Remember, remember! The 5th of November: gunpowder, treason and plot. We see no reason why fireworks season should ever cost a lot…
A night of flames and fireworks, Bonfire Night is an age-old tradition celebrating the failure of the infamous plot to kill King James the First, who—thanks to some police intervention and a little telltaling—survived. Also known as Guy Fawkes Night, the most well known of the plotters may look familiar if you’ve seen V for Vendetta, or watched a political protest on the news these days. Nowadays we celebrate with bonfires and fireworks in locals parks, with toffee apples, candy floss and the quiet murmurs of ‘ooooh’ and ‘ahhhh’ as we huddle together in the chilly November evening. Possibly the best night of the year (100% the case, if you ask me) learn about the history and head on down to one of the events in the city!
The history, condensed
The Gunpowder Plot was the creation of a small group of Catholics, intent on blowing up the houses of Parliament on November 5th, 1605, during the official State Opening ceremony. With a complex history of Catholics vs. Protestants at the head of state, with incidents of execution and torture, the marginalised Catholics were determined to replace the King, and had to kill him to do so. They decided on a blast, and set about their work, collecting gunpowder in the basement below the houses. However, the plot was ruined as an anonymous letter was sent in late October, informing officials of the intentions and the group were caught red-handed on November 4th. Guy Fawkes was found guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder—enough to destroy the Houses of Parliament completely, although most of the gang escaped and fled. They were eventually caught and sentenced to death for treason, in the spectacularly British tradition of being hung, drawn and quartered.
Having survived, King James created the ‘Observance of the 5th of November Act’ as a holiday to celebrate his survival, and it is commemorated to this day with bonfires, fireworks and plenty of mulled wine. Be sure to keep an eye out for old traditions like the Penny for a Guy: Children will create Guy Fawkes scarecrows and wheel them about, often collecting change. Some events have best-dressed competitions for Guys, and you may see some burned on top of the bonfires (also sometimes the pope, awks)! Although sparklers are a favourite tradition at bonfires, they are banned at most events due to children and injuries, so pick up a pack and enjoy them at home if you can!
Guy Fawkes Night events
There are very few towns or villages across England who won’t have some sort of event, so of course London will spoil you rotten with choices. There are some events perfect for children and some events are still free—you can even attend fire parades and watch laser shows if you like, so take a look at our list of the top events in the city!
Best bang for your buck
Alexandra Palace Fireworks Festival | Nov 2nd – 3rd | £8.50 – £12.00
If you want to make a real night of it, there is nowhere better to head than good old Ally Pally. The annual fireworks festival has been running for over 150 years and gets bigger every time. 2018’s display brings an incredible weekend of entertainment and fiery fun for everyone to enjoy. So popular it is being held across two nights, you can arrive in time for the bonfire lighting, watch the incredible circus and choir combo and enjoy the laser show before the fireworks even begin! The family area, food stalls and craft beer options will keep you full and there’s ice skating and a Bier festival for a little extra cost too. You can get your tickets for Friday or Saturday here (note: there is no two-day ticket available).
Fiery family fun
Morden & Wimbledon Park Bonfire and Fireworks | Nov 3rd & 5th | £8.00 – £10.00
Especially designed with kids in mind, the Morden and Wimbledon Park fireworks both have two sets of events with one starting nice and early at 6.30pm. After they light the first bonfire, the kid-friendly fireworks will start at 6.45pm. The second set of events will begin at 8.30pm followed by a louder display set to the sound of a specially designed setlist. There will be plenty of food and drinks as well as a funfair, so the little ones (and the big ones) can have plenty of fun.
Importantly, family tickets are available for £25 in advance—if you buy at the gate in Morden each person will have to pay £10, including kids, so it’s best to be prepared! Also, due to capacity limitations, the only tickets for Wimbledon are online advance (no on the gate, no early bird).
Bishops Park Fireworks & Ravenscourt Park Fireworks| Nov 2nd & 3rd | £6.00 – £8.00
These twin events each have an earlier, child-friendly display (quieter than the normal display) starting at the bedtime-friendly hour of 7.15pm. There is also a regular display at 8pm and kids under 5 years old are free—so these are a great option if you have any ankle-biters.
Guy Fawkes Festival & Fireworks, Royal Gunpowder Mills | Nov 3rd & 4th | £8.50 – £10.50
A full afternoon and evening of family fun, the Gunpowder Mills offers a fireworks celebration within a real (ex) gunpowder factory. Children can enjoy a slime lab, musket firing, lantern making and science shows explaining explosions. There’s also a Stuart’s Food Experience with a chance to taste food from the ages and a short theatre production too. The firework display begins at 7pm and entry ends at 6.30pm so arrive early to enjoy the activities, as well as entry to the rocket vault and armoury!
Bonus idea for families: Battersea Fireworks have free tickets for children under 10 years old and a promising display.
Free Guy Fawkes Night events
Victoria Park Fireworks | Nov 4th | Free
A simple affair but free and full of family fun and locals, the Victoria Park fireworks display (aka the Tower Hamlets fireworks) begins at 7pm. Arrive early and keep warm with some mulled wine from one of the food and drinks stalls in the park.
Blackheath Fireworks | Nov 3rd | Free
This is the biggest free fireworks display in London, so you’ll certainly be among plenty of fellow cheapos if you head on down. Lewisham council provides the event but does encourage donations (so don’t forget your change!). There are food stalls, a fun fair and plenty to wander through before the show starts at 8pm.
Newham Guy Fawkes Night | Nov 3rd | Free
Another free event with plenty of entertainment and international food stalls (over 20, actually, with everything from Thai to Carribbean), Newham is a great place to head for an evening of fun. The fireworks display will be paired with music, movies and dance.
Festival of Fire and Light
| Nov 4th | Free
A huge celebration of bonfire night and Diwali, this festival combines the best of both worlds for amazing performances, food stalls and rounds it all off with a fireworks display. From 4pm there will be performances by dance troupes, the Bollywood brass band, and installations from Dr. Kronovator’s Fire Laboratory. The parade starts at 6pm featuring Scottish fire-torch bearers, carnival dancers, lanternsDhol Drummers and an unusual mechanical elephants. The light show and fireworks display start at 7pm and there will be a selection of local street food stalls to peruse throughout the event.
The Kingston Fireworks | Nov 2nd | £4.00 – £5.00 | Profits to charity
Ok, it isn’t free, but the Kingston Fireworks donate all profits to charity, so you can enjoy the event and know you’re helping make a difference! Last year £8000 went to charities including Kingston Samaritans, the Kingston Can Appeal and towards equipment for the children’s ward at the Kingston Hospital. At only £4 in advance and £5 on the day, with children under 5 free, it’s one of the cheapest paid events in the city with a music display, food and drink as well as fair rides.