Remember Remember the 5th of November

Stella Young

Remember Remember the fifth of November

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Gunpowder Treason and Plot

Neston old church redGunpowder Treason Day, more popularly known as Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night, originated as a day of thanksgiving for the failure of the plot by Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators to kill King James I by blowing up the House of Lords during the state opening of Parliament. The plot was discovered in the early hours of 5th November, 1605.

The failure of the Plot was celebrated as a ‘wonderful deliverance’ and Parliament passed The Observance of 5th November Act 1605, also known as the Thanksgiving Act, ordering prayers to be said and church bells to be rung to commemorate the event. The purpose of the Act was to ensure that the country would always ‘have in memory THIS JOYFUL DAY OF DELIVERANCE’…it required that all churches ‘ always upon the fifth day of November say morning prayer, and give unto Almighty God thanks for this most happy deliverance’ and that the Act be read out to the congregation. And everyone, ‘all and every persons inhabiting within this realm of England and the dominions of the same’ was required to attend the service.

The Churchwardens’ Accounts for Neston record the expenditure required each year to ensure that the Act was observed. In 1701 Churchwarden Benjamin Hancock’s accounts note the purchase of goose grease and leather for the bells, candles and a payment of seven shillings to the ringers.

I see no reason why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

The day became a national holiday but by the nineteenth century there was less interest in continuing the tradition. The Observance of 5th November Act of 1605 was repealed as part of the Anniversary Days Observance Act in 1859 so the church service was no longer an obligation.

In Neston an awareness of the danger that fireworks represented to life, limb and property resulted in fines for anyone caught throwing fireworks in the street.

Cheshire Observer – Saturday 02 October 1875

Neston Petty Sessions

Five boys, for setting off fireworks in the streets of Neston, were ordered to pay 4s 6d. each of costs to the bench at the same time warning the boys that after the 1st January next an Act would be in force authorising a penalty of £5 in such cases.

The Act referred to was the Explosives Act of 1875 which made it an offence to throw fireworks in the public highway or in a public place.
By 1881 it seems the police had matters in hand and Bonfire Night was relatively peaceful and the dangerous practice of throwing ‘fireballs’ had been well and truly stamped out.

Cheshire Observer – Saturday 12 November 1881
Fifth of November.— There was a marked absence of fireworks this year in the streets, the police prosecutions of previous years telling with good effect. With the exception of a few rockets at Hinderton and Parkgate and an unfortunate person unknown, being burnt in effigy at Parkgate by the fisherboys, nothing noticeable occurred. For some years, on this night, a dangerous practice has been pursued, viz., that of throwing fireballs, a ball composed of tow wrapped with wire and steeped with naptha or other inflammable liquid, after being lighted was thrown from hand to hand until it became extinguished. As they were thrown in a reckless and aimless manner, property was much endangered. Thanks to the strenuous exertions of the police this year none were seen.

Although some fireworks were thrown in that year Neston authorities were showing no sign of  using the Act to impose heavier penalties and 4s 6d was again the fine imposed on these guilty parties- although some of them maintained they were innocent of the charges.

Cheshire Observer Saturday 3rd December 1881

Bernard Campbell and Robert Mathews were charged with throwing fireworks in the Liverpool-road on the 5th Nov. Sergeant O’Donnel stated that about 10 p.m. on the 5th Nov. he saw them throwing fireworks near the public schools. He had no doubt as to their identitiy. Mathews stated that he was lighting his pipe at the time the officer came past and Campbell denied that he had any fireworks. Fined 4s 6d each.
George Morris, page to Mr Williamson was charged with exploding fireworks, at Thornton Hough, on 5th Nov. P.C. Costello stated that he found the defendant exploding fireworks on the public road at Thornton Hough. He at first refused his name, then gave it, and fired another squib while he (the officer) was writing it down. Morris explained that he did not think he was doing harm, and the squib had already been lighted when the officer came up to him. Fined the costs, 5s.-
John Lawley, Joseph Oxton and Christopher Murray were each fined costs for throwing fireworks in Burton-road, Neston. P.C. Young proved the cases.

Parkgate was evidently the place to be on 5th November for anyone wishing to enjoy fireworks legally and relatively safely.

In 1864 the Royal Dee Yacht Club at Parkgate held their monthly meeting at the Pengwern Arms Hotel (where the Boathouse now stands).

Nov 5 Pengwern

Pengwern Arms circa 1860 Painting by J. Grindrod. Thanks to Clare Johnson for permission to use here

Chester Chronicle – Saturday 12 November 1864
..The day being the 5th of November, advantage was taken of the event for a display fireworks, which had been kindly provided by the liberality of one of the members, and which created a deal of interest, there being a large assembly of the people of the neighbourhood, and Parkgate presented quite a festive appearance. The rockets and other fire-works concluding with a very fine display of blue light, had a very admirable effect from the green in front of the hotel, which close on the shore of the River Dee…

The Commodore at the time was Mr Jonathan Grindrod of Leighton, an engineer and proprietor of houses.

