Monday 5 November 2012

Penny for the Guy ...

Guy Fawkes Night originates from the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a failed conspiracy by a group of provincial English Catholics to assassinate the Protestant King James 1 of England and replace him with a Catholic head of state. 

Guy Fawkes and co conspirators
Many of the Hallowe’en traditions were, over time, appropriated into the Bonfire Night celebrations, which before the year was out was decreed  a day of celebration  ...  when Londoners were encouraged to celebrate the King’s escape from assassination by lighting bonfires, “always provided that ‘this testemonye of joy be carefull done without any danger or disorder’”.

The Observance of 5th November Act enforced an annual public day of thanksgiving for “the joyful day of deliverance”, which remained enacted until 1859, while in theory making attendance at Church mandatory.

Although Guy Fawkes was only one of 13 conspirators, Fawkes is today the individual most associated with the failed Gunpowder plot – Bonfire Night being accompanied by the rhyme “Remember, Remember the fifth of November ....”.

Remember, Remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
We see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent
To blow up King and Parl’ament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove Old England’s overthrow.

By God’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys holler, the bells shall out ring
Holler boys holler, God save our bless’d King.

And ..... what shall we do with him?
Burn him!

Guy Fawkes style lantern
Bonfires were accompanied by fireworks from the 1650s onwards, and it became the custom to burn an effigy (usually the pope) ... but after 1673, when James, Duke of York, made his conversion to Catholicism public – it became the custom to burn an effigy of a ‘rogue’ notable figure.

In 1790 The Times reported instances of children “... begging for money for Guy Faux”; while a report of 4th November 1802 described how “a set of idle fellows ... with some horrid figure dressed up as a Guy Faux” were convicted of begging and receiving money, and committed to prison as “idle and disorderly persons”.

Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Night for the next century or so declined into an excuse for general mayhem rather than any historical reminiscences.
Effigies in the street at Lewes - Harveys Brewery sign
in the background

With the rise of affluence during Victorian times organised bonfire entertainments became more popular in the late 19th century, when the pyrotechnical manufacturers renamed Guy Fawkes Day as Firework Night in the 20th century.

After the Wars for many families Guy Fawkes became a domestic celebration, while poorer children often congregated on street corners touting their own effigy of Guy Fawkes – raising that extra farthing, or half-penny ... as they cried “Penny for the Guy” .... usually made from old clothes, newspapers, and a mask ...  hoping that their  mock-up warranted an old penny of wealth!

Any pennies?

Today the November 5th firework displays and bonfire parties are common throughout Britain, in major public displays and in private gardens.  In some areas, particularly here in Sussex, there are extensive processions, large bonfires and firework displays organised by local bonfire societies, the most elaborate of which takes place in Lewes about 15 miles from here.

Tar barrel on the move
There are six Bonfire Societies putting on five separate parades and firework displays – this can mean 3,000 people taking part in the torchlit processions, and up to 80,000 spectators attending the small market town with a permanent population of around 16,000.

Lewes Borough Bonfire Society
The societies, dressed in their own distinctive costume, march through the town with tar burning staves, banners, barrels of burning tar, watched by processions of fiery torch-bearing crowds ...  the Lewes streets are quite narrow, while the town ‘wends’ downhill towards the river ... 

... a daunting task for the Societies to instil ‘care’ and careful organisation under the auspices of the Lewes Bonfire Council, in association with the Town Council.  Mischief Night is on the cards ... it is a right scrum – and that’s an understatement! 

Medieval Street in Lewes
The town is locked down ... getting in and out is extremely difficult and carefully controlled – I worked in a shop by the bridge on the river front – we had to evacuate early on Bonfire Night ...

Bonfire Societies are another aspect of British history pre-dating the Gunpowder plot ... and we will need to wait a year for me to look into their story!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Jo said...

I mentioned Guy Fawkes today too. Had never seen the full poem, only ever knew the first verse, thought that was it.

