Bonfire Night!

This photo, of the bonfire and fireworks on 5th November, 2014, was taken by John Shield, and a large colour copy hangs in pride of place in the Hen House at Baynes Travel.

The Allendale Lions haven’t seen a better photograph of the annual bonfire and fireworks than this one, but who knows, tonight’s event may yield up another. But it was a wet miserable day yesterday to be finalising all the details.

Loads more brashings to collect and pile; the large cement pad to power wash off; the two marquees to erect upon it; the gas rings to test out; the food service tables to collect from the village hall; the white tables and chairs to put out; the bollards and safety boards to configure around the fire and the fireworks staging area; sound system configuration; more brashings coming in; food preparations continuing throughout yesterday and today. Everyone hopes that the weather will clear from about noon or maybe a little later, and that it will turn crisp and clear in time for the fire and the fireworks.

Now then: remember, remember . . . but what, exactly? That one Guy Fawkes was apprehended as he prepared to set off the incendiary devices underneath Westminster’s Parliament buildings? I thought I’d better interrogate Wikipedia about the provenance of this peculiar tradition.

In 1605, as part of the Gunpowder Plot, Guy Fawkes was arrested while he was guarding a cache of explosives that the plotters had placed beneath the House of Lords. Celebrating the dramatic escape of King James I with the vanquishing of the Gunpowder plotters (a group of provincial English Catholics led by Robert Catesby who sought to assassinate the King and replace him with a Catholic monarch), people around London spontaneously set off bonfires. Within months, the government had inaugurated the Observance of 5th November Act which established the day as a public observance and commemoration of the failure of the plot.

As time went on, the celebration became imbued with an increasing anti-Catholic sentiment, as Puritans railed against popery and people burnt effigies of hate figures like the pope. Of course, the traditional Bible that’s still used in many churches today is called the King James version, having been commissioned by James I. The rise of Protestantism in Great Britain is generally thought to have been facilitated because ordinary people could read the Bible for themselves in English. Two and a half centuries later, by the middle of the nineteenth century, however, much of the hate incitement had died away, and indeed, the Observance of 5th November Act was repealed in 1859. But people still enjoyed the bonfire and fireworks, and the good-natured event continued for its manifest contribution to social camaraderie.

Some people think that Hallowe’en festivities are tending to supersede Bonfire Night, and they may be right. The Hexham Courant seems to bring out a regular warning that the Bonfire and Fireworks Night on the Sele, organised by the Round Table, is at risk. I’ve certainly appreciated the amount of work involved in the whole shebang, in Allendale this year; just consolidating the big Baynes buses in safe locations keeps the Baynes team busy, let alone the requirement to run the travel business during all the bonfire preparations. The bonfire probably can’t go on forever in its present incarnation, though the Allendale Lions have been helped this year by several new folks who have made a significant difference to the work load.

For now, as in Hexham, the bonfire is going ahead as normal, and it will be a delight to share in commemoration along with everyone else, even if we can’t quite remember just what it is we’re celebrating. It doesn’t matter, for as someone said recently, ‘In Allendale, we have a bonfire, it’s what we do here.’

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