Sydney leads the world in one of the first major New Year celebrations each year.
Guy Fawkes and a number of Catholic conspirators entered Parliament, where they had previously stored 36 barrels of gunpowder, which they intended to set fire to with the intention of blowing up the government buildings, killing King James 1 and most of the protestant aristocracy in 1605: to this day the vaults are checked before each State Opening of Parliament.
A fiat (in Latin “let it be”) was enforced until 1859 “to celebrate the deliverance of the King of England” – hence ensuring that November 5th would ‘forever’ be a part of our culture. The concept of fireworks and bonfire night spread across the world to the various English speaking countries, where either the celebrations continue, or where, if fireworks have been banned, celebratory commercial firework displays occur under licence.
Bonfires were originally pagan bone-fires and recorded as such in 1493 – bone-fires being of clean animal bones, wood-fires being of wood, while bone and wood fires were built in “the worship of St John”. Now we have effigies made, which are burnt on the enormous popular bonfires lit for the occasion; when I was small at home it was always a ‘Guy Fawkes’ effigy .. but now our Bonfire Societies select notable infamous peoples from the present year .. recently, for example Saddam Hussein.
Chinese alchemists discovered gunpowder in the 9th century and practised using it with hollowed bamboo shoots to scare away evil spirits. Coloured fire was also know n then as saltpetre gave off a purplish flame – but until smokeless gunpowder was invented in the late 19th century – fireworks to be appreciated were unknown, except for the bangs and white fiery emissions.
It is thought that Marco Polo, the Venetian, during his travels to Mongolia met the Kublai Khan, the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire 1260 – 1294, established trade routes for the future and learnt much about the Chinese culture and traditions, which it is thought at this time he brought back gunpowder (amongst many other new technologies) into Europe.
A Mongol bomb thrown against a charging Japanese samurai during the Mongol invasions of Japan, 1281
The first recorded Firework Display was at the wedding of King Henry VII in 1486 and was so popular by Elizabethan times that the post of Fireworks Master was created. We know that Handel composed the Music for the Royal Fireworks in 1749, (which remains a favourite to this day), for a firework display in London’s Green Park on 27th April 1749. Green Park, by Buckingham Palace, was at that time a swamp, and formed an open area of land beyond the boundaries of the city of London.
By the 1830s chemists had found that various chemicals added made different colours, and different explosive elements – so copper salts made blue, aluminium and magnesium made gold and white, barium salts gave green, strontium salts gave reds, while sodium salts made yellow, and the addition of calcium deepens the colours, the addition of titanium produces sparks while zinc gives us the white smoke.
Now fireworks tend to be displays of pyrotechnical effects staged at world events, or celebrating some major local performances while there are still some small family firework parties.
Fireworks have become so sophisticated – these paper or cardboard tubes filled with a combustible material, often pyrotechnic stars – can be combined to make various sparking shapes, variously coloured. The sky rocket, as an aerial shell, is a common form of firework used as the backbone of today’s commercial aerial display. I’m quite certain we’ve all seen a number of these – the welcome in of the year 2,000, other New Years, the winter and summer Olympic Games and they certainly are spectacular – a work of art as displayed above by the artist recording these images in 1749.
Guy Fawkes’ original dark lantern (see picture) made of sheet iron was donated in 1641 to the Tradescant collection at Lambeth, London, before being donated to the Ashmolean, and is now held in the revamped Museum in Oxford to be opened to the public this weekend – as described here in this traditional rhyme, which we continue to say:
Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd (or by God's mercy*)
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring. (Holla*)
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!
Beautiful sparkles in the sky but I must say the explosive noise can be really too loud – I walked through Eastbourne last night as a fireworks display went on in the local sports ground, which I could see showing in the bedroom windows, but the noises were tremendous – ear splitting, and I wasn't nearby.
Dear Mr Postman – I am pleased to hear that the strike has been called off for the time being, as my mother enjoys getting her letters and news from family and friends. We had a brief stint at the hospital yesterday – fortunately this time it was just a few hours, as last time we’d been down it went on for six weeks! Mum regaled the staff on her return last night – and seemed to have ‘enjoyed’ the trip .. today she was sleeping – understandably.
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