Bonfire Night

Bonfire Night

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli’ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow;
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.

Holloa boys, Holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!

Bonfire night also known as Guy Fawkes Night is a celebration which originates from the Gunpowder Plot.

Gunpowder Plot

The Gunpowder Plot took place in 1605, when a provincial group of Catholics planned to assassinate King James I of England and the VI of Scotland.

The plan was to blow up the House of Lords at the State opening of Parliament on November the 5th. The plan was ahead of a popular revolt in the Midlands that intended to replace the King with his 9-year-old daughter Princess Elizabeth as the Catholic Head of State.

Who were the plotters against King James I?

The Gunpowder Plot was led by Robert Catesby. His co-conspirators were:

  • John Wright,
  • Thomas Wintour,
  • Thomas Percy,
  • Guy Fawkes,
  • Robert Keyes,
  • Thomas Bates,
  • Robert Wintour,
  • Christopher Wright,
  • John Grant,
  • Ambrose Rookwood,
  • Sir Everard Digby and
  • Francis Tresham.

The Gunpowder Plot was uncovered when a letter was sent anonymously to William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle on the 26th October 1605. At about midnight on the 4th November 1605, a search of the Palace of Westminster took place, discovering Guy Fawkes under the House of Lords guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder. This amount of gunpowder would have reduced the House of Lords to rubble. The guards arrested Guy Fawkes. On hearing that their plot had been discovered most of the plotters fled London, several of the crew however, decided to make a stand against the pursuing Sheriff of Worcester and his men at Holbeche House. In the battle that ensued, Robert Catesby was one who was shot and killed.

King James I’s Council allowed people to celebrate the King’s survival with bonfires, providing that they were without any danger or disorder. You could say that this ruling still applies today and is one of the reasons why we celebrate Guy Fawkes Night in the way that we do currently. The Council’s decision made the first celebration of the failed plot in 1605.

In January 1606, days before the surviving conspirators were executed, the Government of the day passed the Observance of 5th November Act, which kept the 5th of November as a free day to remember the failed plot, with the intention of making attending Church mandatory with a new form of service being added to the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer. This law however was repealed on the 25th March 1859 by the Anniversary Days Observance Act. This law was itself repealed as spent in the Statute Law Revision Act 1875.

Guy Fawkes Night in Popular Culture

The Gunpowder Plot has been referred to in many ways across popular culture, through literature, television, radio and verse.

Interestingly in a BBC poll, the public voted Guy Fawkes as the 30th greatest Briton out of 100, he was also included in the list of top 100 people from Yorkshire compiled by Bernard Ingham.

Guy Fawkes in Literature

We thought we would give just a few examples of where throwbacks to Guy Fawkes have appeared in recent literature.

In the Harry Potter series of books by J.K.Rowling, Dumbledore has a phoenix called Fawkes, which was named after Guy Fawkes. According to tradition, at the end of its life a phoenix burns.

In the novel Martin Chuzzlewit, it is said that a member of the Chuzzlewit family is unquestionably a member of the Gunpowder Plot. As well as Guy Fawkes himself being cut from the same stock as that of the family.

Guy Fawkes in Theatre

Here we have listed plays that have been in the theatre that portray or refer to Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators:

  • Harlequin and Guy Fawkes (16/11/1835),
  • Guido Fawkes (June 1840),
  • Match for a King (1855),
  • 5/11 (August 2005),
  • Equivocation (2009).

Guy Fawkes in Music

There is one example of this plot being referenced in music which a song entitled Un-United Kingdom by the band Pitchshifter, a cyberpunk band.

Guy Fawkes in Radio

We thought that we would highlight how the plot still has importance today by highlighting how 400 years after the plot, BBC Radio 3 broadcast a radio play, The Gunpowder Plot, on the 6th November 2005.

Also, in 2005 Radio 4 broadcast 5 15-minute radio plays as a series entitled, Gunpowder Women the episodes were called:

  1. The Pilgrim,
  2. The Mother,
  3. The Sister,
  4. The Princess,
  5. The Wife.

Guy Fawkes on Television

The Gunpowder Plot has been seen on television in many ways over the years, a few examples are:

  • Gunpowder, Treason and Plot (a 2004 miniseries),
  • Gunpowder 5/11: The Greatest Terror Plot (22/10/2004),
  • Sherlock episode entitled The Empty Hearse (1/01/2014),
  • Gunpowder (Oct and Nov 2017 3-part series).

