8 fascinating facts about Bonfire Night

Bonfire Night
Burning the guy on bonfire night. Credit: VisitBritain/Britain on View

We all ‘remember, remember the 5th of November’ but what exactly are we celebrating? Here, we track down 8 fascinating facts about Bonfire Night.

1 Catholic dissident Fawkes spent months with his 12 co-conspirators planning to blow up King James I of England during the opening of Parliament on 5 November 1605. But they were caught red-handed, allegedly lighting their 36 barrels of gunpowder in a cellar below the House of Lords, and their assassination attempt was foiled. Londoners immediately began lighting bonfires in celebration of the plot having failed, and a few months later Parliament declared 5 November a public day of thanksgiving.

2 The name “bonfire” derives from the term “bone fire”; in the Middle Ages, these types of fires were usually set up in order to burn bones.

3 Up until 1959, it was illegal to not celebrate Bonfire Night in the UK.

4 There is at least one school in York taking advantage of the lifting of this law. St Peter’s School in York was attended by Guy Fawkes, and it refuses to burn his effigy as a mark of respect to the former pupil.

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5 Fireworks were invented by accident. In the 10th century, a Chinese cook accidentally mixed three common cooking ingredients (sulphur, charcoal and a salt substitute) and set it alight, which resulted in colourful flames.

6 Fireworks first reached Europe in the 14th century. Initially, they were produced by the Italians and the first recorded display took place in Florence.

7 The first recorded fireworks display in England was at the wedding of King Henry VII in 1486.

8 If Guy Fawkes had managed to light the 2,500kg of gunpowder underneath the Houses of Parliament, he would’ve caused damage within a radius of almost 500 metres.

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