Every 5th of November tonnes of fireworks are set off in the UK. The tradition arose because nearly 400 years ago Guy Fawkes and others tried to explode barrels of gunpowder under the House of Commons in the Palace of Westminster where Members of Parliament (MPs) meet.

Their aim was to kill King James I and destroy Parliament. After a tip off, King James ordered the cellar to be searched. Guy Fawkes was found laying fuses to gunpowder barrels. He was arrested and taken to the Tower of London, where he was tortured.

The gunpowder conspirators of 1605
Reproduced with kind permission of akg-images.

On 30th January 1606 Guy Fawkes and the others were beheaded for treason, which means ‘crime against the country’. When the public heard that the King and Parliament had been threatened but were safe, bonfires were lit in celebration. When a new session of parliament starts, the cellar is searched - this tradition continues today. Our celebration of Guy Fawkes’s arrest lights the skies on 5th November.


:::: About firing fireworks

:::: About blackpowder

:::: Darryl Fleming
© The Royal Society Chemistry