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Bonfire Night

Home > London > Festivals | Fireworks | Outdoor
by Angela Lord (subscribe)
Freelance writer specialising in arts, travel and entertainment news, previews and reviews.
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Fireworks light up the sky in memory of Gunpowder Plot


As the nights draw in, and the November chill begins to bite, the skies light up with firework displays – in a tradition which dates back to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

A group of conspirators planned to blow up London's Houses of Parliament and one of them, Guy Fawkes, was caught guarding some barrels of gunpodwer. He became the fall guy for the foiled plan, and the anniversary of his arrest on 5 November is celebrated as Bonfire Night.

The custom of burning a straw-filled "guy" on a bonfire is still going strong. Traditional fireworks include Roman Candles, hand-held sparklers and "squibs". These started off as short tubes filled with gunpowder which made a hissing noise when lit, and are the origin of the phrase "damp squib" meaning something which fizzles out, a non-event or failure… rather like the Gunpowder Plot itself.

The unfortunate Fawkes wasn't even the ringleader of the group – it was Robert Catesby who first hatched the plot to assassinate the Protestant king, James I of England and VI of Scotland, and place a Catholic monarch on the throne. Fawkes was arrested, interrogated and found guilty of treason, along with several other members of the group, and sentenced to death. The date is commemorated in the rhyme:

"Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot: I see no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot…"

Most official displays are held on 5 November and the weekend closest to that date. To find out more about Bonfire Night events across the capital see Visit London.

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Why? bonfire night
When: 5-8 November
Where: across London and countrywide
Cost: see selected event for details
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