5th November: Guy Fawkes Night

'Moreover to light a fire is the instinctive and resistant act of men when, at the winter ingress, the curfew is sounded throughout nature. It indicates a spontaneous Promethean rebelliousness against the fiat that this recurrent season shall bring foul times, cold, darkness, misery and death. Black chaos comes, and the fettered gods of the earth say, Let there be light.
From ‘The Return of the Native’ by Thomas Hardy (1840- 1928)

The public holiday that marks the unsuccessful Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was enacted by a thankful and relieved Parliament early in 1606. The conspirators had been executed – Guy Fawkes even jumped off the scaffold to his death to ensure he was not alive when he was drawn and quartered. Catesby had been shot in the stand off when the plotters were discovered and others, if there were any others, had scattered to the four winds.

Parliament required that bells were rung in celebration and sermons were to be preached to reinforce the Protestant faith and the dire fate of traitors. The day was a very popular public occasion right from the start and was initially observed by candles being lit in the windows of houses. By the end Britain’s brief flirtation with republicanism in 1658 ‘Gunpowder Treason Day’ was a well established tradition and marked by civic celebrations – often involving bonfires being lit in the streets and squares of towns with the usual accompanying merriment.

On the 5 November 1688 after the ‘Glorious Revolution’ that deposed James II, King William of Orange landed in Torbay. In 1734, the city of Kingston upon Hull raised a fabulous statue to ‘King Billy’ proclaiming him ‘Our Great Deliverer.’ He still sits on his golden horse over some incredibly ornate Victorian public lavatories! Say no more...

November 5th remained a time of civic celebration until well into the nineteenth century when the public bonfires became less popular and many towns abandoned them. In the 1820s, this lead to the rise of the ‘Bonfire Boys’ gangs of local youths bent on still making merry on Bonfire Night. They often dressed up, disguised themselves and held impromptu fires where they might burn an effigy of an unpopular local or national figure. Their rallying call is familiar:
‘Remember, remember the 5th of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
Pray tell me the reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.’

Some of these gangs eventually transformed themselves into more respectable associations which preserved the Bonfire Night traditions as happened in Lewes in Sussex.

These days public bonfires are once again the norm, but I remember well the fun of Bonfire Night as a kid, standing round a garden bonfire made by my Dad and lit my my Mum (always a bit of a pyromaniac) – eating sausages and baked potatoes and parkin. Even more evocative, was the walk to school on the 6th – a damp November day, wet leaves on the pavements and the whiff of gunpowder in the morning air.

There are lots of recipes for parkin – this is an amalgam of several, parkin is of course the north of England version of gingerbread - and definitely more substantial! You need to keep parkin at least a few days before eating it. Several sources say keep it in a wooden box not a tin until it is sticky and moist.


Oven 170c

8oz plain flour, pinch salt, 2 level teaspoons baking powder, 2 level teaspoons ground ginger, 4oz butter, 8oz medium oatmeal, 4 oz demerara sugar, handful chopped candied peel, 6oz golden syrup, 6oz molasses or black treacle, 4 tablespoons milk.

Add the ginger, salt and BP to the flour and sift. Rub in the butter as if you were making pastry until you have a breadcrumb like mix. Add the oatmeal, peel and sugar.

Warm the syrup and treacle together and pour into the dry mixture. Mix well and add the milk. Pour into a lined tin (I used a small roasting tin) bake for 45 minutes.

 Leave to cool in the tin, keep the baking paper on the parkin and store for a few days before eating.

I couldn't resist giving you the whole of this poem by the great John Hegley.

Bonfire Night
the doors open
everyone comes out
everyone is ready
for fireworks
all except the dog
he is shut up in the sheddie
even out of doors we have indoor fireworks
Dad says it is better to be safe than dead
the air is full of the smell of next doors fireworks
Mum says they are very good this year
this year Christopher is allowed
to help his dad to light the fireworks
he is very excited
he is very proud
he is twenty-eight.

John Hegley (b 1953)


Dom at Belleau Kitchen said...

oh my god... Ginger Parkin... I have lost my recipe for this so I am so glad you've put one up... we used to have a lot of this when we visited my grandma... love it so much... thank you x

LadyLydia said...

We noted Guy Fawkes too, and my daughter did a little blog post on it here http://thepleasanttimes.blogspot.com/2010/11/that-guy.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ThePleasantTimes+%28The+Pleasant+Times%29