November 5th in the 1950s
To Us It Was Bonfire Night
Many of you have probably just finished celebrating Halloween. I hear that some children are sending their extra candy to the soldiers overseas. How kind.!
When my husband and I were children, we didn't take too much notice of Halloween but oh boy 5 days later........November 5th. Now that was a date circled on our calenders.
Everyone would have a bonfire after dark. Not a little bonfire in your own garden, maybe burning leaves, no this was something completely different. Your whole street and usually one more,or your whole block if you lived in apartments., would be collecting for weeks pieces of wood, old cardboard, a bicycle tyre or even an abandoned car tyre.! Wow!! Now that would burn.
As well as the bonfire we would have fireworks but back in the 1950s People didn't go to organised firework displays like today. That would have ruined the whole concept of having this enormous bonfire at the end of a street. No, dad would bring home a box full of goodies. Fireworks with pretty titles like Catherine wheels, Roman candles,sparklers.. The boys always preferred Bangers, Jackie jumpers, anything that was loud and frightened us girls.. Fireworks were also sold loosely at the local store so you'd see 7 or 8 year old boys and girls buying their gunpowder in pretty paper...Quite normal for november 5th in the 50's.
Leading up to the big day we'd get together, all the children in our area andstart to make a giant doll, sort of a cuddly toy but it was supposed to be a man, OUR GUY .He'd be stuffed withstraw and old rags and newspapers, anything that we could shape into a person and then put someones' dads' trousers on him .no--one ever came up with a good idea to make the feet so the bottomof the trouser legs were always tied withstring to keep Guy 'in'. Somebodies grandad would always be willing to part with an old jacket then all Guy needed was mask from the little store so he'd have the right face to be GUY FAWKES.
Poor GUY. Every year he'd be the effigy on the top of the bonfire. Always burned to a cinder.
But before that could happen Guy would be placed in any baby carriage we could find and be taken from door to door. Knock Knock, "hello mrs , penny for the guy, please? Mrs would usually go inside and bring out 2 or 3 pennies,. Off we'd go to the next door "penny for the guy please?. One man said to us once. "GUY! you call that a guy......come back when you've made a decent one." and we did and he payed us well for our persistence.
As I am sure you will have gathered by now, all the money we collected went back down to the little old lady in the local store who sold us the pretty packaged gunpowder.
It seems absolutely bizarre to me now when I think of what we were handling, even if small quantities.
Of course as I grew a little older the obvious question that no-one ever talked about had to be asked. "Dad, Who was guy fawkes and why do we want to burn him every year?"
Oops, I can feel a history lesoncoming on. Apparently Guy Fawkes was a devout catholic at a time when catholics were seriously unpopular. King James 1st was on the throne of England and he was determined to keep the country stable and protestant just as queen Elizabeth had before him.but there were still many catholics in the country who liked the old ways.'allegience to the pope etc.,"
Some of these men were part of the government, they were Lordsand they asked Guy Fawkes to help them secure a plot to blow up the protestent king and all of parliament..
Barrells of gunpowder were stacked in a cellar beneath the houses of parliament, ready for the opening of parliament on November 5th 1605. Guy and his friends hoped to blow up parliament , then appeal to Spain (a catholic country) to help them form a catholic government in England. What a shame......Didn't happen...... Guy got caught.....
One of the plotters had a sudden surge of consciencetold his brother in law not to go to parliament on that particular day..Everything was uncovered. A ton and a half of gunpowder covered with wood and coal andFawkes complete wiTh matches in his pockets.
One thing to be said for poor Guy, he was tortured at the tower of London and still would not reveal the names of his friends and allies.. Sadly the silly men tried an armed rebellion, got caught and they all died in the end.
I still find it slightly baffling that we've been burning Guy every year for hundreds of years and he didn't even get to blow anything up!
So if you happen to be in England this week. Have no fear. There only very civilised , organised fireworks displays around the country now..Much more health and safety going around than when I was a little girl asking "penny for the guy, Please to buy my fireworks.
Although a visit to the tower of London if you've never been is fascinating,........creepy...... but fascinating.