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Eight sparkling facts about the history of Bonfire Night

Claire Roper

Remember, remember the fifth of November: an autumn eve full of bonfires, sparklers and firecrackers that dogs can't stand, but make the night sky look gorgeous. But like most commemorative days, we probably shouldn't overlook the backstory. Here's some fun facts about Bonfire Night:

1. If you don't already know, Bonfire Night aka Guy Fawkes night commemorates the failed assassination of King James I of England and VI of Scotland in 1605. This plan is commonly called the Gunpowder Plot, as its aim was to blow up Parliament while the king was in attendance for the State Opening.

2. The plot was hatched by a group of Catholics who were fed up with their treatment by the law of the land. While Guy Fawkes is the most well-known of the 13 conspirators, their leader was a man called Robert Catesby.

3. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century, November 5 bonfires were popular, but by the nineteenth century, interest in the celebrations dwindled. At the start of the twentieth century, pyrotechnic manufacturers had rebranded the event Fireworks Night.

4. During World War I and World War II, fireworks displays were suspended as the expertise required and the resources needed had to be diverted to the war efforts.

Blackheath Fireworks© Lewisham Council

5. References to the Gunpowder Plot can be found throughout popular culture – from the adventures of the first 'Doctor Who' and 'V for Vendetta' to 'Harry Potter' (Dumbledore's pheonix is called Fawkes). 

6. London celebrates the occasion with loads of 'cracking' displays, as these 25 stunning photos of fireworks in London show.

7. At the top of the traditional bonfire a 'Guy' would be sat, and nowadays some places make effigies of modern hate figures. In Lewes in Sussex past contenders have included Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.

8. Well over 100 million fireworks are sold in the UK each year, with Fireworks Night being one of the three main occasions. The other two are New Year's Eve and Diwali.

Sort out your Bonfire Night plans with our guide to fireworks displays in London.

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