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The joys of Bonfire Night

Whitehawk estate 1976
Image reproduced with kind permission of The Regency Society and The James Gray Collection

Saturday morning treats

Saturday mornings would see all us Whitehawk kids catching the bus to the Odeon Kemp Town cinema. We would normally see a programme consisting of a cartoon followed by Laurel and Hardy, then the serial and then the main feature film. On coming out of the cinema we would go into the café across the road and buy slices of bread and dripping for a penny a slice.

Anticipating bonfire night

Then there was November 5th Bonfire Night; that was a special time which was anticipated weeks in advance. We used to collect anything inflammable, old car tyres were especially highly sought after. The size of your bonfire at the top of your garden was something of a status symbol. You would also build up an arsenal of fireworks well before the big night arrived, and a fair proportion of them were let off before the night. We were always looking for inventive ways to let off bangers. Drainpipes and dustbins were a good target.

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A silly trick

I remember a boy at my school who used to let off a banger while actually holding it in his hand. He achieved this remarkable feat of bravery by holding it with the very tips of his fingers and turning his head away from the blast. Might be a bit silly but he gained enormous street ‘cred’ for doing this! I can remember experimenting with fireworks by dismantling them to make new ones. It’s a wonder I still have all my fingers.

Rocket firework construction

I can also remember using a selection of skyrockets to make three stage skyrockets, and they worked too, although I could never seem to achieve a truly vertical ascent. The rocket would always follow an arc and the third stage would usually be accelerating towards terra firma. When the night finally arrived there would be bonfires all over with much merriment and irresponsible throwing of fireworks. I can still smell the smoke in the air and the odour of a spent firework.

Comments about this page

  • I lived in Whitehawk up until 1958 when my parents emigrated to Australia. I loved the Saturday ritual of going to the Kemptown Odeon, although often, when getting a piece of bread and dripping from the café, I would ask for a crust and they would sell that for a ha’penny. Bonfire night was always special. It was proceeded by not only finding all things flammable but dragging a cart around with a “guy’ that we made and doing the familiar “penny for the guy”, so we could raise money for our fireworks. I remember the sky rockets, katherine wheels and roman candles, but bangers were a favourite. The best and most powerful of these was the Brocks banger. I recall putting one under a dustbin lid and it blew it higher that the roof of the prefab that we lived in in Wiston close. Great days!

    By Eric Cook (25/02/2016)

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