A Memoir of Childhood in Hampton on the Hill: Bonfire Night

A bonfire for Guy Fawkes' Night.
Image by SE5 Forum For Camberwell from Camberwell SE5, UK, originally uploaded to Wikipedia.

Today, safety regulations and limits on the purchase of fireworks for private use have, for the most part, confined the celebrations to large spectator events organised by local groups. In the ’50s it was still a grass roots thing. For two or three weeks previous the village children would build a bonfire on the village green, just some 50 yards north of where we lived. We would scour the hedgerows, the fields, the woods, for pieces of rotten wood and some not so rotten, anything combustible would find its way onto the growing pile.

Pom-Pom Cannons

Meanwhile my father would be buying fireworks. They always seemed to be scarce at that time, but my father would manage through his contacts (as tax collector with various small shopkeepers) to put together a respectable number. The names were evocative: alongside the rockets and the jumping jacks (which would explode at intervals and seemingly jump at each bang) there were Pom-Pom Cannons, Little Demons, Roman Candles, Catherine Wheels, Thunderbolts, and ones that poured out cascades of coloured sparks, picturesquely called Mount Etna or Mount Vesuvius.

The big night

Come the big night, we would go up the road to the village green where some children would already be waiting, along with the occasional adult. My father would put some paraffin on the bonfire and then throw a match on it. It just roared. What a sight!

And then it was to the fireworks.

One after another, my father would follow the instructions to ‘light the blue touch paper and retire immediately.’ No child was injured at this annual celebration. By the end of the evening (perhaps an hour later) there would be a considerable crowd around the green, and then potatoes would be placed in the dying embers of the fire to roast. In the distance you could see the lights of Warwick and the occasional rocket bursting in the night air. What memories!