Remember, Remember the 5th of November, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.
So, how, in the Georgian Era did England celebrate this failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament? Well, it seems that things have changed little since then, bonfires, burning effigies and setting off fireworks were the order of the day, just as they are today. We thought we would take a look at a few reports from the newspapers. The first thing we should just point out is the spelling of his name has evolved from Guy Faux as he was known in the Georgian Era to the name by which we know him today – Guy Fawkes.
In the 1600’s Popish books and pictures were burnt and from the early 1700’s the event was celebrated with the ringing of church bells and bonfires. This is the earliest reference we have come across regarding the symbolic creation and burning of an effigy.
Even royal residences joined in, as demonstrated in an etching by Paul Sandby which depicts a view of the festivities in the lower court of Windsor Castle during Guy Faux Night, showing the gathering near the bonfire and fireworks in the sky.
According to the Derby Mercury, 15th November 1792:
On the 5th of November, a number of people, at least five hundred, assembled in St George’s Field’s, carrying at their head an exceedingly elegant dressed figure, with a crown upon its head, which as occasion required they denoted Guy Faux or the Duke of Brunswick; this was preceded by a man carrying a long pole, on the top of which was a board, with the inscription’ Universal Liberty and no Despots’. This figure, after they sufficiently paraded it about the streets, they carried to Kennington Common, when a large gallows was erected, upon which, after burning the crown, they hung it, and then burnt it, gallows and all, the mob dancing round signing.
A completely different approach to the day was taken in Hampshire in 1801, it was a far more sedate occasion, with the day being ushered in by the ringing of bells and at twelve o’clock the guns on the platform and at one o’clock the ships at Spithead fired a salute.
In 1801, The Stamford Mercury, however, carried the following news:
Among the different effigies of Guy Faux which were exited in this city [Lincoln] on the 5th November, we could not but notice one in the habit of an honest farmer, with the characteristic emblems of a sickle, smock frock etc which was hung up near the toll bar. While we can smile at such a piece of harmless wit, we are happy to congratulate the more peaceable inhabitants on a second year passing over without the horrid practice of bull baiting; the enormity and cruelty of which, we should hope, the populace themselves are at last fully sensible of, and will in future discontinue.
In 1802 a great annoyance was occasioned to the public by a set of idle fellows going about previous to, and on, the fifth of November, with a figure dressed up as Guy Faux and, after assembling a mob, was the cause of many depredations and disorders. The magistrate determined to punish all such offenders in the future and, therefore, five men and a boy were apprehended in St. Martin’s Street, with a cart, in which was a rude figure as the effigy of Guy Faux. One of the party was dressed as a priest, habited in a white smock-frock, with a large wig, the boy riding on horseback as the sheriff conducting the offender to the place of execution. They were immediately taken before Mr Graham, at Bow Street; and it being proven on oath, that the prisoners were seen to beg and receive money, they were all, except the boy, committed to prison as idle and disorderly persons.
In 1814, a most melancholy accident happened in Northampton Street, Clerkenwell, where some boys had a bonfire to celebrate the annual burning of Guy Faux, and throwing squibs; a wagon and horses passing at the time, the horses took fright and ran off, when a young man ran in front to stop them, he was pushed down by the foremost horse and the wagon passed over his boy and killed him on the spot.
London celebrated relatively peacefully in 1821, as The Morning Post reported that:
The anniversary of the gunpowder plot, which has caused so many scenes of painful confusion here, passed off last night, with the hissing explosions of a few squibs and crackers, here and there a bonfire, with Guy Faux in flames and with but little inconvenience or damage to anyone. The constables were commendably on the alert.
In The Globe of 1812, we learnt that:
Ever since the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, when Guy Faux meant to blow up the Parliament House, it has been the custom, on the first day of the session, for certain officers to examine the cellars under the House, and ascertain that all is right. Accordingly, at eleven o’clock, on Tuesday morning, Lord Gwydir, the officiating Great Chamberlain of England; Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt, the Usher of the Black Rod; Mr Curtis, Exon of the Yeoman of the Yeoman of the Guard, attended at the House of Lords to examine the premises. For this purpose, the table in (the House of Peers was removed, the trap door under it was taken up, and the passages underneath were closely inspected. They also inspected the vaults under the House of Commons, which are filled with excellent wines, of which the inspectors tested, that they might be sure they were not gunpowder.
Just in case you weren’t aware, this tradition still takes place today.
The Fairs or Guy Fawkes a Print made by Rowney & Forster, active 1820–1822, after John Augustus Atkinson, 1775–1831. Courtesy of the Yale Centre for British Art