Big bonfires and fabulous fireworks will dominate our evenings this weekend. We’ve got the low down on the facts and some alternatives to torching your garden debris
‘Remember, remember, the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot…’
So begins the rhyme that is ingrained in Britain’s collective folk memory and heralds much, sanctioned and otherwise, celebration of an event long passed. This weekend we can expect evenings filled with whizzing and loud bangs, bursts of multi-coloured lights and the sounds of audience appreciation.
These celebrations had Royal and Government sanction no less, until 1859. A Parliamentary Act ensured that 5th November would be marked as ‘the joyful day of deliverance’, and of course this continues to this day, whether officially approved of or not. But what were we ‘delivered’ from? Nowadays the ceremony is based on one man, Guy Fawkes, who, in reality, was just one of thirteen conspirators who planned to blow up Parliament and all inside, including King James I, on the day it was to due to sit: 5th November 1605. The plotters’ aim? To re-establish Catholicism as the religion of England.
A knowledge of munitions meant Fawkes was the ideal candidate for lighting the gunpowder hidden away in a cellar of the parliamentary buildings. And it was there he was found, with matches, watch and touchwood in his pockets, on the evening of 4th November. Whilst fireworks might imitate the effects of a gunpowder explosion, the night’s bonfires do not reflect historical events. Although now an effigy of Fawkes, known as a guy, sits atop our fires, the real man was actually hung, drawn and quartered. So, not directly linked, but still, historically, bonfires have long been a favourite way of marking an event, like weddings, royal anniversaries, military victories, and so forth. And because wood was expensive, these fires tended to be community events, often paid for by corporations, political parties and local societies.
And so it is today, with complex firework displays and enormous bonfires staged in local parks and community areas. And, really, these are the best places for such events, where fires and fireworks can be professionally controlled. There are many reasons why you should avoid taking a torch to your garden debris. Apart from your personal safety, there is that of the wildlife visitors, both large and small, that may have made your garden their home. The arrival of November means that many will be thinking about hibernating under snugly piles of leaves and sticks. Remember them before setting up a bonfire in your garden. If there seems to be too much autumnal debris piling up, why not convert it into compost or leaf mould? You’ll be glad of it next year, when you’ve got a lovely rich mulch to spread over your burgeoning beds. As a last resort, there’s always the local dump…