fireworks that she had so been looking forward to.

It was fun, warm and safe. Vicky enjoyed herself and so did we adults. They would never rival spectacular outdoor fireworks but being inside in comfort certainly rivaled a cold raining evening out.

Because of safety regulations it’s more difficult to buy fireworks over the counter now. Indoor fireworks are good fun at any time of the year and they don’t make as much noise as outdoor fireworks.

Firework Safety

One year when I was 6 a firework didn’t go off and my eldest brother broke it apart and made what was called a genie out of the ‘dud’ firework and lit it. My younger brother and I didn’t get out of the way quick enough as it exploded and ended up at the hospital casualty ward with facial burns. Neither of us was badly burned, more scared than anything. As a reminder I was left with just a small scar on my nose which can hardly be seen most of the time, just goes red when I drink alcohol!

Our accident made me much more aware of taking safety measures with fireworks and bonfires. Although we weren’t badly hurt there was a lot of other children at casualty that night with more severe injuries, now that did frighten us. I’m glad that most bonfires and fireworks displays are safely organised now.

17th Century Gunpowder Plot Poem

Remember, remember the fifth of November, Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason, Should ever be forgot

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent, To blow up the King and the Parliament
Three score barrels of powder below, Poor old England to overthrow
By God’s providence he was catched, With a dark lantern and burning match
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King! Hip hip hooray!, Hip hip hooray!

A penny loaf to feed ol’ Pope, A farthing cheese to choke him
A pint of beer to rinse it down, A faggot of sticks to burn him
Burn him in a tub of tar, Burn him like a blazing star
Burn his body from his head, Then we’ll say ol’ Pope is dead.
Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!

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