Modern day celebration

In Britain, on or around the 5th November has become the time to let off fireworks and hold bonfire parties, the tradition behind this is to celebrate the failure of the plot to assassinate the King.

Traditionally, children make ‘guys’ – effigies of Guy Fawkes, to place on the November 5th bonfire to be burnt once the fire is lit. Usually, the ‘guys’ are made of old clothing stuffed with newspaper, wearing grotesque masks. Traditionally, these ‘guys’ were paraded around the streets, in order to collect money for fireworks, this has become a less common custom through the years.

The use of the word guy was first started to be used to describe these effigies in the 19th Century to mean an oddly dressed person, and in the later centuries it has come to mean any man.

Throughout towns and cities around the country each year, public bonfire and firework displays are held around the 5th November to commemorate the Gunpowder Plot, in some areas for example, Sussex, there are great processions and bonfires organised by local bonfire societies.

Staying Safe this Guy Fawkes Night

Obviously, we want our readers to remain safe whilst having fun this 5th November; we thought it would be a good idea to remind you of the Fireworks Code. The code used to be emblazoned across our television in the run up to the festivities, however in recent years this is not the case.

The Code comes from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills of the Government and is as follows:

  • Only buy fireworks which are marked BS 7114,
  • Don’t drink alcohol if you are setting off fireworks,
  • Keep fireworks in a closed box,
  • Follow the instructions on each firework,
  • Light them at arm’s-length, using a taper,
  • Stand well back,
  • NEVER return to a firework once lit. Even if it hasn’t gone off, it could still explode,
  • NEVER put fireworks in your pocket or throw them,
  • Always supervise children around fireworks,
  • Light sparklers one at a time and wear gloves,
  • Never give sparklers to children under 5,
  • Keep pets inside,
  • Don’t let off fireworks after 11pm.

I think you will agree that the firework code makes perfect sense, and is a good way of keeping safe when around fireworks, this firework season.


Further to all other fireworks, sparklers should be treated with extra care, especially when they have been given to children, which is generally the use for these fireworks, to entertain the children, and make pretty signs in the air.

Did You know?….

Sparklers can get
6 times as hot as a
pan of hot cooking oil!

Sparkler Safety

It is important to look after unlit and lit sparklers in a safe way, these simple rules should help to keep you and children safe this November.

  • Store sparklers and other fireworks in a closed box in a cool dry place,
  • Always light sparklers one at a time whilst wearing gloves,
  • Never hold a baby or a child if you have a sparkler in your hand,
  • Plunge finished sparklers into a bucket of water, hot end down as soon as they have finished, sparklers can stay hot a VERY long time,
  • Don’t take sparklers to a public display, it will be too busy to use them safely.

Sparklers and Children

When supervising children with sparklers remember these key rules:

  • Never give sparklers to children under 5, they will not know how to use them safely,
  • Always supervise children closely with sparklers,
  • Give children gloves to wear while holding sparklers,
  • Avoid dressing children in loose or flowing clothes, they may catch light,
  • Show children how to hold a sparkler safely, arm’s-length away from their body,
  • Teach children not to wave them at other people,
  • Never let a child run while they are holding or near sparklers.

Burn Treatment

Let’s recap burn treatment, for more detailed burn treatment, click here to be taken to our Triduum of Allhallowtide blog where we talk in detail about burns.

  1. Cool the burn with running water for 10 minutes,
  2. Cut around any material which is stuck to the burn – Do NOT pull it off,
  3. Do NOT touch the burn or pop any blisters,
  4. Cover the burn once cold with a non-fluffy material, cling film is perfect, to prevent infection,
  5. If the clothing catches fire, get the child to:


If the burn is particularly large, on a child or elderly person, or you are worried, seek medical advice from your doctor, A&E or call 999/112 for an ambulance.

Even with all the advice provided, we obviously do not want to take the fun away from your bonfire night.

We hope that
you, your children and family
have a safe and fun Bonfire Night.

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