Bonfire Night in England: Remember, Remember the 5th of November, Guy Fawkes head of England's first terrorist gang?
What's it all about then?
If you live in the UK you will probably know at least a little about Bonfire night, Guy Fawkes night, Fifth of November or call it what you will, for those of you who don't, read on.
England is a strange place and its people rather quirky. At least we think they are and this blogger was born and bred in England, and still lives there.
There can be few places around the world that would still celebrate an event, such as a terrorist act meted out against the government, centuries after the event. They may mark it in a sombre way. However we in the U remember this event in a dramatic and party like way.
In 1605 a man called Guy Fawkes, and his co conspirators, hatched a plot to blow up Parliament in London and whoever was there at the time. We will detail a little of this event below but would just like to ask a question first. Do you think any other country in the world would still celebrate this event 400 years plus later? Just as we thought - No.
So as we move into Autumn, Bonfire night approaches and families and the like are beginning to stock pile their own arsenals of fireworks.
Guy Fawkes was born in 1570 in York, England. It would seem that some of what was behind the plot, which he and others planned in 1605, was religion. Nothing changes, does it? Parliament in England was as grey an area back then as these days. However, back then there was much more than mere expense scandals afoot.
Robert Catesby was the head honcho of this plot but yet it is Fawkes who we remember more than 400years later. There were six main conspirators. We probably remember Fawkes because he was to be the perpetrator of the actual explosion. With some knowledge of explosives and fighting he was deemed the most suitable candidate from the gang of terrorists. Such is his fame that even the word GUY for a man is part of his legacy.
The plan was to blow up Parliament when, ideally, the King and aristocracy of the day where in the building. This would have inevitably blown up noblemen of both the Protestant and Roman Catholic faith. However, as is often the case with such extremists, the cause was felt to be worth it.
Fawkes and his gang hoped to rid England of a Protestant King and return England to the Holy Roman Catholic faith. Caught in the act as he was, Fawkes behaved suspiciously, and the plot was discovered in the nick of time. The plotters had managed to get 36 barrels of explosives into the building and so the King was one very lucky Royal in reality. As news spread, of the King's lucky escape, the people celebrated by lighting bonfires around London, and the tradition continues to this day
Memories of Bonfire night
As a child Bonfire night came hot on the heels of Hull Fair. This meant that for me, and other local children, it was a magical time of the year. Back then, the street where we lived had two bomb sites left over from the 2nd World War and the German Luftwaffe's war efforts. These bombies were perfect for our huge street bonfires.
Many families still had their own small bonfires in their postage stamp sized gardens or yards. Local parks also built huge organised fires and had free firework displays. Money was tight back then and our Dad, like many others, would gradually buy our fireworks over a period of time. These would be stored in a metal biscuit tin for safety. Then Dad, following all the safety precautions, would ceremoniously light these little treasures, one at a time. By today's standards our celebrations were meagre but we loved them.
Some children would build a Guy to be thrown onto the fire. This would usually be some sort of stuffed effigy dressed in a collection of old clothes. Traditionally some kids would stand outside of public houses and at the end of streets, asking for a "Penny For The Guy". We were not allowed to do this though as, in our Dad's eyes, it was begging, and not safe we assume. What fun though? Of course the streets were safer 50 years ago. The guy was pushed from here to there usually in an old pram.
The street bonfires would be built high with unwanted furniture, wood and the like. A Guy, that is an effigy of Mr Fawkes, would be set on the top. Usually he was sat in someone's old chair that they no longer wanted. The fire would be lit and the fireworks set off. It was a good time for householders to get rid of unwanted broken furniture and the like. Kids would collect this for weeks and store it all in a "safe house"
The night before Bonfire Night is known as Mischief Night but this is celebrated more in Scotland, than England
Locally our only encounter with this event was some years ago. We had been out for the evening and returned home to find that our six foot high gate had been lifted of its hinges and leant against the frame. As we lifted the latch to open the gate the whole thing went crashing down onto the path in front of us. There was no damage to us, the gate or the path but we did feel foolish. The whole road of houses suffered the same fate.
Still back to Guy Fawkes
Guy Fawkes is from my neck of the woods and so pertinent. In fact there is some link to his plotting and one of the few very old public houses in our hometown. This pub is located along The Land of Green Ginger. Now isn't that a fabulous name for a street?
Guy Fawkes was hung, drawn and quartered. What a fate. The full list of his co-conspirators is:-
In January 1606 those found guilty suffered execution by being hung, drawn and quartered. Those conspirators who had already been killed had their bodies exhumed. Their heads were cut off their bodies and displayed on poles at Traitors Gate alongside the heads of those who had been executed.
Initially it was an effigy of the Pope that was used as a Guy on the bonfires. It would seem that conspiracy theories are nothing new though. Some people believed that the whole thing was a set up and the purpose was to blacken the character of Catholics and strengthen the Protestants hold on England. We shall never know the truth now.
The 5th November 21st Century style
These days cynicism has set in. If you have pets Bonfire Night is just a pain. The fireworks last longer than they used to and are much louder. These days they can be heard from any time in October until the New Year. Of course, children will still love all of this.
However, when we were children, and Bonfire night was just one day a year, it was much more special, and that's not just because we were young.