Off to the Fair!

Memories of Bonfire Night (1950s)

Memories of Midsummer Picnics

Memories of Pancake Day
(Shrove Tuesday) 1950-ish

Memories of Easter Time

Memories of Christmas Past

Memories of Bonfire Night (1950s)

Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night is held in England every year on the 5th November to commemorate the discovery of a plan known as the Gunpowder Plot, to blow up the Houses of Parliament. This uniquely British celebration includes the bonfire, fireworks, and sometimes a torchlight procession and I well remember with what excitement we anticipated the event in my childhood.

Preparations started well in advance. Things had to be collected for the bonfire. Some people had their own in the backyard, and there was always a huge one on the bomb site across the road from our house. For weeks we’d go around collecting anything that folks wanted to dispose of that would burn furniture, garden rubbish etc., until the pile was so high that only our big brothers could reach to pile still more on the top. Then there was the guy, an effigy of the hapless Guido Fawkes, the conspirator. The neighbourhood children would work in small groups, each vying to have the best guy. The body was made of potato sacking stuffed with straw, and dressed in an old suit, and (if’ you could get them) a hat, g1oves and shoes. Some time around the last week in October we would sit him on a trolley or a pram, and parade him from door to door begging "A penny for the guy, Mister?" Then we would hurry to the shop with the money we’d collected and choose fireworks from the tantalizing display. There were Rockets, Roman Candles, Volcanoes, Catherine Wheels, Jumping Jacks, Bangers and Sparklers to name but a few. As the 5th drew closer we would watch the sky anxiously and pray that it wouldn’ t rain and ruin the bonfires.

Finally, the day would arrive, the guy was hoisted atop the pyre and everyone waited for it to get dark. Then all at once, the bonfire was lit, a mere flicker at first, then gathering life until it burned and crackled merrily, and we all danced around it chanting "Please to remember the Fifth of November, Gunpowder treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot!"

The fireworks were lit (not by children) and there would be a resounding chorus of "Oohs!" and "Aahs!" as we watched the lovely displays. As the fire began to sink, we baked potatoes in their jackets and plump sausages. No aluminium foil wrappings (what was that anyway?) – they went straight into the fire, and though they were a little charred, they always tasted delicious with lots of butter and salt. Sometimes there was a singsong, but more often we went home to bed, tired but happy. In the morning, the gardens would be strewn with rocket sticks and burned out crackers and the air would be thick with fog and smoke (most unhealthy I’m sure, but nevertheless part of the memory).

Bonfire night is still celebrated in England, but not in quite the same way as it once was. Sadly, safety measures were not always observed and over the years there were some tragic accidents. Still the memory of firelight flickering on happy faces on those magical Bonfire Nights of long ago remains, for me, a pleasant one.

By Sylvia Richards October 2009