Mum’s been busy today giving me a quick history lesson about Bonfire Night, which is sometimes also known as Plot Night in Yorkshire. She says it goes back to 1605, when a Yorkshire man called Guy Fawkes, along with several others, wanted to overthrow King James I of England (who, to confuse a Little Bear, was also known as King James VI of Scotland!). They plotted to do this by putting 36 barrels of gunpowder in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament on November 4th and igniting them the following day, when the king was due to visit parliament. The plot was discovered, however, and Guy Fawkes and his co-conspiritors were tried and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.
I think this must be a very horrible way to die – and Guy Fawkes obviously thought the same as on January 31st 1606, he jumped from the scaffold and broke his neck before he could be hanged.
Soon the king’s lucky escape from death started to be commemorated on November 5th, which became known as Bonfire Night. In towns and villages throughout the country, bonfires were lit and an effigy of Guy Fawkes was placed on top and burned.
Gradually most of the history behind the celebration was forgotten and it became just an excuse to get together outdoors with friends and family, light a bonfire – though still with a “guy” on top – set off fireworks and eat special Bonfire food. Traditionally this included treacle toffee (also called Plot Toffee), toffee apples, parkin, and potatoes which were baked in the dying embers of the fire.
Over the years, fireworks have got more and more spectacular – and more and more expensive. This has led to many places now organising big official displays and well-controlled bonfires and the smaller events in people’s back gardens are slowly dying out.
When Mum was little, however, it was very different, as not only did they celebrate Bonfire Night, but they also celebrated Mischief Night on November 4th. This is said to celebrate the rebellious spirit of the Gunpowder Plotters, but was really an excuse for a bit of naughtiness, such as knocking on doors and running away, lifting gates off their hinges and hiding them, and putting glue on door knobs.
Mum also told me about when her mum was a little girl she accidentally bowled an old lady over with a huge swede on Mischief Night. Apparently she was out with her friends and they had the bright idea of threading a rope through the swede then standing one each side of a house door. They would then swing the rope so that the swede knocked on the door. Unfortunately this old lady answered the door and Mum’s mum and her friends were so surprised that they let go of the rope as it was swinging towards the door and the swede flew in, hit the old lady in the stomach and completely winded her for the moment.
Our other naughtiness for Mischief Night was to go raiding, which meant stealing other people’s chumps (the Yorkshire word for wood etc collected for the bonfire) and adding them to our own bonfire pile.
This also meant that our own chumps had to be carefully guarded and Mum’s cousin (who will remain nameless to protect the Very Silly!) had the bright idea of digging a trench round his bonfire and covering it with brushwood to make a trap for anyone who tried to get near. Unfortunately he fell in it himself and only got rescued when his mum realised he hadn’t come in for his tea!
These days Mischief Night has largely been taken over by Trick-or-Treat – and one of the simple delights from Mum’s childhood has disappeared altogether. This was a length of something called “Wheelie Band”, which was used on the pulley wheels in the mills around where she lived. It was like a thin rope, but quite greasy, and, if it was knotted at one end and then lit, it would smoulder away for ages. Dads often used them to light the fireworks, but children used them in the same way as sparklers, making patterns in the dark, which I think sounds like quite good fun.
Now all I’ve got to do is remind you to make sure all your pets are safe and stay safe yourselves at whatever sort of bonfire you go to. And, if it’s one of your own, please remember to check inside it before you light it as hedgehogs are now starting to hibernate and might just have chosen your bonfire to sleep in over winter. Thank you!
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