Understand most of the celebrations were over the weekend.

Bob Scotney said...

Has Elf & Safety reared its head in Sussex? I see that the Round Table has banned sparklers at their celbrations this year.

MorningAJ said...

I've not been fond of bonfire night since my dad died (his funeral was on November 4 and I associate the sound of fireworks with mourning now) but I have happy memories of it from childhood. We'll be raising a glass to him tonight, and to K's dad, because today would have been his birthday.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

What fun. I love the poem too about the whole thing.

Karen Lange said...

My Mom used to talk about Guy Fawkes Day, but I never knew, as a child, what it was all about. Thanks for filling in the gaps for me. Informative and entertaining post, as always! :)

Take care of yourself.

Thanks and blessings,

Anonymous said...

Its fun to keep these traditions alive. WIsh we would do the same here on election night tomorrow night. Some of these politicians need to be tarred and feathered!

walk2write said...

Very interesting, Ms. Hilary! Are English children still taught the historical significance of the day? Here in the States so many of the public schools have dropped from their history curriculum an in-depth study of why the Puritans moved here and established colonies. It's considered politically incorrect to discuss religion in the classroom.

Talli Roland said...

Thanks for all the history, Hilary! I think the celebrations in London lasted all weekend - there were fireworks upon fireworks every night. Fawkes has a lot to answer for, in my opinion!

LTM said...

excellent! Thanks, Hil! I was just commenting that I had no idea what GF/Bonfire day was all about. And now I do. :o) Best to you~ <3

Ellie Garratt said...

I've never heard of the Bonfire Societies. Fascinating!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Carol -- taught me a bit too!

@ Jo - celebrations happen all the time - main lot tonight as it's the 5th .. though the weekend has more than its fair share.

@ Bob - yup ... 'Elf and Safety all over the show!! .. I went to Lewes about 12 years ago ... and it was jammed packed - but they do as much controlling as they can, while not 'killing' off the traditions ..

@ Morning AJ - I can quite understand your feelings re the time of year: it's not easy to celebrate with loved ones memories lingering. My thoughts to you today ...

I loved the idea of fireworks as a kid ... but I did hate bangs, and even balloons popping don't amuse me to this day!! So those really loud fireworks irritate me hugely! Love the explosive coloured sparks etc ..

@ Teresa - delighted you enjoyed the read and the poem .. it's a fun one isn't it.

@ Karen - glad you can remember your mother via this post - we do grow up with so many gaps in our history - every time I post I've acquired much more knowledge. The gaps grow bigger though ... so much history!

@ Stephen - yes I agree .. it's important too as we forget our past totally and where are roots came from. Please don't ask me to comment on the election!!!!

@ W2W - I suspect not - I'm sure I was taught .. but the whole aspect passed me by. The Middle Ages - with its mix of Protestants, Catholics, religious wars, English Civil Wars, Scots, English and Welsh .. just plain muddled me.

I honestly think it's the same in England - the curriculum is constantly being revised and changed. Re discussing the various religions in class - I'm not sure ... but we are as a country multi-faith now, rather than Christian ...

@ Talli - I can imagine the firework displays all over Town - we had a garden one here - over the fence .. and it was so loud. I'll wait and see what happens tonight - it's clear and not raining at least.

@ Leigh - delighted! There's a bit more to bonfires - but next year!

@ Ellie - I'll have to do Bonfire Societies next year .. as there's way too much for one post ...

Cheers everyone - so pleased I'm clearing a few historical things up!! I do enjoy seeing the fireworks .... Hilary

Inger said...

I remember this day from when I lived in England. Thank you so much for yet another interesting and informative post.

Lynn said...

I've heard of Guy Fawkes, but didn't know much about the day. Thanks for the stories - I love that.

Sherry Ellis said...

I always enjoy reading the history you provide on this blog!

cleemckenzie said...

I had the chance to be at a Guy Fawkes celebration once. So many people! Loved the experience. Thanks for the story behind all those celebrations!

