Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Yes, you’ve guessed it, Bonfire Night is coming round the corner and that means all things fireworks, sparklers, family, friends, good food and hot drinks. But in the midst of these annual celebrations, you might have forgotten why we’re celebrating bonfire night? It’s a bit of a bizarre tradition, isn’t it? Bonfire Night (a.k.a 'The Fifth of November') marks the creation and indeed discovery of the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. This plot was famously organized by Robert Catesby and involved a number of men, one of which was Guy Fawkes. Catesby organized this plot in an effort to end the persecution of Roman Catholics by the English government.
For more than 400 years, we’ve gathered round bonfires, lit fireworks and sparklers to celebrate the failed 'Gunpowder Plot'. So as part of our celebrations for this year, I’ve put together a list of facts that you probably weren’t aware of, or at least I wasn’t aware of!
- There was a time it was illegal not to celebrate Bonfire Night in Britain:
Up until 1959 (can you believe it?), it was illegal to not celebrate Bonfire Night in Britain. The only exception to this law, was a school in York - St. Peters School. This is because Guy Fawkes attended this school as a pupil, and they abstain as a mark of respect for Fawkes. This tradition is still carried out today.
- King Henry VII was the first person to host a fireworks display:
During Henry VII’s wedding in 1486, he hosted a fireworks display to celebrate the wedding festivities, which became the first-ever recorded display of fireworks in Britain. It subsequently became a famous wedding, not only for the fireworks display, but also because it united the previously warring families of the York and Lancaster houses.
- The Houses of Parliament are still searched:
It’s now become tradition for the Yeomen of the Guard to search the cellars of the Houses of Parliament before the state opening each year. Even though the original spot of where Fawkes hid his gunpowder burned down during a fire at the Palace of Westminster in 1834, officials still search the existing cellars, ‘just to be sure’. But really, the searches are carried out for traditional purposes rather than for security purposes.
- Ottery St. Mary celebrates Bonfire Night in style:
Something perhaps closer to home as such for our Exeter readers, is a local town known as Ottery St. Mary. This town gets a special mention because they celebrate with ‘Tar Barrels’. What happens is that locals take turns carrying large barrels, which have previously been soaked in tar and are then set alight and carried on locals' shoulders in celebration, and people from all round come to see this amazing display. This tradition is said to have originated in the 17th century and is usually packed with people watching the spectacle. Just remember, don’t try this at home!
- Guy Fawkes’ inspired the Mask in V for Vendetta:
After Guy Fawkes was apprehended, numerous pictures and engravings emerged to produce a record of the dramatic moment. These include a big black floppy hair and a manicured moustache and beard. The main character in the comic book V for Vendetta wears a Guy Fawkes’ face to keep his identity a secret, whilst he fights a dystopian authoritarian government. Consequently, Guy Fawkes became a symbol of rebellion, and even today its worn by anti-establishment protesters.
However you celebrate this bizarre and quirky annual event, Bonfire Night is full of rich history. Remember to stay safe, look after one another and enjoy the celebrations!