Mr Bell Explains 5th Of November: A Uniquely British Tradition


A Brief History

After Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, English Catholics hoped that her successor, James I would be more tolerant of their religion as he had a Catholic mother. He wasn’t, and so a group of 13 young men decided that violence was the answer.

The group under the leadership of Robert Catesby felt that violent action was needed. The plan was to blow up the Houses of Parliament, kill the King, maybe the Prince of Wales and the members who were making life difficult for the Catholics.

To carry out their plan the conspirators acquired 36 barrels of gun powder and stored them in a cellar just under the House of Lords. It became clear that some innocent people would be hurt or killed in the attack, some of which were on the Catholics side. One of the group sent an anonymous letter to his friend Lord Monteagle, warning him to stay away from Parliament on November 5th.

The letter found its way to the King and plans were made to stop the attack. When the authorities stormed the cellars of the Houses of Parliament in the early hours of November 5th they found Guy Fawkes. He was caught, tortured and executed.

Guy Fawkes

Nobody really knows if the plan would have succeeded had they not been caught but it did strike a chord with the people in those unstable times in England. Even today, the reigning monarch only enters Parliament once a year for the State Opening of Parliament. Prior to the opening, and according to custom, the Yeoman of the Guard search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster.

On the same night the Gunpowder Plot was stopped, on November 5th, 1605, bonfires were set alight to celebrate the safety of the King. November 5th has now become known as Bonfire Night and every year the event is commemorated with fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire.


What Happens Today?

Today on or around the 5th of November there are many organised bonfires and firework displays put on around the country. The towns of Lewes in Sussex and Guildford in Surrey also have traditional street parades where an effigy of Guy Fawkes is paraded through the streets of the town before being placed on to the top of the bonfire and lit.



Where Are The Best Displays?

There are many displays held right across the country but here’s my top picks.

Alexandra Palace Fireworks Festival 7th November

Lewes Bonfire Night Celebration 5th November

The Leeds Castle Fireworks Spectacular 8th / 9th November

Tutbury Castle Fireworks Spectacular 5th / 6th / 7th November

The Lord Mayors Fireworks London 14th November

Kaboom Fireworks Party Castle Howard 31st October

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I live in London and work for a large international airline but apart from being my job travel is my passion. I've been very lucky and have travelled all over the world. In this my 20th year working for the airline I decided to start photographing and writing about the places I visit including my home town London. I hope you enjoy my adventures around the world.

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