Old Kitty said...

Well I never knew about Guy Faux predating Guy Fawkes!!!! Wow!! I love this!!! thank you Hilary!!

Awwww I really enjoyed the fireworks displays at Lewes when I was at Sussex uni - they were crazy times!

Bring back Penny for the Guy is what I say! LOL! Take care

Janie Junebug said...

Thanks for the information. I'm fascinated by all things English (except kidney pie) and can't wait to visit.


Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Something else I just learned. I had no idea Nov 5 was a special day in the UK. It was my father's BD. He would be 86 had he lived.

Excellent post, Hilary!

Patricia said...

I did not know any of this history Hilary and I found your story telling to be most interesting and that it is still going on!

We may have an extremely conservative Mormon and Roman Catholic at the helm here after election day. I am hoping not but I can understand fireworks and celebrations if ruthless people are removed and help is on the way!

Thank you for sharing this.

You have great commentors also Wonderful to read them all

Pearson Report said...

Hi Hilary,

Thank you for this insightful post on Guy Fawkes. Here we celebrate Halloween. I feel like I've had a history lesson - very good.

Cheers, Jenny

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Inger - when you were here Bonfire Night ruled ... Halloween didn't really exist ... as with my early years.

@ Lynn - glad I've enlightened you a little.

@ Sherry - many thanks .. it's lovely of you to say so

@ Lee - must have been a good British celebration .. did you have baked potatoes out of the fire .. I forgot about those.

@ Old Kitty - Guy Fawkes came first .. with Guy Faux being mentioned in The Times in 1790 nearly 2 centuries later.

I can imagine being a student in Lewes at Sussex Uni would be huge fun ... last night's celebrations looked pretty amazing (on the tv!) ..

Yes - I rather miss the scrabbling around to make the guy ... they were scarecrow kind of creatures ..

@ Janie - delighted to read you love all things English - and hope you can get here sometime (soon?). Kidney is an acquired taste .. I love them though, and steak and kidney pie ...

@ Joylene - Nov 5th was very important ... now Halloween and its commercialisation has arrived, Bonfire night seems to be fading - mind you any excuse for a party is a good one! Happy remembrances birthday for your Dad ..

@ Patricia - it's part of our historical heritage .. though the method of retribution for the traitors was pretty appalling to put it mildly.

I'm lucky with my commenters .. they are a great bunch of blogging friends ...

@ Jenny - many thanks .. my previous post was on Halloween .. I too feel I've had a history lesson once I've written many of my posts! Lots to learn ..

Cheers - it's so lovely to see you on this momentous day for you .. Hilary

jabblog said...

I can imagine it being a scrum in Lewes but doubtless great fun and a wonderful atmosphere.

ana said...

Hi Hilary you never fail to amaze
Very intereting.I just love history.take care Ana.

A Lady's Life said...

I love foreworks and bonfires. That was a funny poem.I will remember November lol

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That's a lot of fires and fireworks for one night.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Janice - it was a scrum alright!! Great atmosphere .. but I'm glad I've been and don't have to do it again!

@ Ana - many thanks .. so pleased you enjoyed the history ..

@ A Lady's Life - it's one of our childhood poems and has been around since 1742 ...

@ Diane - fireworks and bonfires in nearly every neighbourhood and some gardens .. lots as you say.

Cheers - plenty of fireworks now for you with your election finally over .. Hilary

Laura Eno said...

Thanks for a great lesson! Someone mentioned bonfire night and I didn't know what it meant. Guy Fawkes was just a fuzzy name to me from school in the distant past. ;)
The thought of people lighting bonfires on their own scares the willies out of me, since I was raised in a fire-prone area. *shudder*

Rosalind Adam said...

I can remember children shouting 'penny for the guy' when I was a child. I have to admit to disliking bonfire night with its expensive and very noisy displays of exploding gunpowder. I know I sound like a spoil sport but I often wonder if the money couldn't be spent on something more worthwhile and lasting.

