11 Things You Might Not Know About Fireworks, Bonfires and Guy Fawkes Night

By Spencer Hart on at

It's the last great holiday before Christmas. Time to get your rockets out, nail the Catherine wheel to a fence and stand well back from that beardy bloke burning on the fire. But before we celebrate with a bang, it's time to do some serious learning…


1.) The UK spends around £15 million on fireworks every year

Yep, fireworks are expensive things, with the New Year's Eve show in London costing £1.9 million in 2011. [Image Credit: Hotukdeals]


2.) The only place in England to actively not celebrate 5th November is St. Peter's School in York

Guy Fawkes was born on the 13th of April 1570 in Stonegate, York. He attended St. Peter's School, where they still refuse to celebrate bonfire night out of respect for their former pupil. [Image Credit: Find My Past]


3.) Around 1,000 people are treated for firework-related injuries in the UK each year

Approximately 1,000 people require treatment for firework-related injuries, with five per cent being classed as 'serious accidents'. The NHS has failed to provide statistics showing how many of these injuries are caused by the classic arse-cheek rocket launch, though. [Image Credit: Windsor Star]


4.) The world's largest firework was launched in Japan just this year

Measuring 1.2 metres in diameter and weighing 420 kilos, the Yonshakudama is the world's largest single firework. The explosion it creates measures just under half-a-mile across. All this can be yours for around £950. [Image Credit: Pyrotalk]


5.) The world's largest firework display was set off in Dubai and stretched over 95 km

Launching a display consisting of 479,651 fireworks, the Dubai Government set the record on the 31st of December 2013. The fireworks were launched from stations positioned over 59 miles of the seafront. [Image Credit: NPR]


6.) Blue is the hardest colour to create in a firework

While orange is the easiest colour to produce, blue is the hardest, using a copper oxide with a precise temperature requirement.

Here are a few more chemical and colour combinations, just in case you were planning to create you own: green (barium), Orange (calcium), Yellow (sodium), White (aluminium and titanium) and Red (lithium salts and strontium salt). [Image Credit: Wikimedia]


7.) Fireworks date back to 7th-century China

Our exploding friends were invented sometime between 7th- and 9th-century China, when Chinese alchemists mixed potassium nitrate with sulphur and charcoal, accidentally inventing a crude recipe for gunpowder; they had been searching for an elixir for immortality, so it presumably came as a bit of a disappointment.

Chinese farmers are said to have noticed that the banging scared away abnormally large mountain men, though, so every cloud – and so the firecracker was born. [Image Credit: Ancient China Life]


8.) Fireworks were first used in England at the wedding of King Henry VII

Marco Polo first brought fireworks to Europe in 1292, but the first recorded use of fireworks in England was at the wedding of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York in 1486. Shakespeare makes references to fireworks in Henry VIII (Act 1, Scene 3) and Love Labour's Lost (Act 5, Scene 1). [Image Credit: RSC]


9.) The etymology for the word 'bonfire' is 'bone-fire'

The word 'bonfire' is a derivation of 'bone-fire' which happened when the longer vowel sound in bone was shortened. Bone-fires were fires in which the bones of animals, witches, heretics and traitors were burned, and dates back to Celtic Britain.

Bonfire is not a translation of the French for 'good fire', like Samuel Johnson suggested in his dictionary. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]


10.) Guy Fawkes is known as "the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions"

Despite essentially being a terrorist, Guy Fawkes has achieved an almost mystical, anti-hero status amongst the British public. In 2002, a poll conducted by the BBC named Guy the 30th Greatest Briton, beating Charles Dickens, David Beckham and Boy George.

Guy Fawkes is also known as "the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions" and to this day the cellars of the Houses of Parliament are searched by Yeomen before the State Opening of Parliament. [Image Credit: Flavourwire]


11.) Guy Fawkes's job was to guard the 2,500 kg of gunpowder, but he was only one of 13 conspirators

Although Fawkes has become synonymous with the Gunpowder Plot, he was only one of 13 conspirators and was tasked with guarding (and eventually lighting) the gunpowder.

When he was caught red-handed, he gave the name John Johnson (he wasn't quick at thinking on the spot, it seems) and was carted off to the Tower of London, where he was tortured with permission from King James I. On the 7th of November, after spending some time on the rack, Guy finally gave in and signed a full confession.

Bonus Fact: The Institute of Physics calculated that the 2,500 kg of gunpowder used would have been enough to create a 500-metre damage radius from the centre of the explosion. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]

[Featured image Credit: Shutterstock]