1950s and 1960s
Bonfire night in the late 1950’s and 1960’s was a very big event. The children from Romilly Drive used to make a huge fire in the wasteland at the top of the road by Little Oxhey Lane. We started off with the pole for the middle, dug a hole, put the prop in the hole then shored it up with branches and lumps of wood. A gang of children used to go to the woods at the junction of Little Oxhey Lane and Oxhey Lane . We would chop down quite a big tree and saw the branches off. These center poles used to be as tall as a house so they were very heavy and needed many children to carry it from the woods to the site in Romilly Drive . One year we chopped down a great big one and there were only three of us to carry it. As we crossed the busy Oxhey Lane we dropped it and a car ran over it. My brother and I ran off but the other lad stayed and got told off from the driver and they both moved it out of the road. It was a stupid thing to do; even to this day it makes me feel uneasy when I think about it.
Next on the agenda was wood gathering. It did not have to be wood it could be anything. For weeks we’d round collecting anything that people did not want that would burn. We had old chairs and sofas, old tyres, pots of paint and rubbish from gardens. As the bonfire grew we used to make camps inside the piles of wood. We would make a guy and take it down to the station and wait at the bottom of the ramp for the passengers to get off the trains, many would throw a penny into the hat we were rich. Most nights we made enough for fish and chips as well as firework money it was an easy way to make money, pity bonfire night was only once a year.
In those days news agents sold fireworks and anyone could buy them regardless of age. The firework makers I remember were Standard and Astra fireworks, they could be bought by the box or in singles. We used to get tempted with our stash of fireworks before the big day and let a few off every now and then. The thing that sticks in my mind about the fireworks is the smell of burnt gunpowder, when we let off fireworks these days for our grand children the smell takes me back to the days when bangers cost a penny and a roaring inferno nearly burned your eyebrows off and singed our hair. Nobody had the sense to move away from the fire. The choice of fire works was great we had Rockets, Bangers, Roman Candles, Volcanoes, Catherine wheels, Jumping Jacks and Sparklers. As the 5th got nearer we willed it not to rain. We had a quick display in our own gardens but it was the street fire we all waited for. On the 5th of November when it was dark an adult would chuck some petrol or paraffin over part of the pyre and set it alight. There would be a great big whoosh from the petrol and the sensible adult would run like the wind to get away from the inferno. The fireworks were lit (not by children) and there would be a resounding chorus of “Oohs!” and “Aahs!” as we watched the lovely displays. As the fire began to sink, we baked potatoes in their jackets and plump sausages. No aluminum foil wrappings (what was that anyway?) they went straight into the fire, and though they were a little charred, they always tasted delicious with lots of butter and salt. Sometimes there was a singsong, but more often we went home to bed, tired but happy.
The morning after
In the morning, the gardens would be strewn with rocket sticks and burned out crackers and the air would be thick with fog and smoke and we would run up the road to see if it was still alight. (most unhealthy I’m sure, but nevertheless part of the memory). Bonfire night is still celebrated in England , but not in quite the same way as it once was. Sadly, safety measures were not always observed and over the years there were some tragic accidents. Still the memory of firelight flickering on happy faces on those magical Bonfire Nights of long ago remains, for me, a pleasant one.