Guy Fawkes Festivals….

On November 5th 1605, a band of thirteen men, led by Robert Catesby were foiled in their plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. A Yorkshire man called Guido Fawkes had been discovered in the cellars underneath the building about to detonate a large quantity of gunpowder. He had honed his skills with gunpowder while serving as a mercenary for the Spanish army in the Netherlands. After capture, he was subjected to extreme torture to give up the names of fellow conspirators. Together with several accomplices, he was later hanged, drawn and quartered. An Act of Parliament decreed that the Gunpowder plot should be celebrated forever. By about 1625 celebrations were taking place on November 5th all over the country, and with the exception of wartime have been celebrated ever since. The effigy of the ‘guy’ has traditionally been made in the form of a man with whatever materials were to hand and usually dressed in cast off clothing. Current communal celebrations are usually held with a high regard for safety and elaborate displays are set up by specialists with the audience watching from a safe distance.

The following accounts are written from reports in the Weston Mercury & Somersetshire Herald in November 1889,1890 and 1891.

In 1889 Loxton was described as a quiet little village which was enlivened by a ‘Guy Fawkes Festival’. Three wagonloads of logs, sticks, hedge-cuttings, furze and ferns donated by the local farmers Messrs. Henry Dibble, Mr. W. Tilley and Mr. J.H. Padfield were carted up the hill to the parish recreation ground known as the ‘Parish Acre’. Other local parishes joined in the fun and the bonfire was lit at seven p.m. The fireworks display consisting of squibs and crackers went on for about two hours. One young man brought along his anvil on which he sprinkled ‘rock powder’(1) before hitting it with a hammer. A group of musicians came from the neighbouring village of Hutton bringing a concertina, a tambourine and a violin, for the dancing. An old lady who was known by the name of ‘Old Aunt Sally’ enjoyed herself very much drinking the sweet cider. She got very excited and it was speculated whether she would or would not fall over the edge of the quarry that was very near the bonfire. The effigy of Guy Fawkes who had long white hair and beard and so reminded everyone of Father Christmas was carried around the field and then impaled on a hayfork and dropped head first into the fire. ‘Sally’ asked for his boots and gloves to be removed first as they were

…plenty good ‘nough for her old man to wear to church

Several bucketsful of ‘roast’ potatoes were served and the evening closed with many songs being sung, one of the most notable being by Mr. William Avery called ‘Never Marry an Old Man’, which he never finished having forgotten the rest of the words.

At twelve mid-night the church bells rang out, and it was whispered that the chief bell ringer had been away all day drinking ‘strong tea’ and was somewhat confused in his mind over which day was being celebrated. He had given orders for the bell ringers to ring out the old year and ring in the new!

The next day the scene of the fire was visited by several people who were surprised to find that all the timber had burned away and only a heap of ashes remained. On investigation it was found that the young man who had beat on the anvil had removed the unburned logs for use in his own fire.

(1) Presumably ‘rock powder’ was used as an explosive powder in quarrying. Many such granulated powders were formulated from ‘saltpetre’ (potassium nitrate) or ammonium nitrate and nitroglycerin with an added binder to render it less stable and make it more workable.

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