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Home Englands Glory City of London East London The Victorians (1) About me

Bonfire night for the East End kids in the 1950’s

Remember, remember, the fifth of November

Remember remember the fifth of November
With gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot.

Lifestyle (2) Our House The Clothes Kids in the 50's York Hall Baths The Pranks The Games

Every penny for the Guy was a penny for a banger. You would be amazed at thGuy Fawkese things you could do with a penny banger. When I look back now I wonder how on earth none of my mates or I were not seriously injured, many others were! It must have been nearing the end of the fifties when we went out on our own with a pocket full of them. When I was younger I would never have been allowed and had to stay with my parents.
I must admit that my attitude towards the selling of fireworks has changed a great deal since those days, and I now believe that apart from organised public displays, they should be banned completely.
The few weeks leading up to November 5th were always exciting. All pocket money was saved, and spent on penny bangers. One of dad's old boiler suits was stuffed with newspapers, a “Frido” football for a head, with a Guy Fawkes mask and hat attached and off we went pushing the pram to a busy spot for “penny for the guy” fund raising. Bangers and Jumping Jacks were the thing you needed for the days leading up to it. Getting your pitch was not as easy as it may seem though. It could end up like a mini Mafia turf war! That's the reason you never went alone and kept the money for yourself. You needed a bit of back up. Another reason for not going alone was that the best places were down the tube or outside the busy pubs and you needed to keep every possible exit covered to keep the cash coming in. We did this for a couple of weeks prior the actual day.

Muck spreaders!

Russia Lane bonfire

We were always trying to think of new ways A penny bangerto explode the bangers. We would float them down the canal on a tobacco tin lid; hang them off the bridge with cotton; put them in scaffold tubes, in fact anything to make a different noise. There were always old tin cans and milk bottles lying about on the debris, so needless to say, we used these to contain the explosions and see what would happen.
There were also many dogs roaming the streets in those days. Obviously, where there are dogs there is dogs muck, and where there was dog muck there were kids waiting to push a banger into it! This was the ultimate experiment. We knew what was going to happen. We had done it so many times before, but could not resist the temptation.
We stood there watching the carefully planted fireworks, waiting for the touch paper to burn down to the initial fizz, like candles on a birthday cake.It was the largest packet of poop we could find, and any second now, it really would hit the fan. We always got a giggle out of that one. Dirty little gits!

Always the biggest in London, the bonfire in Russia Lane. I lived just round the corner from it. Every year people could get rid of their old junk, as long as it would burn. There were floorboards from the many derelict houses, scaffold boards, old wardrobes, beds, kitchen doors. You name it and if it was capable of burning, on it went. They cleared out our coal cellar one year. It would have taken my dad months to get rid of the accumulated junk that was down there. The Russia Lane kids came down and did it in an afternoon for free! Just to get fuel for the fire.
This fire was so big (we are talking around five metres high) that each year they had to guard it night and day. This is not a child's imagination either, I can remember it well. The reason for this security was that there were always other boroughs who weren’t as organised as ours and the only way their fire could beat ours was if they set it alight before it was fully built. Yes its true, they actually sent out raiding parties just for that purpose. They never succeeded, the people who lived in Quinn Square saw to that, and once caught, there was no way they would return for a second hiding!

Bonfire night arrives

So that was it. The weeks of waiting were over. The big night arrived and you let your own fireworks off with your mates earlier on and now it was out with mum and dad on the debris that is now Calcraft House. It was prefabs before that becoming a debris, and then new housing, but that’s another story. An hour later Dad had done his duty, lighting at arms length and keeping the box closed. Everything had gone according to plan. Except for the occasion when the force of a rocket knocked the bottle over. Bloody hell! Have you ever seen a rocket travel along the ground at speed; go through some ones legs (burning holes in both of his long socks as it went) and end up lodging itself in the under body of a parked Steele's lorry inches from the fuel tank? I have, and for once it wasn’t my fault! I can remember the blushing of my dad, as the copper in the police car that happened to be crawling past at the time gave him a volley of abuse. Police could give you a proper ticking off in those days without the fear of the PC brigade sticking their oar in.
Anyway, after that we would to Russia Lane to watch the late fireworks. The kids would stick lengths of wire into spuds to roast them in the embers. The men stood about drinking beer from The Cabin and throwing the empty wooden crates onto the now dying fire. The kids all got as black as the ace of spades from the smoke and the now black skins of the potatoes, and suddenly it was all over for another year. You could smell the smoke from the pile of ashes on the Russia Lane debris for days after.