Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night

Our effigy of Guy Fawkes

What is it.

Every year on 5th November we celebrate Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night as it is also known. Friends and families gather together to watch a bonfire burn, usually with a ‘Guy’ on top, light fireworks and eat traditional food.

Who is Guy Fawkes?

Guy (or Guido) Fawkes (born in York in 1570) was a catholic who plotted to kill King James 1 (King James VI of Scotland) at the State Opening of Parliament in 1605. During his military service Guy Fawkes was trained in the use of gunpowder and how to ignite it. 

The Gunpowder Plot

Guy Fawkes was introduced to Robert Catesby on 20th May 1604. Robert Catesby was assembling a group at ‘The Duck and Drake’ (a pub in The Strand in the centre of London) to blow up the King of England. King James 1 had introduced anti Catholic legislation so Roman Catholics became an increasingly marginalised and persecuted group.Robert Catesby was a Catholic activist who plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament and destroying the entire English establishment in one go. He had three co conspirators: Tom Winter, Jack Wright and Thomas Percy. The plot (or plan) was to place barrels of gunpowder (rowed in boats across the Thames) in tunnnels dug beneath the Houses of Parliament. Guy Fawkes would lie in wait until the King’s arrival, for the State Opening of Parliament, light the slow burning fuse and escape down the tunnel back to the Thames.

The plot was discovered and the cellars of the Houses of Parliament were searched by the Yeoman of the Guard in the early hours of 5th November. Guy Fawkes was discovered with a lantern, a watch, slowburning matches, touchwood and 36 barrels of gunpowder. He was immediately arrested and taken away to be tortured in the Tower of London. He was tried in January 1606 in Westminster Hall and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

To the present day, the Houses of Parliament are searched by the Yeoman of the Guard before every Sate Opening of Parliament.

How do we celebrate?

Burning ‘Guy’

Each year we light bonfires to celebrate the capture of Guy Fawkes on 5th November and the failure of the Gunpowder Plot. It has become known as Bonfire Night. It is usually accompanied by the ceremonial burning of an effigy of Guy Fawkes or an unpopular public figure of the day on the top of a large bonfire. There are fireworks. Large public displays have overtaken small family bonfire parties in recent years primarily due to safety and cost – fireworks are heavily controlled and are very expensive in the U.K. Nevertheless, fireworks are an important part of the celebrations whether large or small. At family gatherings there is usually apple bobbing for children. This involves lots of apples in a bowl full of water. Children have to pick up an apple using only their mouth and hands have to be behind their backs so there is no cheating! As you can imagine, children get very wet and much fun is had by all. 

There is usually lots of heart warming food. November in the U.K. is very cold and as most of the time is spent outdoors hot warming food is a must – as well as hats, scarves and gloves. Traditional bonfire food is usually jacket potatoes with beans and cheese, tomato soup and mushy peas (with or without mint, depending on which part of the UK you are from). Sweets (or desserts) consists of treacle toffee and Parkin cake (made mainly from treacle, syrup, oats and flour). Everyone gathers around the bonfire to keep warm and watches the fireworks whilst eating. It is really a lovely gathering of friends and family as well as great fun – for young and old alike.

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