Guy Fawkes Night

* Authorized Reproduction, Rex May: http://baloocartoons.com/

“Please to remember the Fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason, and plot.    

I see no reason why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.”

While chanting that in England back in the ’60s, my friends and I were more focused on squibs, bangers, sparklers, Catherine wheels, rockets, and other pyrotechnic delights than on the reason they were being let off. We all knew why, though. Hundreds of years earlier, someone called Guy Fawkes had tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Bonfire Night celebrated the fact that he was caught before he could. 

To us, it was just fun, but back in the day, it was serious stuff. When Protestant queen, Elizabeth the First went to her glory in 1603, English Catholics thought her successor, James the First, might be more kindly disposed towards them than she had been. He wasn’t. Which is why, in 1605, Robert Catesby and thirteen other disgruntled Catholics decided to obliterate him, his Parliament, and, with luck, the wife and kids as well in a blast that would rock London. Guy Fawkes wasn’t a major player in this conspiracy, but his is the name associated with the deed because he was the one who was discovered in the cellars under the House of Lords without a satisfactory explanation as to why he was there in the company of thirty-six barrels of gunpowder. (It’s also a lot easier to say ‘Guy Fawkes Night’ than ‘Robert Catesby-Thomas Bates-Everard Digby-Guy Fawkes- John Grant-Robert Keyes-Thomas Percy- Ambrose Rookwood-Francis Tresham-Robert Wintour-Thomas Wintour-Christopher Wright-John Wright Night’.)

After Guy was caught, the other proponents of what was then called, ‘Powder Treason’, were rounded up too. Except for Catesby, Percy, and C. & J. Wright, who had the good fortune to get shot while resisting arrest, and Tresham, who had the good fortune to get fall sick and die, they were all imprisoned and tortured so that they could get used to pain before being hung, drawn, and quartered.

Present-day fireworks represent the explosion that didn’t happen, and bonfires come from the bonfires people lit to celebrate (supposedly) the fact that their beloved Protestant king had been saved from death at the hands of dastardly Catholics. In later years, Guy Fawkes effigies (as well as effigies of the Pope and the occasional unpopular politician, be he Catholic or Protestant) got tossed into the flames too. In 1888, some effigies were made to look like Jack the Ripper, and during WW II, that honour went to Hitler. 

Now, of course, it’s all for fun. But the Yeoman of the Guard do still search Westminster’s cellars before every State Opening – just to ensure that modern day terrorists haven’t decided to eliminate the current monarch and members of parliament! 

As with all celebrations, Guy Fawkes Night involves food, including toffee apples, pork pies, sausages (cooked on sticks over the bonfire, like a weeney roast) and tinfoil wrapped baked potatoes, which are also cooked in the fire. In some areas, people also eat gingerbread, but up in Yorkshire, they have Yorkshire Parkin.

Yorkshire Parkin


  • 200g butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 tbsp. milk
  • 200g golden syrup
  • 85g treacle
  • 85g light soft brown sugar
  • 100g medium oatmeal
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 1 tbsp. ground ginger


  1. Heat the oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. Grease a deep 22cm/9in square cake tin and line with greaseproof paper (baking paper). Beat the egg and milk together with a fork.
  2. Gently melt the syrup, treacle, sugar and butter together in a large pan until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat. Mix together the oatmeal, flour and ginger and stir into the syrup mixture, followed by the egg and milk.
  3. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 50 minutes – 1 hour until the cake feels firm and a little crusty on top. Cool in the tin then wrap in more greaseproof paper and foil.  If you can bring yourself not to eat it for a few days – or up to two weeks – it will become softer and stickier.

Recipe courtesy of Helena Fairfax:




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