10 facts about Bonfire Night

Bonfire Night is around the corner and, chances are, most of us will be brushing up on our history by watching Gunpowder, the BBC's new historical drama around the conspiracy. However as we well know there are two sides to every story...

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We have to ask ourselves, despite having “remember, remember the fifth of November” drummed in to us at school, what do we really know about the history of, and culture surrounding, this distinctly British holiday?

Thankfully, experts at language learning app Babbel have shared some little-known facts about this date, which we likely won’t be learning while watching Gunpowder… 

1.  Physicists have calculated that the 36 barrels contained 2,500kg of gunpowder, enough to obliterate an area 500m from the centre of the explosion - i.e. the Houses of Parliament and a number of the neighbouring buildings. Some theorists now argue, however, that the gunpowder in some way decayed and would not have detonated as the conspirators had intended.

2. There were actually 13 conspirators, led by renowned Catholic revolutionist Robert Catesby. Guy’s notoriety is simply because he was found guarding the gunpowder. The word ‘guy’ is today used as a synonym for ‘man’, although originally it was a term for, ‘repulsive, ugly person’ referring to Guy Fawkes. 

3.  Fireworks and sparklers are great fun, but take care! Sparklers can be five times hotter than cooking oil and rocket fireworks can reach speeds of 150mph. Fireworks were first invented by a Chinese cook in 10th Century. The cook accidently mixed three kitchen ingredients - potassium nitrate (a salt substance used to cure meat), sulphur and charcoal, and discovered that, together, these substances cause a catatonic explosion.

4.  There are two small uninhabited islands Northwest of Santa Cruz in the Galapagos called Isla Guy Fawkes or Guy Fawkes Island. Why these islands are named after England’s most notorious villain is a mystery. 

5.  Until 1959, it was illegal in Britain not to celebrate on Bonfire Night. The only exception was a Primary School in York, who refused to burn an effigy of its former pupil.

6.  Before the annual State Opening of Parliament every year, it is tradition for the Yeomen of the Guard still search the premises for any would-be conspirators. 

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7.  A fun tradition around Bonfire Night is ‘Penny for a Guy’ - similar to trick or treating on Halloween, only with a straw effigy for additional company. In the days before November 5, children ask passers-by for money, ‘a penny for a guy?’ A few years ago, the penny was to buy firecrackers. Today, since children are generally not allowed to purchase fireworks, the penny is a tradition.

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8.  In the Devon town of Ottery St. Mary, valiant young men race through the streets carrying flaming barrels of tar on the night of 5. November. The exact reason for why they do this is unknown, but no doubt also has its roots in ancient Samhain Fire Festivals.

9.  Recently, Guy Fawkes has not been alone on the Bonfire. Effigies of popular political figures have joined him in the flames. Since the 13th century, effigies have been burnt on bonfires to drive away evil spirits. 

10.  Due to the actions of Guy Fawkes on 5th November 1605, suspicion of Catholicism has since perpetrated the monarchy. It remains illegal for a Roman Catholic to hold the office of a British monarch.

Life, EntertainmentWeb editor