Why do we celebrate bonfire night?

Visitors often raise the question when in London “why do we celebrate fireworks night or bonfire night in London?  Well, Guy Fawkes Night, 5th of November Fireworks Night or London Bonfire Night takes place on the 5th of November and it is a celebration of a historic figure attempting to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London.

old ink drawing of the November 5th conspirators including Guido Fawkes

These are based around a historic event that became known as Guy Fawkes Night or the 5th of November. These days it is primarily known as Fireworks Night or Bonfire Night.

I remember when I was a kid we used to go collecting for the guy in our neighbourhood.  The cries of “penny for the Guy” were all shouted out by the kids in all the neighbourhoods back then.  After we had done our collecting we always headed out at twilight with our fireworks, sparklers, sausages and potatoes for the bonfire.  Bonfire night was the British version of Halloween, as we didn’t even know that existed back then.

Celebrating 5th November Guy Fawkes Night in England

These lovely photos come from The Mirror in a piece they wrote on Guy Fawkes Night.

Celebrating 5th November Guy Fawkes Night in England

The tradition of Guy Fawkes-related bonfires actually began the very same year as the failed coup. The plot was foiled in the night between the 4th and 5th of November 1605.

Celebrating 5th November Guy Fawkes Night in England

On the 5th of November, Londoners who had heard about the plot gathered in the streets and lit bonfires, as the years progressed this became almost a ritual on the evening of the 5th.  Eventually, effigies made their way onto the fires, food was cooked in the ashes, and the celebrations became more elaborate adding fireworks and parties.

Tower Bridge with firework in London, England (celebration of Bonfire Night

There’s a TV show you may be able to find called Gunpowder about the plot to blow up parliament. It’s done by that guy Kit Harrington who is starring in Game of Thrones.

It can be pretty gruesome at times but it really shows the truth about how the British treated the Catholics during those times. You will begin to understand how things like the Potato Famine came about when the English had no respect for anyone Catholic thanks to Henry the VIII.

Celebrating 5th November Guy Fawkes Night in England

Bonfire Night preparations

Getting ready for Guy Fawkes Night (now dominantly called Bonfire Night), including making your dummy guy and getting some means of transport for it like an old pram or stroller.  You would parade down the street with your guy and hope that people would respond to your “penny for the guy” calls.

Celebrating 5th November Guy Fawkes Night in England

With all the money you collected, you took off to buy sparklers and treats for the evening ahead.  Most neighbourhoods held a communal bonfire and I remember many an old wardrobe and furniture being tossed onto the fire.

On the night, the Guy is placed on top of the fire and the sausages and potatoes wrapped in foil and tucked into the embers. Then the community basically held a party and celebrated until the fires burned out.  I am pretty sure that after us kids went to bed the adults had a few beverages.

Celebrating 5th November Guy Fawkes Night in England

Bonfire Night still exists here in the UK, it has almost been overtaken by Halloween and usually, fireworks carry on from October 31st until November 5th.  Most communities will have a bonfire or fireworks night to celebrate the 5th.  Not too many Guys about these days and some of the celebrations attract thousands of people.

Celebrating 5th November Guy Fawkes Night in England

The History of Bonfire Night

On November 5, 1605, 13 Catholic dissidents planned to blow up the Kind (King James 1) during the opening of parliament.  The assassination attempt went wrong and was foiled the night before on November 4th.  Guy Fawkes was found lurking in the cellars below the House of Lords, just hanging around with 36 barrels of gunpowder. 

Who was Guy Fawkes?

Fawkes was born in Yorkshire to a well-known Yorkshire family and he was a convert to Catholicism. Because he was an adventurous man he left England and enlisted in the Spanish army in the Netherlands.

He had a reputation for courage and determination. In England, the man who created the plot to blow up Parliament decided he needed a man like Fawkes to help with their plot. A man was sent to the Netherlands to enlist Guy Fawkes to help. Fawkes was not fully apprised of the plan though.

Celebrating 5th November Guy Fawkes Night in England

The plotters had rented a cellar under Parliament, and Fawkes planted 36 barrels of gunpowder there and camouflaged them with coals and wood. But the plot was discovered, and Fawkes was arrested. Only after being tortured on the rack did he reveal the names of his accomplices. Tried and found guilty he was to be executed opposite the Parliament building, but he fell or jumped from the gallows ladder and died as a result of having broken his neck, they still quartered him however.

