In 2005*, the number of people injured by fireworks was 990. These injuries occurred over a four week period around November 5.
Despite annual safety warnings, Bonfire Night week still ends in disaster for far too many families. Yet, fireworks and bonfire evenings can provide fun and entertainment for families at a time of year when the evenings are rather dark and gloomy. They literally light up the sky. As long as everyone follows the right safety procedures and remembers that fireworks can be dangerous if misused, a good, safe time may be enjoyed by everyone.
*The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) [now replaced by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR)] stopped collecting firework accident data in 2005.
Firework code - Top ten safety tips for adults
Young people should watch and enjoy fireworks at a safe distance and follow the safety rules for using sparklers. Only adults should deal with firework displays and the lighting of fireworks. They should also take care of the safe disposal of fireworks once they have been used.
- Plan your firework display to make it safe and enjoyable
- Keep fireworks in a closed box and use them one at a time
- Read and follow the instructions on each firework using a torch if necessary
- Light the firework at arm's length with a taper and stand well back
- Keep naked flames, including cigarettes, away from fireworks
- Never return to a firework once it has been lit
- Don't put fireworks in pockets and never throw them
- Direct any rocket fireworks well away from spectators
- Never use paraffin or petrol on a bonfire
- Make sure that the fire is out and surroundings are made safe before leaving.
These are often viewed as being harmless but they do burn at fierce temperatures. Sparklers should not be given to anyone under the age of five. To a young child, the heat from a sparkler is equivalent to the heat from a welding torch.
Safety rules for sparklers
- Never give them to young children under five
- Always wear gloves with sparklers, preferably leather ones
- Hold it at arms length while an adult lights it for you
- Use in a clear space away from others
- Never hold a baby in your arms when you are holding a sparkler
- When the sparkler has finished, put it into a bucket of cold water straight away and leave it there.
RoSPA Guide to Firework Safety, Safety Education, Autumn/Winter 1995
Animals do not like bonfires or fireworks. The flames and noise upsets them. They should always be kept safely indoors. Make sure that they cannot get out through open windows and doors. It is best to keep the curtains closed too and it may be necessary to keep them indoors for several nights around November 5.
Chinese crackers were probably the first fireworks to be made about 2000 years ago. They are still used in China today to celebrate weddings, births and religious festivals - and to scare away evil spirits! Fireworks were used for centuries in ancient Indian and Siamese religious ceremonies. Some of the rockets were 8-10 feet long and were attached to bamboo canes which were 40 feet high! Fireworks were certainly used in Europe by the 14th Century. They were probably brought back from the East by the Crusaders and used for entertainment.
The use and popularity of fireworks was initiated by the Monarchy. The first recorded fireworks in England were at the wedding of King Henry VII in 1486. They gained popularity during the reign of Henry VIII and by Elizabethan times (1558-1603) there was a fireworks master. Queen Elizabeth I created this post so that someone would be in charge of organising displays for great occasions. James II even knighted his fireworks master after a particularly excellent show of fireworks at his coronation.
George II had been fighting a war abroad and, when it was over, he planned an enormous celebration. He decided upon a fireworks display and commissioned the German born composer, George Frederic Handel, who came to Britain in 1727, to compose a concerto to introduce the display. Handel naturally called it "Music for the Royal Fireworks". There were one hundred musicians in the orchestra and an audience of 12,000 people. The event caused one of the first traffic jams in London! The idea of the firework display was to celebrate peace but unfortunately, the outdoor pavilion caught fire making it a very memorable event. Handel's music was a huge success and is still played today to celebrate great events.
In 1605, during the reign of James I, there was a period of unrest. The Gunpowder Plot was a conspiracy by catholic noblemen led by Robert Catesby, to blow up the Houses of Parliament in order to remove James from the throne. Guy Fawkes, born in York in 1570, was chosen by the conspirators as a courageous, level headed soldier who had been abroad fighting in Spain and Holland for eleven years and therefore relatively unknown in London. The plot was foiled when the Government were tipped off and Fawkes was caught red handed in the Houses of Parliament cellar with the gunpowder. He was arrested, tried and hung in January 1606.
Although our celebrations on November 5 are associated with Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, it has its roots in a more ancient tradition. From the 13th century, the word "guy" was used to mean a dummy or effigy. Bonfires and "guys" were part of our ancient religion. The beginning of November marked the start of the pagan year and the first day of winter. Bonfires were lit and torches carried in processions. Sacrifices were also made to drive away evil spirits. These were really Festivals of Light in much the same way as the Hindu Festival of Diwali.
After the Gunpowder Plot, the guy on the bonfire came to represent Guy Fawkes.