George wrote this feature, about his home town Torrington, for the Reuter features service whilst Training Editor.
LIF :BC-BRITAIN-FAWKES (PICTURE)
BRITISH CONSPIRATOR GUY FAWKES GETS HIS REVENGE
By George Short
TORRINGTON, England, Nov 5, Reuter – Guy Fawkes, whose effigy has been burned every year for centuries since he tried to blow up Britain’s parliament, has finally been avenged.
Descendants of Fawkes and his fellow conspirators gathered on a moor outside this southwest English town at the weekend and set fire to a huge timber replica of Parliament, complete with Gothic pinnacles and a Big Ben clocktower.
Flames billowed up from the huge structure which was one of the biggest bonfires ever built — 135 feet (41 metres) high, 130 feet (40 metres) long, containing 5,000 boards of timber weighing 200 tonnes.
Thousands of people, attracted by the sight of “Parliament” gradually rising from the moor for months, lined the hills around and cheered.
The blaze could be seen in the clear and frosty night for 30 miles (50 km) across the countryside, local farmers estimated.
Before he helped to start the fire on Saturday, 37-year-old Australian Julian Winter Moore who works in Britain and is descended from one of the conspirators, told Reuters: “This time we’ll get it right.”
The fire was one of a series of extravagant jokes which have become a feature of this area where fiery traditions date back to pagan times.
It was timed as a forerunner to this year’s annual “Guy Fawkes” night, when millions of bonfires are lit throughout Britain. People set off fireworks and burn Fawkes’ effigy as an enemy of the king — James I — he tried to kill.
Exactly 385 years ago, Fawkes was caught in a cellar packed with gunpowder beneath Parliament.
The famous “gunpowder plot” of 1605 was hatched by fervent Catholics apparently in response to a recent crackdown on Catholics by the English Protestant establishment.
The conspirators hired a house next to Parliament, dug a tunnel through to a cellar below it, and carried in 36 barrels of gunpowder. They aimed to blow up Parliament as it was being opened by James I on November 5.
Fawkes, a mercenary soldier and Catholic convert, known for his coolness and courage, was caught in the cellar after a tip-off. He was tortured and named names.
The conspirators, including Fawkes and Winter Moor’s ancestor Robert Winter, were executed in public by the gruesome method of “hanging, drawing and quartering”. They were hanged but cut down before death, then disembowelled and hacked into quarters — one of England’s less refined customs.
By tradition, the cellars below Parliament have been searched every year on the night before the monarch opens Parliament. A parliamentary spokeswoman said the cellars would be searched again this week because Queen Elizabeth is due to open Parliament on Wednesday.
The descendants of the conspirators were invited to attend Saturday night’s giant bonfire in Devon. They lit explosive charges which set the fire going.
Steven Fawkes, a 3l-year-old British energy consultant, said his family had long claimed descent from Guy Fawkes. He did not share his ancestor’s views but “I have respect for his memory”.
Rosemary Winter Moore, 60, who was here with her son Julian and other relatives, currently works in London as a book distributor but comes from Sydney. Her ancestors went to Australia to start ranching, and the family had long known it could be traced back to conspirator Robert Winter.
“When I light the bonfire I will be thinking of their courage,” she said.
The bonfire’s chief builder, 60-year-old Lawrence Alexander, belongs to a local volunteer group which has set ablaze huge battleships, Viking ships and castles in recent years.
“It’s difficult to say why we do it — fun, really, and it helps local charities,” said Alexander.
Local historians note that the ancient Celtic New Year begins around this time.
The old market town of Torrington has seen fiery times in the past. During skirmishing in the English civil war in 1645 the church tower exploded, killing 200 Royalist prisoners and their guards.
A contemporary stonecut notice on the rebuilt church says it was “blowen up with powder”.
It is uncertain whether Saturday’s fire can be recorded officially as a record. A bonfire in Britain in 1902 used 812 tonnes of timber and was 120 feet (36 metres) high.
“It’s very hard to judge one like this because of its shape,” said Kathy Brooks, a spokeswoman for the Guinness Book of Records, a leading authority on all kinds of feats. But she said all such claims would be carefully investigated.
REUTER GJS DM