After his capture, it took 2 days of torture for him to name the other 12 conspirators.  He signed his confession Guido Fawkes.  Guido jumped to his death to avoid the grisly sentence and the failed attempt on the Kings life has been celebrated now for over 4 centuries.

Celebrating 5th November Guy Fawkes Night in England

Remember the Fifth of November

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.

Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England’s overthrow.
But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A stick and a stake
For King James’s sake!
If you won’t give me one,
I’ll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.

A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

This is a poem and song that used to be sung on the 5th of November, interestingly enough you may recall it if you live in North America as it was used in the V, for Vendetta movie.

This was a particularly brutal time for Catholics in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland and many of the attacks and tortures that took place live on for people to this day.

As the autumn turns to winter in the UK, the celebration of Halloween draws to a close and is in a way combined with Bonfire Night.

Celebrating 5th November Guy Fawkes Night in England

Top tips for Bonfire Night

Follow these top tips to make sure your Bonfire Night goes off with a bang:

  • Many events do require a ticket so check ahead of time and book your tickets to guarantee entry.
  • Lots of the vendors set up for food, drink, and trinkets only take cash so make sure you have some with you.
  • There are always many more activities to enjoy on Bonfire Night so check what is happening before you go. There may be live entertainment, kids rides, a street food market, and much more.
  • Check the weather it’s England it may rain, but wrap up warm and wear comfortable shoes and take a fold-up umbrella just in case.
Celebrating 5th November Guy Fawkes Night in England

Fireworks in London for Bonfire Night

Central London

Battersea Park Fireworks Display

Join the thousands of revellers as this pretty park is illuminated with a huge bonfire and a spectacular fireworks display. Tuck into food and drink from the various stalls or enjoy the family activities during the Battersea Park Fireworks Display on the banks of the River Thames. Alternatively, skip the crowds and watch the display from a different angle with an unforgettable fireworks cruise. 

Southwark Fireworks Display

The free Southwark Fireworks Display draws in around 30,000 people; making it one of the largest free displays in the city. With a setting along the south bank of the River Thames and with plenty of food, drink, and entertainment on offer, it’s a great place to see your first Bonfire Night fireworks display in London.

Guy Fawkes, Bonfire Nightcelebrations in London. Fireworks above Big Ben and Houses of Parliament

South London

Crystal Palace Park Firework Display

One of the city’s longest-running fireworks displays, the annual Crystal Palace Park Firework Display brings thousands to the South London park that’s also famed for its dinosaurs. Expect plenty of family fun, including a children’s firework display, food, and children’s activities at this alcohol-free event. 

North London

Alexandra Palace Fireworks Festival

With views stretching across London and plenty of family activities to enjoy, the Alexandra Palace Fireworks Festival has become one of the top Bonfire Night events in London. With activities ranging from a German beer festival to funfairs and ice skating, there’s always plenty for all ages at this fireworks show. 

East London

Blackheath Fireworks

Set in one of London’s largest outdoor spaces, the Blackheath Fireworks make a great evening out for family and friends looking to enjoy the fireworks in London in a buzzing atmosphere. Regularly hosting more than 80,000 people, it’s one of the largest Bonfire Night events in London; and what’s more, it’s free – leaving you plenty of change to indulge in some seasonal treats. 

Guy Fawkes, Bonfire Nightcelebrations in London. Fireworks above Big Ben and Houses of Parliament

Victoria Park Fireworks

Head over to the Victoria Park Fireworks for an evening of Bonfire Night fun, with this year’s fireworks marking 350 years since the Great Fire of London. Keep warm with snacks from the food and drink stalls, before the fireworks display lights up the skies over East London. 6 Nov

West London

Bishop’s Park Fireworks

Sister event to the annual Bonfire Night in Ravenscourt Park, the Bishop’s Park Fireworks Display is a short walk from Putney Bridge Tube station and attracts thousands of visitors. With a funfair and an alcohol-free and dog-free policy, these Fulham fireworks are great for young kids.

Pin in for later

Celebrating 5th November Guy Fawkes Night in England

Want to read more about England?

Scroll to Top