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Blackheath Fireworks by L Katiyo

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Regular contributor, L Katiyo  over the weekend enjoyed the many delights of the Blackheath firework display that can be often seen from the Island.

The Island does not have a major bonfire display and the Blackheath display is one of the largest in London attracting crowds of over 100,000 people.

Most of the firework displays in London are well organised and  family friendly which can be enjoyed by everyone.

Blackheath has a long of celebrating Bonfire Night, a newspaper report from 1885 illustrates Lewisham, Blackheath and the surrounding area really enjoyed the parade of the ‘ Lewisham Bonfire Boys’.

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On Wednesday, the Lewisham Bonfire Boys held their annual carnival in celebration of Guy Fawkes Day. At 6 o’clock a procession has formed outside the Lewisham-road station of the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway and with bands and banners flying, the bonfire boys started on their perambulation of the principal thoroughfares of Lewisham, Lee, Blackheath, Greenwich, and Catford. The cavalcade, which was about half-a-mile in length, included many vehicles illuminate with coloured fires and a large number of mounted men attired in fancy costumes. The characters were, of a most varied description. The houses and shops along the line of route were all brightly illuminated with coloured fires and Chinese lanterns. The streets were thronged with people, and the motley procession must have been witnessed by some 40,000 or 50,000 persons.

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 Many thanks to L Katiyo for the photographs.

The Changing Face of Guy Fawkes Night

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Regular contributor, L Katiyo  over the weekend enjoyed the many delights of the Blackheath firework display that can be often seen from the Island. The Island does not have a major bonfire display and the Blackheath display is one of the largest in London attracting crowds of over 100,000 people.

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Most of the firework displays in London are well organised and  family friendly which can be enjoyed by everyone. However, when you consider the Guy Fawkes celebrations over the last century or so, you get a rather different picture.

 

Looking at various newspaper reports since 1885, it quickly becomes clear that Guy Fawkes Night was often an excuse to indulge in some less than acceptable behaviour. The first report from 1885 is interesting considering it seems very well organised and  features Lewisham and Blackheath.

1885

On Wednesday, the Lewisham Bonfire Boys held their annual carnival in celebration of Guy Fawkes Day. At 6 o’clock a procession has formed outside the Lewisham-road station of the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway and with bands and banners flying, the bonfire boys started on their perambulation of the principal thoroughfares of Lewisham, Lee, Blackheath, Greenwich, and Catford. The cavalcade, which was about ha!f-a-mile in length, included many vehicles illuminate with coloured fires and a large number of mounted men attired in fancy costumes. The characters were, of a most varied description. The houses and shops along the line of route were all brightly illuminated with coloured fires and Chinese lanterns. The streets were thronged with people, and the motley procession must have been witnessed by some 40,000 or 50,000 persons.

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By 1911, Guy Fawkes night attracted enormous crowds to big displays, one of the largest was on Hampstead Heath which attracted up to half a million people, our reporter is not very impressed by some of the antics of the crowd.

