Best Fireworks and Guy Fawkes

The British culture as it is today has many charming quirks, and while most of the British population treat the people who take part in the traditional cheese rolling events or the x as charming throw backs from the last century, there's one festival that translates well into modern times: Guy Fawkes Night.

If you don't know what it's about here's the abridged tale:

Guy Fawkes and his Catholic cronies devise a 'Gunpowder Plot', which involves blowing up the Houses of Parliament while King James and his court are inside, and though it's not Fawkes' plan he's put in charge because he has military and explosives experience gained fighting for the Catholic cause in Spain. A few hours before the explosion is supposed to be detonated, during the opening of Parliament on the 5th of November 1605, an anonymous letter arrives at court which prompts the searching of the cellars under the Houses of Parliament, one which the conspirators had rented, and Fawkes is foiled and captured.

At first Fawkes gives his name as John Johnson, and it takes several days of torture in the Tower of London for Fawkes to divulge the names of any other conspirators - and even then he only gives the names of the plotters already known or else already dead. Fawkes and the named conspirators are tried and on the 31st of January they're hung, drawn and quartered – Fawkes last, because he's already been weakened by his time in the Tower.  But he jumps from the gallows breaking his neck and managing to shirk the last two bits of the execution process.

Burning effigies and setting of fireworks might seem like a strange way to celebrate the Houses of Parliament not being blown up, but on the night in question that was how Londoners were encouraged to celebrate, and the tradition has just continued. In the 18th Century kids used to beg 'a penny for the guy', which was the name given to the crude effigies burned on bonfire night, so that if you follow language down the ages every time any person is referred to as a 'guy' it's actually a round about Fawkes reference – talk about: 

Remember, remember the fifth of November/ The gunpowder treason and plot/ I know of no reason/ Why the gunpowder treason/ Should ever be forgot.

And these are some of the best places to remember it on the 5th:

Ottery St. Mary's Guy Fawkes Night Celebrations 

If your ideal Guy Fawkes experience revives the childish excitement of watching sparks rain down to gasps of 'ooh!' and 'aah!' as you snack on jacket potatoes and wave sparklers, then you'll be in bonfire night heaven at Ottery St Mary's celebration, where they have more kinds of pyrotechnical fun than ever, and stretch it out to two evenings. The first falls on the Saturday before 5th November and involves a night-time procession of brightly-lit carnival floats, a huge firework display and 'squibbing' – the carrying of Roman candles at shoulder height through the streets. The second evening is that of Guy Fawkes Night itself, on which the vast bonfire is lit, with the Guy at the top, and flaming tar barrels of increasing size are carried through the streets in a proudly nostalgic (and surely rather dangerous?) commemorative fire-trail that is said to date back to the 1605 gunpowder plot itself, though even the the festival's official website carries the admission that the tradition's origins are hazy. But does it matter? The roads are closed, there's a parade of lit tableaux and wealth of tasty treats to buy, so you'll have plenty of time to come up with your own theory!

Lewes Bonfire Night 

Lewes combines celebrating the uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot with the anniversary of their burning 17 Protestant martyrs, which took place about 50 years earlier, then they bundle the whole thing up into one huge explosive celebration. As well as bonfires and fireworks Lewes also celebrates in the form of parading though the streets in their six fireworks societies before joining together to parade all at once.

Though they seem to take quite a miserable attitude towards people joining in their festivities – in the 19th Century they threw a local magistrate into the river when he objected to the practice, and these days their website lets you know up front that there's no parking and that the public transport is a nightmare, especially if the weather is bad, and they remind us that it is November, implying that it's better to go to your own local celebration.

Nottingham Castle puts on a show, Bristol does an event in their zoo – 'bang-less in deference to the animals of course.

In London, Battersea Park has a reputation for having some of the best fireworks around, Clapham Common is known for the party atmosphere, Wimbeldon Park is good for families, Alexandra Palace has one of the most spectacular backdrops around and The Lord Mayor's Show and Fireworks Display, though not technically just for  Guy Fawkes, is a big November fireworks event, and a good opportunity to let of any fireworks left over from the 5th.

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