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[16] John (Jack) Wales: Bonfires and fireworks – before health and safety!

Bonfire Night at Earith was one of the main events of the year.

Lighting a firework on the groundWe did all the collecting ourselves, we borrowed the hand cart from the undertakers.
They were the sort of carts you could put a pony in, but the men just pushed them to take sand and gravel and a few bricks so they kindly lent us these carts and we went round all the village collecting papers and whatever.

Harold Maile used to give us old tyres and we had great fun rolling these like great hoops down the village, coz the fire was always over the low bridge — used to be a massive fire down there.

And Arthur Thoday who had three young men, sons still at home, he was very keen, he always made the Guy to put on top of the bonfire and Mr. Russell also had three sons kept the shop that sold fireworks and he was a bigger kid than all of us he was always trying them out!

I remember one evening he was out, we lived next door , and he used to have rockets and he laid the rocket on the road and lit it and it went down the High Street, curling back and forwards down the street and further down the Street was Albert Maile’s garage who owned the ‘Riverview’ with the old fashioned pumps with the light on the top and this rocket with sparks coming out of the back went right between these 2 pumps and we thought it was going to hit it.

And then not to be outdone, he sent another one in the opposite direction and it just went to Ozzie West’s house, up through the bedroom window, cos it was only a weekend house for these people there was nobody there, and we had to bunk Ken Russell up to put it out – the firework still burning inside on the bedroom carpet.

I remember one bonfire night, my mate Ron Russell and I were over the causeway the bonfire was being made.
And the man who kept the sluice house was called Danny Hudson and there’s no water over there so every evening he’d come with a white enamelled pail on his arm and he’d come up to the village spend the evening in the pub and then go to the pump, either this one or the one down the street, and take home a bucketful of water.
And Ron and I saw him coming so we got in the dyke just in front of the Bulwarks and we used to get ha’penny ‘Demons’ only about like that – but the biggest Bangers going and of course in those days there was no safety precautions – all lads 5 yrs old could buy them and we all had pockets full of ‘em.
Dagger Dearman had his blown off – somebody chucked one in (his pocket) and they all exploded!
But we lay in the dyke at the side of the Bulwarks and Danny came along and we lit this thing and threw it at him, and it dropped in his enamel bucket and it blew a hole in it and of course he couldn’t see nothing and he didn’t half swear.

Oh we were terrors in those days, this IittIe old lady used to live next door to Killingworth and we used to throw bangers in through her letterbox.
And old Lobby Ludd used to live around the council houses, you remember – used to come out with horsewhip – a whole gang of boys used to go there and torment him and throw fireworks at him.

Huge flames from a bonfireThe whole village used to light the bonfire about 6 o clock when it was nice and dark and we used to come and sit on the bridge which was ideal coz of the low walls on either side and all us kids used to be running about while all the grown-ups helped.

The Wood yard used to send us one or two lorry loads of shavings down and Bill Hinkins would cart up lots of hedge trimmings and I remember one year Mr. Edwards from the gravel pits sent a lorry load of old sleepers which made a good burn, burning for days after that.

I was frightened half to death one night ‘cause these handcarts – it used to take three boys to pull them and Dagger Dearman was at the back Eric Thoday at the front, both lads 4 or 5 years older than me and I was in the middle, and we went down the High Street at a nice steady pace, loaded up with paper from Miss Wigginson the newsagent. She used to save all this paper, great bundles of paper.
And of course when we come to the low bridge it was quite a slope down the other side, you see, and we are trotting along quite nicely and then when we come to this bit the big boys, Eric Thoday at the front, put up speed to make a dash across and I couldn’t keep up with them.
I must have been only 8 or 9, in the end I put me arms on the shafts on either side – I thought I was going to drop and the whole lot come over the top of me.

See all of John Wales‘ blog posts.

(Extracts from ‘Keeping Time by the Crows’ University of Cambridge
John Wales retains copyright on original contributions)

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