Whatever happened to bonfire night?
gunpowder, treason and council organized bonfires...Whatever happened to bonfire night?


Whatever happened to bonfire night?
gunpowder, treason and council organized bonfires...Whatever happened to bonfire night?
I guess I’m old enough to remember when bonfire night was a big deal.

The sixties and the seventies would see November 5th go up in flames and every yob worth their salt construct gunpowder bombs and lob bangers into unlikely and dangerous places. Halloween was a mere blip before the fireworks commenced again in the build up to all the precarious and rather dangerous bonfires everywhere.

No-one ever really understood what it was for and why we were all standing around bonfires and watching bad tempered fathers set off fire works. Catherine Wheels sounded quaint if you didn’t know that they were some sort of mediaeval torture, and that Guy Fawkes character was a funny name and as he burned to a shred on the fire the whole thing seemed like a hot and firey cartoon.

No one ever seemed to get the Catholics against Protestants bit and the whole notion of blowing up the houses of Parliament was a distant folk memory. It was just some dusty back story in some old annual that was probably burning on the fire.

The death of bonfire night started when the councils started organizing bonfires and made it harder and harder to set up a fire on your own, maybe not such a bad thing with some of the idiots chucking petrol onto the pyres and some of the grim firework injuries but also quite sad to watch as people started to get bored with standing around in the cold watching someone else’s bonfire.

In the past ten years Halloween has taken over, after all we are all Americans now, and if theydon’t have a bonfire night and make loads of money from selling plastic toys for Halloween then so must we.

This year I’ve hardly heard a firework and seen no bonfires anywhere…has bonfire night disappeared like a damp squib- like a badly constructed bonfire on a wet autumn night? Are we happy to lose these strange and quirky British customs?

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. I wonder if the ‘blame culture’ also helped speed the demise of the domestic bonfire. Too many idiots not making the correlation between gunpowder and injuries.

    In a sense, the spirit of Bonfire Night lives on, obliquely, with the masses of protesters worldwide adopting the Guy Fawkes mask from V For Vendetta as a symbol of social discontent.

    It’s a striking image, to be sure, but since the mask is a licensed product, sadly it’s also one that generates pointless extra profit for the film company. The Americans will even co-opt our folk heroes for cash – like you said about bonfires, it’s better to make your own!

  2. Nah it’s still going strong in parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire.The fireworks are going off around my ears as I write this.
    Most terraced houses are derelict now and if you go out tonight you’ll find bonfires on every street.

    Mischief night is another interesting one.The Scousers have it on October 3Oth whilst East and North Lancs and The Yorkies have it on November the 4th.

    Watch out tonight someone will be knocking on your door!

  3. Of course, the rapid rise in urbanisation (nobody has gardens anymore) and more and more super-compelling forms of entertainmen to turn the kids into vacuous lame-o’s is worth considering… Replace your ‘Guy’ with a TV!

  4. Sad to see bonfire night go, but its probably better for hedgehogs.
    I was at the Vet’s the other day and there was all this talk about how you are supposed to check that hedgehogs hadn’t crawled into the unlit bonfire-stack of branches and twigs, before you light it.

    This does lack sociological depth, and has no link to the cultural seismology of encroaching americanism, but hedgehog welfare is important.

  5. We never celebrated Guy Fawkes in Belfast but always Halloween which we exported to the US…so it’s one of our older customs coming back.

  6. Fireworks are overrated. Apart from the blue touch-paper. I’m a big fan of that. Before it’s lit you understand; in all its unsullied glory.

    Bonfire – that’s the thing. Pop your chesnuts in a metal biscuit tin, advance toward the fire and then wait for them to pop.


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