1911 Farrago of Fireworks, Folly, Farcical Frisky Foolery, and Female Underwear.
The Heath was turned into an absolute hell upon earth,  About half a million Cockneys of both sexes gathered to gorge periwinkles, guzzle bad beer, dance, and pull each other about with shameless abandon to the illumination of numerous  bonfires, and the accompaniment of a fizzle of Chinese fireworks, that stunk worst than a whole sewerage farm struck by lightning. It was a characteristic  Cockney carnal carnival, at which thousands of London louts and lassies lay around blazing bonfires in close company, with arms and limbs entwined,watching thousands of their fellow Yahoos deliriously dancing round the flames like dirty, debased, dancing dervishes, shrieking, screeching, and squalling…..a small army of lunatics had blown bladders attached to sticks (a very popular form of London “fun”this), and banged everybody, they met across, the head, and as no London holiday can take place without a mob of importuning bawling beggars—a number of young men and boys with blackened faces carried about effigies of  Guy Fawkes whining and begging for pennies. Frantic fools flung fireworks up girls’ clothes.  There were hordes of police on the spot to keep order, but the Loudon police are slow  to  interfere with a London mob on holiday bent  provided they stop short of outrage or murder.
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In many ways, the two world wars had a quieting effect on some of the celebrations, however the 1950s saw the night often being used for an excuse for student high jinks and other anti social behaviour.
1950
Guy Fawkes Night in London – Work For Police and Fireman
Firemen were called-to 160 bonfires which got out of control, and R.S.P.C.A officers to deal with 250 hysterical dogs, when Londoners celebrated the anniversary of Guy Fawkes with fireworks to-night 24 hours early. East End children unsuccessfully tried to cut the hoses when firemen doused several of their bonfires, while in the centre of the city, the police arrested a number of youths after rockets, jumping jacks and bangers were fired off amongst the traffic.
1953
Wild Guy Night in London
London had its rowdiest since before the war when thousands of men and women, many  of  them university students went rampaging through the fashionable West End celebrating Guy Fawkes Night.
A fireworks battle in Parliament Square, next to the House of Commons, between rival gangs of students had to be broken up by mounted and foot police. At the end of the night, 100 revellers had been charged with various offences, ranging from assaulting and obstructing the police to using insulting language.
Thousand’s  thronged the West End hurling squibs and bangers into buses and taxis. One student tried to place a small box of explosives quietly under the helmet of a policeman. Around Eros God of Love, whose statue is in the centre of Piccadilly Circus, policemen linked arms as hundreds ran shrieking round the statue throwing fireworks as they went. The Daily Express says students threw fireworks  at the windows of No. 10 Downing Street.
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In many ways, Guy Fawkes has lost its rebellious character when children and adults built their own bonfires and let off their fireworks. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing ! injuries to children and animals were commonplace and fires often got out of control putting a strain on the emergency services.
Many thanks to L Katiyo for the photographs.

Laureen’s Bonfire Night

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After surviving Halloween, we now celebrate Bonfire Night. I have often wondered what people from overseas think of this rather peculiar British custom. Fortunately to help to answer this question I have enlisted the help of Zimbabwe born Laureen.

Laureen who has lived on the Island for a decade, in words and pictures gives us her impressions of one of our most longstanding traditions.

To me, Bonfire Night signifies the advent of winter, along with the cold and darkness that comes with it.  It brings a bit of cheer and a celebration that has not always been part of my life.  Being from Zimbabwe, in Southern Africa, it was not an event I had celebrated before until I moved to London ten years ago.  I knew about the ‘Gun Powder Plot’ after reading about it in a history book.  As a former British colony, Zimbabwe adopted its fair share of British customs but Bonfire Night never made it to my part of the world.  I had never heard of it, although I have recently learned it is celebrated in South Africa, but probably only by a minority.

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 In the first two years of my life in London, I did not go to any Bonfire  Nights even though Tower Hamlets probably held them in the borough.  I had no idea such a peculiar custom existed. I assumed the fireworks in early November were a continuation of overzealous Halloween celebrations because the two events take place within a few days of each other.  One evening, while watching the BBC news, there was a piece about Bonfire Night celebrations all over the country with a special focus on the ones in East Sussex and Devon.  The sight of men rolling barrels on fire seemed quite bizarre but was unlike anything I have ever seen before, coupled with the burning of an effigy.  I put it on my list of things to do.  I had no idea that most London boroughs have their own firework events to commemorate until I read about it in the East End Life newspaper.  I have been a fan ever since.

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 I usually like to go alone, with my camera for company to capture the moment and share with friends all over the world.  It is usually cold and sometimes a very miserable wet evening, but that does not put me off or any of the local families.  Children seem to enjoy it the most.    There is usually an atmosphere of expectation as everyone stands there wearing their warmest clothes to ward off the cold.  Other friends from the southern hemisphere think I am mad to brave the cold for fireworks but I love the atmosphere.  It brightens up an otherwise bleak period leading up to Christmas.  The symbolic purpose of Bonfire Night is probably lost on some people but who cares when everyone acknowledges it is tradition! It has become a tradition for me too over the years.

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Last year I watched the fireworks held on the Isle of Dogs at Millwall Park when the Council decided to spread them out.  This year, I decided to enjoy the Blackheath fireworks from the bottom of the island at Island Gardens.

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