…gunpowder, treason and plot! For over 400 years, we have been lighting bonfires on this night to mark the failure of the so-called ‘Gunpowder Plot’. Did you know that the tradition of Bonfire Night began the same year as Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators were captured? These fires were initially lit to celebrate the fact that King James I had been saved.

Bonfire Night & Guy Fawkes

Not long after, the ‘Observance of 5th November Act’ was introduced, to ensure it became an annual day of thanksgiving. Within a few decades, though, with Protestant anti-Catholic feelings running high, it came to be known as ‘Gunpowder Treason Day’. Soon, people began making effigies of Guy Fawkes and the Pope, and placing them on top of these annual bonfires. The Act itself was not repealed until 1859, after which Guy Fawkes Day had lost much of its original focus and had become a more festive social occasion. A “Guy” would be put on top of the pyre then set alight. As well as burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes, bonfires were used to cook potatoes or sausages, or to heat up soup for the crowds that came to watch the fireworks. These fireworks were a reminder of the gunpowder hidden by Fawkes in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament.

Penny for the guy

Who remembers making a “Guy” as a child? It was usually made out of whatever old clothing we could find, like an old boiler suit and wellies. We stuffed these with paper or straw and usually finished off with a hat and a mask. He’d be taken out on the streets, sometimes wheeled about in an old pram, and we children would demand “a penny for the guy” to supplement our meagre pocket money. The proceeds would then be used to buy fireworks. I think you might have to be of a certain age now to remember that particular tradition, from a time when kids were able to play safely out on the streets at night! Today, and in these more politically-correct and health and safety conscious times, we tend to celebrate Bonfire Night just with fun, food and fireworks at well-organised events around our villages, towns and cities. Some locations even hold torch-lit processions.

Where to find the best fireworks

Fireworks will be lighting up the skies across Northumberland this weekend at a host of organised displays. This year, 5th November falls on a Monday – not the best day, perhaps, for holding a large social function – so you will find most public events are being staged on Saturday 3rd or Sunday 4th instead. If you’re staying locally on holiday, here are a few of the most spectacular events for you to visit.

Sat 3rd  |  ALNWICK  | from 6.30 pm  |  fireworks at 7.30 pm  |  Location: Alnwick Rugby Club
Hosted by Alnwick Round Table. Hot food stalls, entertainment and fun fair. Park at Willowburn Sports Centre or Homebase car park, then head for the Rugby Club.

Entry: adults £5; under 16s, £3; under 4s go free


Sat 3rd  |  BLYTH  | from 4pm to 8 pm  |  fireworks at 7 pm  |  Location: Blyth Beach
Fun fair, fire-eaters, street theatre, on-stage entertainment, food and music. Park and ride only (bus ticket charges apply).

Entry: FREE


Sat 3rd  | HEXHAM  |  from 6 pm to 7.30 pm |  bonfire lit at 6.30 pm  |  fireworks at 7 pm  |  Location: The Sele
Food and glow products available. Proceeds to local charities.

Entry: FREE


Sat 3rd  |  NEWBIGGIN  | from 6.15 pm  |  Location: Newbiggin beach
Firework display to be held on the beach

Entry: FREE


Sun 4th  |  LOWICK  |  from 5.30 pm  |  Location: Football Ground
Firework display only. Refreshment van. Donations welcome.

Entry: FREE


Sun 5th  |  MORPETH  |  from 5 pm  |  bonfire lit at 6 pm  |  Location: Morpeth Rugby Club
Bonfire and fireworks display.

Entry: adults £5, under 12s, £3


Sun 4th  |  ROTHBURY  |  from 5 pm  | fireworks from 6 pm  |  Location: Cragside
Coquetdale Round Table is hosting a fireworks display at Cragside, with proceeds going to local charities. Food and refreshments provided.

Entry: adults £5 (up to max. of £10 per car); kids go free


Mon 5th  |  HADSTON  |  from 6 pm  |  Location: Old Druridge Bay School Field
Firework display only. Donations welcome.

Entry: FREE

Finally, if you just happen to be a fan of these flaming pyrotechnic displays, then PLEASE do come back to Northumberland for New Year’s Eve and visit the annual Tar Bar’l Festival at Allendale! After dark, participants parade through the town, balancing burning whiskey barrels on their heads, filled with hot tar. These barrels can weigh as much as 35 pounds. Others carry flaming torches. At midnight, they gather in the centre of the village and light a huge bonfire. Dangerous and exciting as it looks, apparently no one has ever been hurt during the celebrations. It’s an impressive sight – don’t miss it!


by Terri Harper, 02/11/18