Guy Fawkes Fired We Guys (7 November 1975)
In the early 1950’s, Bletchley Young Conservatives decided to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day with a special bonfire in a field off Drayton Road.
A large amount of combustible material was collected and stacked and by November 4, all was ready for a good old beano on “The Fifth.” But during the night of the fourth, the stack mysteriously caught fire and the whole lot went up in flames – a day too soon.
Some time after the event, a young man whose views were anything but Conservative, whispered in my ear something about a brush having been soaked in paraffin, ignited and thrown onto the pile. But then, he might have been bragging.
It reminded me of how we boys in a northern village used to look forward to Bonfire Night and its attendant fireworks, and also with hardly less pleasure to Mischief Night, which was the night before. The village divided into groups, and for weeks before “The Fifth” each group tried to gather more “chumps” than any other group. On Mischief Night especially we raided each other’s stocks, if they were not too strongly guarded, and attempts to set them alight were not unknown.
But Mischief Night was also night for general mischief. I shall tell of only one trick some boys got up to, because it is one which can hardly be repeated in this district. Some of the cottages were built into the side of a steep slope which was common land and it was very easy to step from the slope onto a cottage roof, pop a turf on the chimney and smoke out the occupants!
I can honestly say I never took part in that particular exercise!
We had guys but we never went round asking for pennies for them, because we wouldn’t have got any. And what a miserably pathetic proceeding that is hereabouts today. Children appear at the door with a bundle of rags and mumble nothing more than “A penny for the guy, mister.”
Time was when they had to know their lines. The late Mr Harry Sear, of Bletchley, remembered them as:
Guy Fawkes, Guy. Stick him in the eye.
Hang him on a lamp post and there let him die.
A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
A jolly old faggot to burn him.
Hip, hip, hip, hurrah!
Ladies and gentlemen sit by the fire,
Hands in your pockets as I desire.
Pull our your chink that I may jink.
Holler boys, holler boys
Make the bells ring.
Hip, hip, hip, hurrah!
Older versions went nearer the commemorative mark with lines such as:
Guy Fawkes and his companions did contrive
To blow King and Parliament all up alive
By God’s providence he was catched
With a dark lantern, holding a match.
Another had the line:
A stick and a stake for King James’s sake.
The truth is that any subject can be made to serve for what is now just an annual jollification’s sake. I remember when Guy Fawkes was parolled (sic) for a time and his place on the bonfire was taken by Kaiser Bill. I suppose that Hitler was too bad to deserve the honour, except at the victory celebration.
In the past, celebrations have got out of hand and a strong element of hooliganism has been present – yes, in late Victorian times at that, when vandalism and hooliganism were supposed to have been non-existent.
At Woburn, for instance, extra police had to be drafted into the town on Bonfire Night. A huge fire used to be lit in Caswell Lane. The materials for it were collected for weeks beforehand and included tar and oil barrels, hedge trimmings and pea and bean sticks “acquired” from allotments. Summary reprisals were inflicted on any tradesman who failed to contribute to the blaze.
One tradesman was rash enough to remark that no-one would get hold of his empty barrels. He had them locked up. But his shop assistant was “prevailed upon” to hand over the keys for a few minutes. The barrels were then removed, heaved over the churchyard wall and hidden. On Guy Fawkes Night the tradesman congratulated the guys – youths were decked out as guys as well as the guy itself – on their fine bonfire, little knowing that his own property was contributing.
Barrels used to be taken from the fire when they were well alight and trundled along to the market place by means of long poles. There they were surrounded by a ring of fearsome guys, chanting the old refrains.
Arch-enemy of the guys was a police inspector. Once he was inveigled by a wag into a hostelry, where he was assured he would be out of the smoke and turmoil of the streets. But they were no sooner seated when down the chimney came a volley of fireworks which filled the room with choking fumes.
The inspector stormed out and his wrath was even greater when he also found that one guy had tossed a red-hot barrel hoop into the air and that it had landed on a constable, burning his helmet and tunic. The barrel rolling practice was stamped out after one barrel got away and set fire to a shop.
I suppose the Gunpowder Plot was as much an act of intended terrorism as those which occur today. The punishment was different, however. All the plotters who were not killed while resisting arrest were subsequently publicly hanged, drawn and quartered.