Unknown said...

That was really interesting, Hilary. It's good to know the origin of something that we still have, to know about how it once started. Good to know.

Thanks for sharing!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Laura - ah, I see I've satisfied that curiosity to a degree ... well bonfires here, Particularly with our excessive wet weather, are probably relatively safe ... but we hope people are safety aware .. especially at home - and if it's a commercial show - then regulations need to be adhered to .. sadly accidents still occur ..

@ Ros - I'm sure I saw kids calling out 'Penny for the Guy' too ..

Well you have a point .. it's all the razzamatazz around all the ceremonies we have .. and Halloween was only a few days previously ... looks like we'll be having both for while yet!

@ Sanny - it's a pleasure .. glad you enjoyed the post and the simple history provided ..

Cheers to you all - Hilary

Julie Flanders said...

I've always heard about Guy Fawkes but didn't know about all of these traditions. I love the little guys asking for pennies! It's interesting to know the history of these holidays. The Sussex events sound like a lot of fun.

Sara said...

Once again you've succeeded in teaching me something I knew nothing about. I mean I had heard of Guy Fawkes Day, but not this history.

The poem was fun to read, especially when you get to end. "And...what shall we do with him?
Burn him!

Oh, and the title was well done for this one.

I am so pleased you are continuing to write. I would miss your posts desperately -- they have taught so much about events, the UK and things I wouldn't have been aware of if not for your posts. Thank you Hilary:~)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Julie - those little habits that grew up and adjusted for a while .. as you say the little kids raising some pocket money. There are quite a few bonfire societies .. but the Lewes ones (all on one night) are pretty amazing ..

@ Sara - many thanks .. I try and teach myself something too each time I post - and I can't see me giving up just yet!!

Selecting the title - I try not to follow the trend, or the obvious .. and that poem is so much fun to say isn't it ...

Cheers Julie and Sara - lovely to see you both .. Hilary

klahanie said...

Hi Hilary,

I always delight in your meticulous detail. You have alluded to a lot of things about Guy Fawkes Night and Guy Fawkes in particular.

Which reminds me, I went to York and the landlord of a pub on The Shambles, pointed us to a room in the pub and insisted that Guy Fawkes once boarded there. Cannot remember the name of the pub. Guy Fawkes Inn, is perhaps what it's called now.

Cheers to you, Hilary.

In kindness, Gary

MorningAJ said...

Hi Hilary. I've nominated you for an award on my blog.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Gary ... there was some history on Guy Fawkes himself, but I have to admit it was more detail than I needed!

Though love your story about The Shambles in York - an historic lane which I wrote about 2+ years ago - Google loves your Guy Fawkes Inn ... standing in the shadow of York Minster ..

Thanks for that extra info - fun to have and find out about ...

@ Morning AJ - that's really kind of you .. many thanks ..

Cheers to you both - have great Thursdays ... Hilary

Juliet said...

Thanks for another informative post Hilary. Guy Fawkes doesn't really work well here, since we've had daylight saving and it's not dark till 9 pm.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Juliet - I managed to organise one fireworks party at our squash club in South Africa ... but as you say it's challenging when the time frame is not quite right ... still the warm weather was lovely with braais going and a pool to swim in before and after .. but it gets dark by 8.00pm - as it's a little further north than NZ.

Cheers Hilary

Sue said...

As children we celebrated Guy Fawkes night. One large bonfire was constructed by all the neighbours for what seemed like miles around. I remember very little apart from the huge pile of logs and the leaping flames. I'd never heard the whole poem (or song) only the first line, so it's interesting to read it in its entirety. The communal bonfire doesn't happen any more - it just seemed to die out as the suburbs became more densely packed.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. we used to have our own little bonfire at home - but now they seem to have communal village get togethers ... and then in Sussex we have these Bonfire Societies - which have huge followings ..

The poem is great isn't it ..

Interesting history too ... and how the day has evolved .. cheers Hilary