GUY FAWKES and BONFIRE NIGHT

 

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In 1605, Guy Fawkes and a group of conspirators attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Before they were able to carry out their plan they were caught, tortured and executed.  Every year since then we have traditionally celebrated his failure by letting off fireworks and burning an effigy of 'Guy'.

 

 

COMING SOON TO A VILLAGE NEAR YOU ........... NOVEMBER 5th ................. GUY FAWKES NIGHT ............ BONFIRE and FIREWORKS DISPLAY.

 

 

There had been many many years of fighting between the Catholics and the Protestants. The Catholics regarded the Pope (in Rome) as the head of their Church, but the Protestants said that the head of the English Church was the King of England. By the time that James I, a Protestant, became King, the Catholics had been treated very badly and were restless.  So it was that a Catholic called Robert Catesby decided to do something about it.  He brought five men together and told them of his secret plan. One of the men was Guy Fawkes.

 

 

 

Guy Fawkes

 

 

THE PLOT


Catesby wanted to get rid of the King and his Parliament. He decided to blow them up with gunpowder! In early November, the members of Parliament were going to meet together and the King would be there too, so Catesby and the other men decided that this would be a good opportunity. They rented a house next door to the Parliament buildings, and started to dig a tunnel underneath to get to the cellars! This took a very long time and was very hard work. Later they found a cellar underneath the Parliament buildings which they could rent. Much easier! They moved the gunpowder into the cellar.  

 

More Catholics joined the plotters, but as more men heard about the plot, it became harder to keep it secret. Eventually, someone sent a warning letter to one of the Members of Parliament and the plot was discovered.  Soldiers were sent to the rented house and the cellars and found the gunpowder. They also found Guy Fawkes, waiting with matches ready to light the fuse which would make the gunpowder explode. He was arrested and horribly tortured to make him tell who else was involved. All the plotters were found guilty of treason and executed.

 

 

 

Fireworks display - starburst rocket

 

 

The Members of Parliament were so pleased they had not been blown up, they made a law that 5th November would be a day of thanksgiving and celebration, and that is why we have bonfires and fireworks on "bonfire night".

 

In some ways Bonfire Night is related to the ancient festival of Samhain, the Celtic New Year. Bonfires formed an important part of the Celtic New Year celebrations - warding off evil spirits. Bonfires play a part in many customs all over the world. On November 5th as part of Bonfire Night celebrations we too light bonfires. What makes the British Bonfire Night celebrations special is the burning of the guy. The guy is a figure usually made by the children out of old clothes, papier mache and anything else we can use. It represents Guy Fawkes and is burnt on the bonfire. Sometimes in the week or so before Bonfire Night children will take their guys on to the street and beg "a penny for the Guy". The money then goes towards the fireworks.

In Sussex, towns such as Lewes compete to have the best Bonfire Night celebrations. The guys used in these celebrations can be enormous - the height of a small house - and under the guy's arm is placed a barrel of gunpowder, so you can imagine the bang when it goes off! Attempts are regularly made on world records - a few years ago we saw a successful attempt on making the world's largest Catherine wheel. The Sussex celebrations still reflect some of the anti-Catholic feelings which were part of the Bonfire Night celebrations of the past.

 

 

 

Bonfire Night

 

 

Bonfires have long been used as an expression of rejoicing in England, particularly to mark victories or deliverances, either spontaneously or by being ordained by the authorities. They have also formed an integral part of particular calendar customs.  The evolution of the English late-Autumn bonfire festivities is complex, with many strands woven into it. Some have attempted to trace it back to the Celtic festival of Samhain; others suggest that it is based upon the the custom of lighting bonfires to protect against disease, or to burn bones for fertilizer.


A document from Henry VIII's reign recommends that people should hold processions and light bonfires as a celebration of their release from the grasp of the Papacy. It is certain that in Elizabethan times the accession of the Queen was commemorated by public bonfires on 17th November each year, and perhaps this made a significant contribution in her successor's reign to the later national celebration of "Guy Fawkes Night" (though it is never properly known by this name in Sussex!)

 

After the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, celebrations were held throughout the country on 5th November, encouraged by the Church of England and other authorities. Both Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn refer to the custom in their diaries. It is not clear why this habit of communal celebration died out (or dwindled into family bonfires with a few fireworks and maybe a Guy) in many areas, or why the tradition remained so strong in Sussex. Whatever the reason, the surviving Sussex celebrations degenerated into disorganised and drunken revelry, with houses being (accidentally or deliberately) burnt down. Often large numbers of local people were sworn in as special constables to control the Bonfire Boys, resulting in arrests and subsequent heavy fines or imprisonment. The formation of the original Bonfire Societies, to bring them into some kind of order, came none too soon.

 

 

Email:   info@firlebonfire.com

 

 


 

 

 

 

The Ram Inn Public House

 

 

THE RAM INN

Firle, Nr Lewes, East Sussex, BN8 6NS

 

Tel: 01273 858222

 

Official Website:  http://www.theram-inn.com

 

 


 

 

LINKS:

 

 

Bonfires Past

Firle Fete 2004

 

 

Barcombe Bonfire Society

Battel Bonfire Boyes

bonfirepics.co.uk

Centre for Fawkesian Pursuiits - USA

Chailey Bonfire Society

Crowborough Carnival Society

Eastbourne Bonfire Society

East Hoathly & Halland Carnival Society

Fireworks.co.uk - it's a shared love affair!

Fireworks International

Fireworks Magazine

Firle Bonfire Society

Fletching Bonfire Society

Hastings Bonfire Society

Lindfield Bonfire Society

Midland Fireworks

Newick Bonfire Society

Rye Bonfire Society Gallery

Rocket FM 87.8 - Broadcasting Bonfire

Sussex Bonfire Message Board

The Gunpowder Plot Site

 

The Lewes Bonfire Societies:


Cliffe Bonfire Society
Lewes Borough Bonfire Society
Waterloo Bonfire Society
Nevill Juvenile Bonfire Society

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