Bonfire Night: Fires, Fireworks and Fun

My name is Jess and I’m a Master’s student studying Msc Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at Leeds. I’m from a small village just outside of Norwich, Norfolk in the East of England. I have written this blog about one of my favourite English holidays, Bonfire Night.

Bonfire night is such a special English tradition for me. I remember going to big displays as a child with my family and sometimes my Dad even running his own display for the family at my Grandma’s house. Bonfire night is such a unique and admittedly strange holiday but it’s so much fun! Since I’ve been at university, I have enjoyed going to the public firework display in Hyde Park. Be it with my housemates or my friends from LUU Taekwondo after training. The bonfire is arranged by the council every year in Woodhouse Moore and there is always a large bonfire set up in the middle of the park, followed by an amazing firework display and a little fun fair! My favourite part is always buying roasted chestnuts from the fair! To me, Bonfire night signals the start of winter and all the winter festivities. It is the catalyst that gets me excited for Christmas and New Year and allows me to accept the cold weather is here to stay for a bit!

Me and my housemates at Bonfire Night 2018

The History of Bonfire Night

Bonfire night has a very specific history, also known as Guy Fawkes night or Fireworks Night, it marks the anniversary of the failure of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. This plot aimed to blow up the Houses of Parliament and was planned by 13 men, including Guy Fawkes. The plotters were Catholics who wanted to assassinate the Protestant King James I and his parliament. Guy Fawkes was caught and arrested while guarding the explosives which had been placed beneath the House of Lords. To celebrate the failure of the plot and the survival of the King, people lit bonfires across London, eventually leading to the Observance of 5th November Act which decreed an annual day of thanksgiving for the failure of the plot.

During the 18th and 19th century, the celebration became violent, political and anti-Catholic. Many churches led anti-Catholic sermons and effigies were burnt not only of Guy Fawkes but of polarising figures such as the Pope. This led to the Observance of 5th November Act being repealed in 1859. By the 20th century, Bonfire night had returned as an enjoyable social commemoration, celebrated at large, public gatherings. Nowadays, people still gather at public gatherings or have friends over to celebrate. People light bonfires, sometimes even still burn effigies of Guy Fawkes or sometimes even prominent public figures and set of fireworks to represent the gunpowder used in the plot! There is even a famous rhyme associated with the event:

Remember remember the fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason why gunpowder, treason

Should ever be forgot…

This picture is of some of the ‘Gunpowder Plot’ conspirators. Starting with Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Wright, Thomas Percy, Guy Fawkes, Robert Catesby and Thomas Wintour…

My Bonfire Night 2021

Unfortunately, this year, the council run firework display and bonfire was cancelled due to COVID regulations and concerns. Luckily, one of my Taekwondo friends decided to host his annual bonfire celebration. The evening was complete with themed snacks such as Bonfire Cupcakes and Toffee Apple Flapjacks, good drinks and great company.

Bonfire Cupcakes and Toffee Apple Flapjacks 

The evening started as everyone slowly arrived at the host, John’s house and immediately everyone helped set up for the evening, be it helping to prepare the food, getting the bonfire started or generally helping around. The guests all brought a variety of snacks and John even made fresh pizzas throughout the evening in his pizza oven. The bonfire was small compared to a public display, but it kept us warm and provided us the opportunity to roast marshmallows, and the fireworks were impressive!

In hindsight we were maybe sat a little close to the display, but it added to the excitement for sure! After the fireworks were spent, we even had sparklers to light! I love fireworks but there’s something so fun about sparklers!

Hopefully by next year, the public firework display will return to Woodhouse Moore and we can go back to celebrating in large crowds again! If you are still in Leeds next year, I fully recommend attending some kind of event for Bonfire Night! It really is such a unique English tradition, and not one to be missed whilst in the UK!