At this time of year, people in the UK are stockpiling fireworks, collecting apples to cover in treacle and stuffing old clothes with straw. Why? Because on the 5th of November we celebrate Bonfire Night, also known as Guy Fawkes Night.
Guy Fawkes was the most famous member of the Gunpowder Plot; 13 radical Catholics who wanted to assassinate the Protestant king of England and his lords. Ever since the plot was foiled back in 1605 we’ve celebrated the anniversary.
Here are 10 fiery facts about what is arguably one of the strangest events in the British calendar!
1. Guy Fawkes was supposed to blow up 36 barrels of gunpowder
The Gunpowder Plot planned to use a staggering 2,500kg of gunpowder to blow up the Houses of Parliament – it was Guy Fawkes’ job to guard the barrels and light them at the right time. Luckily, Guy was arrested before this could happen!
2. He was tortured for 4 days before giving the names of his co conspirators
After his arrest, Guy was taken to the infamous Tower of London, where he was interrogated and (we presume) tortured into confessing and naming the rest of the gang.
3. Guy Fawkes was never thrown on a fire
There's a misconception that Guy was thrown on a fire as punishment, but he was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. However, people still make effigies of him to burn, using old clothes, straw and newspaper. Grisly!
4. The Houses of Parliament still gets searched every year
Every year when Parliament opens, the Yeoman of the Guard (the ones in the fabulous Tudor style uniforms) search the cellars of the Houses of Parliament where Guy was found. It’s apparently a purely ceremonial event, but you can never be too careful!
5. Gold sparklers are hotter than coloured ones
A Bonfire Night favourite, sparklers as we know them have been around since the mid 19th century. But did you know that the gold ones are hotter than the coloured ones? The added fillers and colour pigment make the latter about 400° Fahrenheit cooler.
6. Traditional Bonfire Night food
One of the best things about Bonfire Night is the warming comfort food: jacket potatoes wrapped in foil and placed in the fire to cook, sausages and marshmallows toasted in the flames, and apples covered in treacle. There’s also a tradition of eating Parkin cake, a sticky concoction of oatmeal, ginger, treacle and syrup.
7. The name ‘bonfire’ is a derivation of ‘bone fires’
Ancient Celts would throw animal bones in large fires to ward off evil spirits during their midsummer festivities. Over the centuries we’ve lost the ‘e’ from ‘bone fire’, giving us the word ‘bonfire’.
8. Fireworks became popular in the UK in 1486
The first documented used of fireworks in the UK was at Henry VII’s wedding (well, one of his weddings!) in 1486, when he married Elizabeth of York.
9. Brits spend close to £500 million on Bonfire Night festivities
According to research carried out back in 2017, total spend on Bonfire Night events across the UK was an incredible £497m, with 7 out of 10 adults planning to take part in the celebrations.
10. Different versions of Bonfire Night are celebrated around the world
While the story and tradition of Guy Fawkes is particular to Great Britain, there are other celebrations marked with fires and fireworks around the world. You can celebrate ‘Eleventh Night' in Northern Ireland on the 11th of July or ‘Walpurgis Night' in Scandinavia on the 30th of April.
Whatever you’re doing this Bonfire Night, wrap up warm, stay safe and enjoy all the fireworks and food!
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