Column – Tales from the Treasure House

The Relief of Mafeking bonfire on Beverley Westwood in 1901.
The Relief of Mafeking bonfire on Beverley Westwood in 1901.

Mention the word bonfire at any time of the year and you’ll immediately think of 5th November with Guy Fawkes, ‘gunpowder, treason and plot’.

It’s synonymous with that notorious plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605, because that is how we all mark its anniversary today.

A newspaper cutting showing Celebration in Beverley.

A newspaper cutting showing Celebration in Beverley.

The ‘bonfire’ has become so strongly connected with this celebration that we seem to have forgotten how bonfires were used in days gone-by to mark other poignant events.

Dig deep into the East Riding Archives at the Treasure House in Beverley though, and you’ll find evidence of a few other ways in which bonfires have been used in East Yorkshire.

Events such as the emancipation of Europe from Napoleon in 1813, the relief of Mafeking, South Africa, in 1900, and victory after the First World War, have all been marked in this region with a good old bonfire.

But if you dig even deeper amongst the local history books at the Treasure House, then you’ll find that it was bells, and not bonfires, that were originally used to remember the 5th November, which was originally called ‘Ringing Day’ after Parliament’s order for a national day of thanksgiving, in which church bells were rung throughout the land.

In Bishop Wilton, the Ringing Day was celebrated with a special breakfast of beef and ale, and the night before was called ‘Ringing Eve’ in which candles were lit to prepare for the occasion.

It’s great that we’re able to look back into the archives and local history books to get a different perspective on modern-day traditions such as Bonfire Night, that most of us assume have always been celebrated in the same way, and discover that this was not the case.

The East Riding was closely linked to the Gunpowder Plot itself, with three of the plotters hailing from the area: Jack and Kit Wright from Welwick in Holderness, and Thomas Percy of Newbegin House, Beverley, were key players in the plot to destroy Parliament.

All three attended St Peter’s School near York Minster, where they became good friends with a fellow named Guy Fawkes.

So if you have family roots in the East Riding, you may want to do a little family history at the Treasure House and who knows, you may discover that you’re related to one of the Gunpowder Plotters.

To view any historic documents, visit the East Riding Archives at the Treasure House, on Champney Road, Beverley or call 01482 392790 for more details.