What is Bonfire Night?
Every year in the UK, early November sees the masses venture out wrapped up in winter coats and woolly hats, to watch the dark night sky light up with fireworks, sparklers and bonfires.
Aptly known as ‘Bonfire night’ or Guy Fawkes Night, this autumn tradition stems from a historic London incident known as the gunpowder plot and, although now an annual celebration, this event has a dark past.
What is the Gunpowder Plot?
It all dates back to 1605 when a group of Roman Catholic activists wanted to get rid of King James I and his government. After years of being persecuted for their faith, the group felt that getting rid of King James I would provide them with the freedom to practice their religion. During the plot, the group of 13 smuggled 36 barrels of gunpowder into the cellar of the Houses of Parliament, with the plan to set off a fatal explosion during the state opening of Parliament.
Who is Guy Fawkes?
Although it is believed the leader of the plot was Robert Catesby, Guy Fawkes has become synonymous with Bonfire night. Guy Fawkes was recruited for his expertise in gunpowder and was to be the conspirator who would light the fuse, setting off the gunpowder. However, after being tipped off by an anonymous letter, a Royal official searched the Palace of Westminster and found Guy Fawkes in the cellar red-handed, just hours before he was due to light the fuse.
Fawkes was immediately sent to the Tower of London and tortured for several days until he gave the full details of the plot and co-conspirators who were then also captured.
Remember, Remember the 5th of November, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot
Guy Fawkes was arrested in the early hour of the 5th November 1605 and that very same day the tradition of lighting bonfires began. Londoners lit fires to celebrate the foiling of the plot and saving the king. This tradition continued on the same day each year and developed into the bonfire night we now celebrate today. Over the years, people began to include an effigy of Guy Fawkes on the bonfire and lavish firework displays are now usually part of the celebrations.
Did you know
- To this day, every year before the state opening of Parliament, the Yeoman of the guard search the cellars of the palace of Westminster for explosives before the Sovereign arrives.
- The plotters rented a house and cellar in Westminster which they used to smuggle the gunpowder.
- According to some physicists, the plotters were quite over-zealous with the amount of gunpowder used – if the explosion had occurred the blast could have damaged a lot more than the Houses of Parliament – a large area of central London would have been destroyed, including Westminster Abbey.
- All the conspirators were hung, drawn and quartered in a public execution. However, Guy Fawkes jumped to his death just before meeting this fate.
Where to celebrate Bonfire night in London
As London was the birthplace of this tradition, it is no surprise that Londoners know how to throw a memorable bonfire night celebration and firework display. We’ve selected some of our favourites for 2018 here:
Gates open: 6pm, Bonfire: 7.30pm, Fireworks: 8pm, tickets required.
Award-winning pyro-technicians promise to light up the skies over Wandsworth with a spectacular firework display, there will also be a range of food and drink stalls to enjoy.
Gates open: 5pm, tickets required.
Now in its 15th year, Southward Park holds an impressive firework display synchronized to music.
Gates open: 6pm, tickets required.
Something for all the family, the Ally Pally Firework festival takes place over 2 days and, as well as a fantastic firework display, there is also a laser show, parade, Circus, funfair, live music, street food and Bier festival.
Gates open: 6pm, tickets required.
Gates open at 6pm with a children’s ‘quieter’ show at 7pm, and then the main event at 8.30 pm.
If you prefer to avoid the crowds or have young children then head to Primrose Hill in North London. From the summit, you get a great view of central London and can watch the range of firework displays light up the city from a distance.
Alternative bonfire night celebrations
If standing outside in the cold isn’t your thing, then how about enjoying the fireworks from one of these fabulous locations instead:
Great for all the family, this giant Ferris wheel on London’s South Bank provides an impressive bird’s eye view of the city. If you time it right, you’ll be able to enjoy some of the impressive firework displays at the same time.
40 floors up, this 24/7 restaurant provides stunning views over London so you’re bound to catch some of the firework displays across the city.
The tallest building in London, The Shard provides one of the best views of the City. The viewing platform is open until 10pm and you can also enjoy a drink or meal in one of the stunning restaurants and bars.
Sat on the banks of the River Thames, the OXO Tower Restaurant, Bar and Brasserie has floor to ceiling windows that provide stunning views of the river and the London skyline.