Window on UK Culture
Bonfire Night

What is Bonfire Night?


Guy Fawkes Night (or Bonfire Night as it is more commonly called in some areas), takes place on November 5th each year.  It was started in 1605 to celebrate a failed plot to blow up King James 1 and the Houses of Parliament. The conspirators were planning to put a Catholic king on the English Throne once James 1 was dead.


Who was Guy Fawkes?


Guy Fawkes was born and educated in York in Northern England and at some stage, converted to Catholicism. He went off to Spain to fight in the 80 year's war and on his return to England, fell in with a group of people who wanted to see England become a Catholic country again.

The plan to blow up King James when he opened Parliament was foiled when Fawkes was discovered in the basement with several barrels of gun powder.

Under torture, he revealed the names of all his co-conspirators and with them, was executed in the tower of London by hanging. Their bodies were cut into pieces and sent to the four corners of England as a warning to others. 

Why have bonfires and fireworks?


In 1605, November 5th was declared a day of celebration by act of Parliament and It was actually an offence not to celebrate until 1959.

People were told by the king to light fires and set off fireworks in celebration of "this day of joyful deliverance". Effigies of the Pope were thrown on the fire and although this practice was discouraged it still remains a custom today, however, the sectarian overtones have mostly disappeared and most people think the effigy is supposed to be Guy Fawkes. In fact the effigy is now exclusively called a “Guy”.

One tradition you may see, though rare these days, in the UK is children in the street asking passersby for “a Penny for the Guy”. They usually use the money they get to buy fireworks.

Where can I go to see fireworks?


Most towns and cities will have public firework displays though a good place to be would be Lewes in Sussex. Every year on November 5th the town fills with people who come to watch the Bonfire celebrations. Each Bonfire Society spends the year preparing for the spectacular event with Fireworks and burning torchlight processions through the town leading down to their respective fire sites. At each site a huge bonfire is set ablaze followed by a Bonfire Prayer reading and the burning of a Guy Fawkes effigy. This is followed by the igniting of a huge tableaux filled with fireworks and an aerial firework display

Bonfire Prayer

Remember, remember the Fifth of November

The Gunpowder Treason and plot
I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes 'twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament
Three score barrels of powder below
Poor old England to overthrow

By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match
Holler boys, holler boys, ring bells ring
Holler boys, holler boys, God Save the King!

A penny loaf to feed the Pope
A farthing o'cheese to choke him
A pint of beer to rinse it down
A faggot of sticks to burn him

Burn him in a tub of tar
Burn him like a blazing star
Burn his body from his head
Then we'll say old Pope is dead

Hip Hip Hoorah!
Hip Hip Hoorah!
Hip Hip Hoorah!

Is there any special food associated with Bonfire Night?


Bonfire Night wouldn't be the same without the right food and drink - usually something warming for a cold night such potatoes roasted on the bonfire and toffee apples (recipe below).

6 sweet and crunchy apples
6 tbsp caster sugar
85ml water
600g demerara sugar
100g unsalted butter
2 tsp vinegar
2 tsp vanilla essence


  1. Wash and dry the apples, remove the stalks, and push a lollipop stick into each one.
  2. Place all the ingredients in a heavy-based pan and bring to the boil. Cooking time is approximately 30 minutes.
  3. If you have a sugar thermometer it should read 150C or 300F, or you can test by dripping into a bowl of cold water.
  4. The toffee is ready when drops harden.
  5. Dip each apple into the toffee, remove and air-cool a few seconds then repeat until thickly coated.
  6. Dip into a bowl of cold water and place on sugar-dusted tray until cool.