A 50`s Boy`s Bonfire Nite

Being Silsden born and bred we always had special foods on special anniversaries, bonfire night being such an anniversary.

Always supposed to be on November the fifth, but it depended on your dad if he was working shifts or away from home, so usually the Friday or Saturday night nearest.

That was not a bad thing and never questioned as it had massive advantages of being able to go to a bon fire or watch fireworks over 2 or 3 nights.
It was an anniversary to celebrate the attempt by one “Guy Fawkes” to blow up the Houses of Parliament and King James the First with gunpowder in 1604.

Bet they’d be queuing up to do it now, then get off with a,` Don’t do it again warning`!

So a tradition was born but strange really, Guy was caught the night before, on the 4th yet we have a bonfire and fireworks as if it had gone ahead with all the flames and sparks the day after.
He was obviously found guilty and hung, drawn and quartered, now that would be a spectacle to have every November the Fifth, get a lad, find him guilty then……………….

With every special occasion came special food.

We always had meat pie and mushy peas, the pie covered with HP sauce and the peas with mint sauce and of course the usual after wind caused by the peas.


Treats included home made golden syrup toffee to pull your fillings out, parkin, a soft brown cake and special to our area, Parkin Pig biscuits.

The Parkin Pigs originated generations ago in Bradford, the rich folk had their bonfires and ate a spit boar, which is on Bradford Metropolitan City’s coat of arms, and us poor folk had biscuits the shape of a pig.

Silsden had the only Parkin Pig cutter maker in the area and we still have my mum’s cutter. They were made by Waterhouses ironmonger – hardware store up Kirkgate where the tattoo shop is now I think. He made them to last with a large handle on the back to force the cutter down.

It was once rumoured that bonfire night might have to be cancelled because the golden syrup mine had blown up in Carleton.

It was said syrup was running through the streets and into the river and all the fish were rising to the surface covered in toffee.

I was 26 before I realised they were pulling my leg!!

We were lucky as at the end of October we got a half term holiday.

This was spent “Progging” or collecting anything that would burn. Most had their own bonfires, but as politics grew and the invention of `Health and Safety` a communal one was used.

Fallen branches, and if your mates dad had a saw, branches that we needed to fall were collected, old folk’s gates, newspapers, if it was combustible, we collected it.

The preceding week saw us get some old clothes and stuff them with paper or straw to make a dummy, supposedly Guy Fawkes, we could hawk about town, “ Penny for the Guy” was the clarion call and we collected coppers for the efforts we’d made.

Some said the good ones were boys made up to look like a Guy and pushed in a wheelbarrow, I could not possibly comment on that though….

November the 4th was mischief night, whilst some guarded the bonfire, others from the same gang went to try and set light to rivals bonfires.

Never sure how that actually worked, I usually had to be home when the street lamps come on but my brother said, and it will be true cos he was older, that usually someone was burnt to death when caught trying to light another’s fire.

Also on mischief night we knocked on people’s doors and run away, oh and took their gate with us.

We stored the newspaper collected for weeks in our greenhouse; don’t think it ever was used for anything else.

One year I went to check it was ok when it was dark and had to use a match to light the tunip lantern, made for Halloween to see.
From that night on the greenhouse was just a memory; I can still hear the pains of glass cracking under the heat, and dads belt.
Dad was non too suited I recall.

At last, Bonfire night, would it ever get dark, we were only allowed to light them when it was dark.

The Guy was placed on the top, only the stuffed ones I hasten to add, and your dad lit it.

Wind direction mattered not to us and we were usually covered in smoke, smelly smoke too if you had managed to secure an old car tyre from somewhere, given to you of course.

It was then stand back time as dad opened the old biscuit tin, which housed our fire works and sparklers.

One at a time they’d be set down and lit by the cig from his mouth, them days they seemed to last for ages, unlike the, over in a flash one you buy now.

Our favorites were `Rip Raps` also known as Chinese fire crackers.

They seemed to follow you about as they banged and cavorted on the ground, alas they too are now banned, unless of course you’re Chinese!

We were sometimes daring and lit a sparkler from a dying one, signing our names as we moved them into shape against the darkness of the night.

The rhyme we used to say,
“Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder Treason and plot.
I see no reason that gunpowder treason,
Should ever be forgot.”

As the fire died down dad would bring out some potatoes and bury them in the embers,.

We were allowed a stick to poke the ash, maybe find a bit of something, anything, we’d missed that would burn and try to rekindle the flames.

Potatoes ready dad would unbury them and we’d sit and eat them out of saved newspaper, no salt or butter, just a basic baked jacket potato, but they tasted a lot better in them days.

The next morning we were up at daybreak to see whose fire on the estate still had smoke rising, getting dressed quick, wellies on and kicking the embers for a spark, good days, some would say great days, but to me, special days.


Parkin Pig Recipe

8oz Self Raising Flour
4oz Margarine
4oz Sugar
1 teaspoon Ginger
Pinch of Salt
1 teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
2 tablespoons Milk
1 good tablespoon Golden Syrup

Rub together the margarine and flour and sugar.

Dissolve the bicarb in the milk.

Warm the syrup and add the milk and bicarb.

Add the salt and ginger and mix all the ingredients together to a roll.

Thinly roll then cut out, a stiff card template cut around will do if you don’t have an animal cutter.

Place on a greased baking tray and add a currant for its eye.

Bake at 180C for 12 to 15 minutes.

Use a fish slice to remove and place on a cooling tray, still usually a little soft till cooled.


Yorkshire Parkin

4oz Margarine
4oz Black Syrup
4oz Golden Syrup
4oz Sugar
8oz Plain Lour
8oz Oatmeal
4 teaspoons Ginger
1 teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
2 teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
Pinch of Salt
1 Egg

Pre heat the oven to 150C , fan ovens a little lower.

Place a pan on the heat, warm not hot, and melt the margarine and add the syrups and sugar, mix till the sugar dissolves.

Place the rest of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and make a well, then add the warm mixture and a beaten egg and mix to a light consistency, a little milk may be added if needed.

Grease a baking tin and pour in the mixture to a depth of around 1”, 25cm, and bake for about I hour.

Press the surface and if it springs back up its ready.

Turn out, allow to cool then cut into oblongs and enjoy.

2 comments on “A 50`s Boy`s Bonfire Nite
  1. bob says:

    Spot on Baz ,good times then

  2. I have come across this article by chance, gosh did it bring back memories. I loved the bit about the ginger pigs, I still make them now for the grandchildren. The pig cutter is just like the one I have in my drawer, it belonged to my Auntie Phyllis Spencer her and my Uncle Eric had Spencer’s greengrocers in Briggate. auntie used to make pigs and sell them in the shop. I am now happy to have the cutter, I bet she bought it at Waterhouses too. Happy days it was all so true and just as I remember those were the days.

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