In 1889 another local resident, Mr Haigh (probably Reginald Haigh, a cotton broker) of Leighton Banastre kindly provided a fireworks display for the local inhabitants.

Cheshire Observer – Saturday 09 November 1889

PARKGATE. Display of Fireworks.— On Wednesday evening a grand display of fireworks took place at Leighton Banastre, the residence of Mr R. Haigh. Mr Haigh kindly apprised the inhabitants of the forthcoming event by means of posters, and a large number of persons were thus enabled to enjoy the very brilliant spectacle

There were some local residents, however, who felt a certain nostalgia for the misbehaviour usually associated with the day. A Neston ‘Old Fogy’ who reported regularly on Neston gossip was one of those who bemoaned its passing.

Cheshire Observer – Saturday 13 November 1886

Neston Local Gossip

By an Old Fogy

‘… It is a great shame that urchins are not permitted to let off fireworks on the 5th. It is no use having little boys at all if they are to be kept down in this manner. How are we to ‘ remember, remember ‘ the fragment of history connected with the glorious 5th if no one slideth tbe squirming squib under the hall door or attacheth the lively cracker to the knocker. Where are the bonfires, fireballs, and other delights of our youth ? Time was when the small boy and all his works— fireworks — held undisturbed possession of our thoroughfares, when his toy cannon awoke the slumbering echoes of Lion-yard, and begot terror in the peaceful recesses of Pyke’s Weint, but now the wily Robert lurketh in secret places and pounceth upon the patriotic urchin, who is forthwith hauled before his betters and dismissed with a mysterious references to something awful that will befall him if he ever does it again. The 5th of November will soon be no more remembered than the fifth of any other month, and the remaining festivals will point the finger of scorn as they exclaim “What a Guy!’ Meanwhile the small boy is in despair, and with a subdued expression of countenance is taking to marbles on the Cross, and keeping his weather eye open for the ‘copper’ who will persist in gliding round the White Horse corner when he is not wanted.’

As the nineteenth century drew to a close the celebration of 5th November, in Neston at any rate regained some popularity.

Cheshire Observer – Saturday 13 November 1897
The Fifth. — The celebrations on November 5th were more general than has been the case for several years. There was an incessant fusilade of crackers by small boys, and Guido Fawkes suffered at the stake in many places at the same moment. A number of rockets and other fireworks were discharged by Mr. Stanhope Jones at Parkgate, and he also caused a large bonfire to be lighted on the sands, which was reflected with remarkable effects on the approaching tide. Thanks to the efforts of the police the dangerous fireballs, which have been much in evidence in former years, were conspicuous by their absence.

Curfew Bell
Neston old churchOne tradition which in Neston was closely associated with the 5th November was the ringing of the 8 o’clock Curfew bell between 5th November and the following 14th February. The eighteenth century Churchwardens accounts itemise payments for the ringing of the 8 o’clock bell. In January 1702, Churchwarden Samuel Hayes lists, in the account of his ‘disbursments’ for the year, a payment of 4 shillings to Simon Locker for ringing the 8 o’clock bell.
The tradition was still observed at the end of the nineteenth century.

Cheshire Observer – Saturday 13 November 1897
The Curfew— The interesting old custom of ringing the curfew was resumed on November 5th, and will be continued until February 14th. In accordance with the local usage, the bell is silent during the remainder of the year. There are a few persons who dislike the somewhat doleful sound of the bell, akin as it is to the ‘passing bell’ which has so often been heard here of late, but the majority would object to see the old custom done away with. To most of the local public it is simply ‘ the eight o’clock bell,’ and its sound fails to conjure up visions of the knights and squires and jolly fat friars, for whom its peals had such a volume of meaning

First World War
If interest in the traditions of Guy Fawkes Night gained some momentum by the beginning of the twentieth century, the First World War meant that many of them were regarded as dangerous to national security. The Defence of the Realm Act 1814 banned, amongst other things, the lighting of bonfires and setting off fireworks.
A prohibition from the General Officer Commanding the Western Command, Chester which appeared in the Chester Chronicle 30th October 1915 made it clear that any display of fireworks would be out the question in Neston and Parkgate.

Chester Chronicle – Saturday 30 October 1915
FIREWORKS ORDER: DISPLAY NEAR COAST OR RIVER. —We are informed by the Head Constable that the General Officer Commanding the Western Command, Chester, has issued instruction that fireworks of any description are not permitted anywhere near coast or river estuaries, from any position visible from the sea, but that they may be authorised in other areas, provided that no aerial display—such as rockets, etc.—is used, and that such use is not carried later than one hour after sunset


Recent Years would be delighted to receive any accounts of more recent celebrations in Neston and Parkgate. Email –

Newspaper articles accessed online at This is a paid for service but newspaper articles are also available through Find My Past which may be accessed free of charge in most Cheshire libraries.