Bonfire Night is a magical evening for children and adults alike; a chance to get together, light bonfires, and enjoy fireworks and sparklers.
It’s also a prime opportunity to teach children a bit about British history. Bonfire Night, after all, isn’t just about colourful lights and explosions: the festivities were established in commemoration of the events of November 5th 1605, when a conspirators’ plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament was foiled. Had the Gunpowder Plot succeeded, everyone inside the Houses of Parliament – including their prime target, the King – would have been killed.
Unusual Facts About Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night
Most children and students will be familiar with the name ‘Guy Fawkes’: the namesake for the traditional ‘guy’ that sits atop the bonfire. But what else do we know about this man, who was one of the chief conspirators involved in the Gunpowder Plot? And where does the name ‘Bonfire Night’ come from? Read on to learn more…
- Guy Fawkes was born in York on the 13th April, 1570. He had a notable military career – though he never fought for Britain – and spent some time in the Spanish infantry fighting against the Dutch in the Eighty Year’s War. It was during this time that he gained experience working with explosives.
- Guy was known by a variety of names. Despite his English roots, in later years he liked to be addressed as ‘Guido’ (a nickname he probably picked up during his time as a Spanish soldier). Whilst working on the Gunpowder Plot, Fawkes called himself ‘John Johnson’ (this was also the name he gave when he was arrested).
- The plot was foiled thanks to an anonymous tip-off (a letter). The information in the letter led the authorities to the cellars below Westminster, in which Guy Fawkes was found hiding – with 36 barrels of gunpowder. After his arrest, Fawkes was taken to the King’s bedchamber, where he confessed that he wanted to kill the King (James I) due to his excommunication by the Pope: Fawkes was Catholic, and considered the King a ‘disease’ and a ‘Scotch beggar’.
- As mentioned earlier, Guy Fawkes was born in York and educated at St Peter’s School. Out of respect to their former pupil, St Peter’s shun the annual tradition of burning a ‘Guy’, though they do put on a fireworks display for pupils each year.
- What would have happened if Guy Fawkes hadn’t been discovered? Scientists can’t reach a consensus. Whilst the Institute of Physics concluded that had Guy Fawkes lit the gunpowder, the blast would have destroyed a huge area – from St James’s Park to the London Eye – other scientists have argued that the gunpowder was so decayed that it wouldn’t have gone off anyway.
- To this day, the cellars of the Houses of Parliament are searched by the Yeoman of the Guard prior to the state opening – just in case.
- The word ‘bonfire’ pre-dates November 5th It comes from the practice of using bones for fuel to burn witches or other heathens: the setting of a ‘bone fire’.
Other Things to Remember
There are a few other things to bear in mind around Bonfire Night, though they might not be as fun as the facts mentioned above!
- Keep warm. Building your own bonfire or going to a fireworks display can be fun for the whole family, but it can get chilly, so make sure everyone wraps up warm with thick gloves, socks, hats, scarves and coats.
- Keep clear. Some professional displays erect safety barriers around the danger zones, but this isn’t always the case. Bonfires belch bits of wood, debris, and sparks, so keep a safe distance from the bonfire itself.
- Keep an eye on the sparklers. You’d be hard pressed to find a child who doesn’t love a sparkler, but they aren’t suitable for kids under five – the heat from a sparkler is fierce and can easily damage young, vulnerable skin. Always make sure an adult lights the sparklers and only hand them to children who are wearing gloves (preferably leather ones).