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Penny for the Guy a Lost Tradition

I have always been fascinated by our ancestry. What secrets are there hidden in the pages of the past? A fascinating look at our ancestors.

Colored vintage photo penny for the guy

Colored vintage photo penny for the guy

Guy Fawkes Night

Bonfire night in Britain. November 5th.

Wood burning, children racing around with sparklers in their hands, and sausages and potatoes cooking in the flames.

The smell of burgers, smoke and fire. Fabulous.

But if there is one thing missing these days it is the Guy. Not a real man, but a stuffed with paper and cloth man, dressed in old trousers, a jacket, and a hat on top of a round woollen or cotton head.

Kids all over Britain would get excited the week before bonfire night. Sneaking clothes out of the cupboard, getting a clip round the ear when mum saw you, followed by a, 'you cheeky little mare! Give that back.'

Chased down the road laughing, but still managing to stick that old workman hat on the Guys head.

Ah, memories.

Those were the days. Fun, laughter, and knocking on doors.

'Penny for the Guy Mister?'

He was always placed in a wheelbarrow, and pushed up the street, yelling for your mates to come out and see.

Wheelbarrow and 'Best Guy' races, and of course the most money collected by knocking on the doors.

But where has it gone? And what was it all about in the first place?

Bonfire Night Firework Night

Bonfire Night Firework Night

penny for the guy

penny for the guy

The Gunpowder Plot

Well, to be honest, it was a bit grisly. The Guy was based on Guy Fawkes, one of the notorious gang who, back in 1605, decided they didn't like Parliament, and more to the point hated King James 1st of England, 6th of Scotland.

So they decided to blow them up!

The main man was named Guido Fawkes, Guy to his friends. It was a Catholic plot. Guido had been with the Spanish, fighting for Catholic reign compared to Protestant which was still quite new.

The plot didn't work. Guido, or Guy, was betrayed. He met his end rather strangely. Instead of the hanging which he was supposed to suffer, he actually fell off the scaffold and broke his neck!

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But, what's that got to do with bonfire night you ask?

Well, we grisly Brits thought it would be nice to burn Guy instead of hanging him! So for over 400 years we have been burning poor old Guy Fawkes on top of the bonfire!

Well, hanging a cloth man isn't so much fun. Is it?

Penny for Them!


Lewes Bonfire.

The burning Crosses are to do with the 17 Religious Martyrs back in 1555-1557. It was called the Marian persecutions.

Protestants burned by Mary 1st.

She had a habit of changing sides, killing Catholics, then Protestants.

She was known as Bloody Mary. A drink was named after her!

17 burning crosses are carried through the town, and a wreath-laying ceremony occurs at the War Memorial in the centre of town.

Another Lost Tradition

Ottery St. Mary in Devon, England still do a traditional form where blazing tar barrels are one of the attractions. As long as you get out of the way!

And Lewes in East Sussex still has the biggest bonfire celebration complete with a Guy sat on the top of the pyre. There is also a huge torchlit procession where the Guy is exchanged every year for an effigy of a current figure of hatred!

Trust us English to really go to town eh?

Guess who it was last year? Go on, guess. Okay, I will give you a clue! Check out the video above!

Oh, and they have an effigy of the Pope! (all in good fun!)

Of course, it's not all about burning a poor guy. Penny for the Guy is actually used as a charity collection for local businesses and hospitals.

Sadly, what with all the rules and regulations about Fireworks these days, most bonfire night firework displays have got rid of the Guy.

Maybe in this politically correct society today burning a Guy on a fire is probably not the done thing. But it is a shame. It was done in all innocence. Sadly those days have gone.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Nell Rose


Nell Rose (author) from England on November 03, 2020:

I just read your article Flourish, love the music!

Nell Rose (author) from England on November 03, 2020:

LOL! thanks Tim! No, our food is fantastic! At least we don't eat porridge/grits with bacon. yuck! LOLOLO! Spotted Dick is just a suet and flour pudding. Blood pudding is eaten by the heathens up North! haha!

Nell Rose (author) from England on November 03, 2020:

LOL! all in good taste Flourish! Just English celebrations, not about race or people. Just about a nasty king and parliament who burned witches!

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on November 02, 2020:

Hi, Nell, is that why on my BBC comedies they say: "bloody" this and "bloody" that? I don't think the Brits are anymore morbid than other cultures. But I hear British food can be awful. The names of these dishes are, too. I'll skip blood pudding and spotted dick.

Your article was intriguing. We have a saying in America: "Brother, can you spare a dime?" used when a person is down on their luck. Your article reminds me of that saying.

In any case, who ever said G.B. was a cold place. It gets hot in Great Britain, now and then, according to your article. Stay safe, friend.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 02, 2020:

Nell this was very educational! Burning effigies and crosses and the sort? My goodness!

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 27, 2020:

Thanks Dora, I never knew that. Its a shame we can't do it this year. I hope you are keeping safe.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 27, 2020:

Growing up in the British education system, we learnt about Guy Fawkes and even lit firecrackers on the night of November 5th. We're far less British now. Thanks for the facts and the memory.

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 25, 2020:

Hi Linda, I just read your Tardigrades hub. Fascinating little things. The first time I saw them I thought they were made up! lol!

