Remember Remember the 5th of November

By Kimberley Starkie, Archivist and Gail Falkingham, Record Assistant

Bonfire night is marked on 5th November each year, usually with firework displays and bonfires. The tradition goes back to 1605 when Guy Fawkes as part of the Gunpowder plot attempted to assassinate King James I by placing explosives under the House of Lords. As the plot was foiled and Guy Fawkes arrested, the 5th November became a day of annual thanksgiving for the failure of the plot.

Monteagle Letter

We hold a contemporary copy of the Monteagle letter, which was sent to Lord Monteagle warning him of the danger to Parliament, in the papers of Archbishop Hutton in the Hutton of Marske collection ZAZ. It was common for copies of important documents to be made and circulated in the 17th century as a way to share details of current events. The original letter is held by The National Archives and they have shared an image and transcription of the document.

ZAZ 75-8338 Contemporary copy of the anonymous letter written to Lord Mounteagle warning him of the Gunpowder Plot

John Darley’s Firework recipes

We have recently come across a small notebook that belonged to John Darley of Aldby Park, a country estate on the banks of the River Derwent near Stamford Bridge, to the east of York. It dates from 1684 to 1704 and contains fascinating instructions on how to make fireworks. It is likely that the information was copied from another publication as fireworks gained popularity in the 17th century.

ZDA Darley notebook

He describes different types of rockets, of different sizes between one and ten ounces, golden rain, stars and serpents, also known as fisgigs. A range of ingredients are mentioned, including charcoal dust, coal dust, sulphur & saltpeter, which are necessary to make gunpowder. To these are added oil of spike (lavender oil) and aqua vitae (brandy) to give red & blue colours.

He describes how to make the paper tubes, called coffins, & how to pack them & choak them with the composition of ingredients.

To make golden rain, he notes:

“provide your

self of a good

company of goose

quills, cut them

off at the end

near the feathers,

then fill the

quills with the

following composition

& they will make

a very glorious

show. To one quarter

of a pound of powder

dust, add half an

ounce of coal dust

& for use, put the

open end of the

quill downwards”

Fireworks would have been a new & novel form of entertainment 300 years ago, and the risks & dangers of handling explosive material were little understood. We don’t know if John Darley ever made any of his own fireworks from these recipes but, if he did, we hope he & his guests safely enjoyed a very glorious show!

Gail has made a short video, looking at the notebook:

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