Bonfire Night is nearly upon us, where the skies above us will be illuminated in an array of beautiful colours, and fireworks bang and whistle through the skies to the amazement of onlookers below. But what exactly is Bonfire Night, and where did fireworks actually come from? We have taken a look at a brief history below.
The vast majority of you will know the name Guy Fawkes, and the story of the Gunpowder Plot. Just in case you weren’t too sure on your history, in November 1605, Guy Fawkes led a gang of Roman Catholic activists in an attempt to assassinate King James I, by blowing up the Palace of Westminster during the state opening of Parliament.
Guido “Guy” Fawkes is the name remembered, but it was in fact Warwickshire-born Robert Catesby who planned the whole event. His plan obviously did not work out, and the conspirators were apprehended before any damage was caused.
Following the failed plot, November 5th was declared a national day of thanksgiving, with the first celebrations taking place on the first anniversary of the plot, in 1606. The House of Parliament are still “searched” today before the state opening, although this is more ceremonial than serious.
Many people still make “guys” - effigies to Fawkes – and throw them on the bonfire, in reference to his act of treason. “Guy” is of course a synonym for man, but it used to mean someone who was ugly and repulsive in reference to Fawkes!
The fireworks are set off to symbolise the failed explosives hidden in Parliament, but they are in fact much older than the plot. During the 10th century, a Chinese cook created an explosive black powder after he mixed together three ingredients in his kitchen. They were potassium nitrate or saltpetre - which was a substance used in the curing of meat – charcoal and sulphur.
He noticed that if this mixture was burned when encased in a bamboo shoot, there was a great explosion, which led to the birth of fireworks. They arrived in Europe during the 14th century, and were first produced in Italy. The first recorded firework display took place in Florence, with the first in England taking place in 1486 at the wedding of King Henry VII.