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 25, 2020:

Lily! Where have you been? Good to see you!

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 25, 2020:

Thanks Doris, yes that's why I added the bit about the burning crosses being to do with the royalty. I didn't want anyone to get a wrong idea. That is horrible over there isn't it?

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 25, 2020:

It's not very often that we get to see a bonfire these days is it? I love watching them, and will totally miss it this year. Thanks Zulma

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 25, 2020:

Now that is a great idea Demas, thank you.

Lilyfly on October 25, 2020:

Nell, God bless you lady, hope tou are well

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on October 24, 2020:

Thanks for the information, Nell. I'd heard of Guy Fawkes but I didn't know what he represented. It is kind of refreshing to see burning crosses and effigies that don't have a racial connotation like they do here in the U.S. I wonder where our people got the idea to use them like that? Now I know where the Bloody Mary got its name.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on October 24, 2020:

You're right, Nell. Celebrating in the backyard isn't the same. My youngest daughter would be totally on board with having a bonfire, though. She likes fire.

Have a lovely weekend.

Demas W Jasper from Today's America and The World Beyond on October 23, 2020:

A much needed exercise is ANY cause to celebrate our traditions and pass them on to the newest generation. Just imagine the gunpowder going off, or the Watergate break-in succeeding! Perhaps we Americans should start "A dollar for the guy!" To raise funds for student educational supplies....after COVID-19 allows?

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 23, 2020:

We always had a huge one near us, just over the fence in the school! lol! They paid, we stood on the balcony! But nothing as big as the Lewes one.

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 23, 2020:

Thanks Linda, yes I never knew either. I would always think it was in Cornwall or Devon. I learned something too.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on October 23, 2020:

Nell, I've never heard of this celebration. It's actually quite morbid. Have you attended any of the bonfire celebrations?

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 23, 2020:

Thanks for sharing the information, Nell. I always think about my childhood celebrations on November 5th, even though I've lived in Canada for a long time. I've never heard of the Lewes Bonfire before, though. I'm glad I've learned about it.

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 23, 2020:

Thanks Pamela, we normally get to see bonfire night over the hedge into the school from my balcony, but sadly not this year.

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 23, 2020:

Hi Peggy, yes it was great wasn't it? I just presumed they still did in it Cornwall, not Sussex.

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 23, 2020:

Thanks Chitrangada, it was just a trip down memory lane, lol! But we do still have the bonfire night and fireworks. Usually I should say.

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 23, 2020:

Thanks Mary, yes it isn't so much political, more that it seems strange these days to stick a guy on the bonfire, lol!

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 23, 2020:

Lol! No, its just a tradition. But lost mainly because of the organised ones. Thanks Bill.

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 23, 2020:

Yes I do hope it is still on this year Zulma. I doubt it though. Of course we can always do our own in the garden, but it's not the same.

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 23, 2020:

Thanks Lorna. I suppose I wrote this as a trip down memory lane as we probably won't have any displays this year.

Nell Rose (author) from England on October 23, 2020:

Thanks John, yes it's amazing how easily we lose traditions. I think we should bring it back, and parade it through the high street! lol!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 23, 2020:

This is not a tradition that I had ever heard of but it is interesting and a little sad when you have good memories that won't be repeated. Thanks for explaining this old tradition, Nell.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 23, 2020:

Thanks for sharing the meaning of this lost tradition. I had heard of Guy Fawkes, but did not know much more. The video was well worth watching.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on October 23, 2020:

This sounds like an interesting tradition, and I wasn’t aware of this. Sadly, so many wonderful traditions have phased out. By writing about this you have passed out an important information to the younger generation.

Thanks for sharing the details and the wonderful pictures.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on October 23, 2020:

Yes, it is sad that everything you say now people view with the politically correct lens. It took away some of the fun in life, but maybe, it is reasonable to change the type of fun we enjoy.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 23, 2020:

I guess I can see why people would object but still, it seems like a fun night to me. I'll probably get in trouble for saying that, but what the hell! lol

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on October 23, 2020:

Thank you for such an informative article.

As an American, I knew nothing of this when I first got here. I've since adopted this and regularly prepare snacks for the night and go to the local bonfire. Sadly, with the kids all grown up it's lost some of its charm.

Nevertheless, I will still be preparing nibbles and my husband and I will go to see the bonfire. Assuming, of course, it will still take place this year.

Have a lovely day, Nell.

Lorna Lamon on October 23, 2020:

I enjoyed this trip down memory lane Nell and the history about 'Bonfire Night'. I remember the fun of a fireworks display and all the games we used to play. 'Ducking for the apple' was a favourite of mine. Great article and an enjoyable read.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on October 23, 2020:

I enjoyed reading this Nell. It brings back fond childhood memories because here in Australia we used to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night/Cracker Night as well.

We kids used to save all our pocket or odd job money so we could buy fireworks (crackers) for the only time of the year it was legal for the public to let them off. It was probably our equivalent of Halloween as we didn't celebrate that.

Sadly, that has been long banned in Australia(except in the Northern Territory where one of my sons and grandkids can still enjoy themselves). I can actually remember making a guy a couple of times and helping to build a community bonfire.

Thank you for sharing this British tradition.

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