Looking Back: Penny for the guy anyone?
Most bonfires still around now are organised, often with admission prices, and for charity. When we were young, they were between families and neighbours, with mothers providing treacle toffee, parkin and toffee apples, and fathers on firework duties.
Health and Safety warnings then, were courtesy of Blue Peter and we didn’t take much notice. We were too busy making things with sticky-backed plastic!
For weeks children collected anything that would burn and pestered neighbours asking for old clothes for the guy which was made by stuffing the clothes with rags and finishing with a facemask.
The guy was dragged round all the local shops and pubs when ‘penny for the guy’ was the refrain. It was better to place the guy outside workplaces on Friday nights as that was pay day, and before the workers had been to the pub. Although they were often quite generous later on when they had had a pint or two, but women less willing as money was hard to come by.
There was no restriction on children buying fireworks in the 50s and there was a great deal of hooliganism attached to Bonfire Night in those days. Householders would tape up their letterboxes or put a basin of water underneath them in case a firework was thrust through. Dustbins were fair game. Being metal, there would be an almighty bang when a banger was put inside, and the lid put down.
Like many British traditions, Bonfire Night’s origin has largely been forgotten. It dates as far back as 1605 when Guy Fawkes along with 16 other conspirators decided to blow up the House of Commons and kill King James I. They were all caught and sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered at Westminster. However, Guy Fawkes jumped from the scaffold, broke his neck suffering fatal injuries and escaped the fate of the rest.
All exciting stuff in a time when a popular spectator sport was watching people torn to pieces. The modern-day equivalent would possibly be fox hunting!