Fireworks: The Good with The Bad


How many of us remember this scene from our childhood?

The fun we had for weeks before the 5th of November building the bonfire on a local vacant lot.

Julie in Melbourne reminds us that The Corner Store was the source of our fireworks.

The other funny remininensce I have about working in the milkbar was selling fireworks to kids for what we called Cracker Night- we knew about Guy Fawkes but didn’t call it that! The Milkbar owner set aside a whole cabinet and kids would spend ages choosing Tom Thumbs, Penny Bangers, Catherine Wheels, Sky Rockets,
Sparklers, Roman Candles etc! I don't remember that there was even an adult with them! No wonder the whole thing got banned!

As we have mentioned- the Bonfire was created in celebration of Guy Fawkes Night but not to celebrate Guy Fawkes' attempt to blow up the British House of Lords but to celebrate his failure. I'm afraid DownUnder in our Penal Colony many people were guilty of thinking this event from a different perspective.

Below is a photo of an English bonfire burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes.


But we were kids and all we were interested in was the fun and sense of excitement Bonfire Night created in our communities across the English speaking world. And community is the key word here. All the kids in our neighbourhood would join together to collect old branches and discarded pieces of wood and drag them across the roads to the vacant allotment that had been selected. Our fathers would help us with the larger pieces of trees and make sure the bonfire was upright and looking grand.

And then off we would go (as Julie said above), to the local corner shop to buy our fireworks. I can remember getting home and lining up our selection to make sure we had a good range of fireworks because we were well aware of the different effects achieved by the variety of the types. We all had our favourites and mine were the Catherine Wheels except for the part where they came off the post to which they were nailed and shot out into the watching crowd. Yes it was dangerous and we were constantly warned by our mothers "Don't get too close!" and "You older kids watch out for the little ones!" But I'm sorry to say, as we all know, many dreadful accidents happened and not only to the bystanders. The bonfires might get out of control and set fire to the grass or a neighbours fence. So I am sure the local fire brigade must have dreaded fireworks night. And many poor animals must have been petrified though we had made sure that our cats and dogs were locked up inside.

And now it is confession time. One of our favourite activities, before bonfire night, was to go around our neighbourhood and put lighted Penny Bangers into the letter boxes. I think back in horror at the mail that must have been burnt!

Many artists have remembered the Good and not the Bad of fireworks.

In my research today I discovered this remarkable watercolour painting produced sometime in the 1770s by English artist Paul Sandby.


On 5 November, sometime in the 1770s, crowds gathered in the Lower and Middle Wards of Windsor Castle to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. The occasion, presumably an annual one, was captured by influential English watercolourist, Paul Sandby, in a lively composition which features as November’s ‘Image of the month’.

The hand-coloured acquatint held in the Archives and Chapter Library [SGC F.160] is full of human interest as it shows people dancing drunkenly round a raging bonfire or engaging in a wide range of other activities, whilst a firework shoots into the sky. At the front right of the picture a pie-man and a man with a goose in a basket attempt to sell their wares, whilst an elderly man is carried by uniformed guards on a chair mounted between two poles.(

Zoom forward to 2019 and English artist Mark Burrell remembers firework night with his painting Bonfire Night.

The demise of Bonfire Night can only be seen as a good thing and I'm okay with the community spirit the accompanied it being reborn in Halloween. And I'm okay with the fireworks becoming a spectacle through the New Year Firework Displays many of the world cities now stage. These displays have made-

Fireworks - A Work of Community Art