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About A Week: Chumping

Peter Hinchliffe recalls the fun of bonfire nights way back then – and deplores the vandalism which has become part of today’s bonfire night scene.

No need to check the calendar when I was a lad. As soon as the clocks went back and darkness arrived at tea-time we knew that Bonfire Night was just around the corner.

Time to go chumping.

Chumping, as every youngster reared in the West Riding knows, is the gathering in of fuel to burn on the Guy Fawkes bonfire.

As soon as the bell rang to end a school day we hurried off to the local woods to hunt for fallen branches. Usually we took along a couple of axes to help a few more branches to fall.

The lane through our village became littered with leaves as we dragged branches to a piece of waste ground.

Day by day the bonfire grew. So too did our anticipation of the big night.

In some villages guards were posted on the burgeoning bonfires to ensure that rival gangs did not steal hard-gathered chumps. Not in Whitley, my home village.

We were one united gang. On the big night there was just one bonfire, and the whole village turned out to enjoy the fun.

There were fireworks, potatoes roasted in the embers, home-made parkin, treacle toffee…

And all to celebrate the anniversary of a foiled plot to blow up Parliament in 1605.

The plotters, including Yorkshireman Guy Fawkes, a soldier who had been serving in Flanders, hoped to start a great uprising of English Catholics who were distressed by the severity of laws against the practice of their religion.

We were told about Guy Fawkes in the school classroom. But few bothered to remember history lessons when we gathered as a village to enjoy the festivities on bonfire night.

Pin-wheels whirled. Roman candles showered golden sparks into the surrounding darkness. Thunderflashes and Little Demons banged loud enough to make everyone jump.

And we all went home happy.

Fireworks were then scarce and expensive. The only time of year that you heard fizzes and bangs and saw showers of multi-coloured sparks was November.

Folk now let off rockets and bangers year round. Any and every occasion has become a reason to let off fireworks. A birthday, a mid-summer night party, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve…

Good news for our town, Huddersfield, a town in which thousands of folk down the years have been employed in the making of fireworks.

Bad news in that hooligans are now using fireworks as offensive weapons.

The level of vandalism involving fireworks is steadily on the increase. In recent days in this area phone boxes and post boxes have been seriously damaged by “bombs’’ made from fireworks.

In one sickening incident yobs used fireworks to blow up the greenhouse of a 69-year-old pensioner.

Glass and parts of the greenhouse’s wooden frame were scattered over a beautifully-kept garden.

“What’s the good of getting another greenhouse?’’ asked the distressed pensioner, whose garden was a delight to all who saw it. “They will just do it again.’’

Bonfire Night used to be such a happy occasion. A time for villagers to get together to enjoy fun, food and fireworks round a communal fire.

Now folk stay indoors, wondering apprehensively whether their property will be intact when they pull the curtains and look out in the morning.

Guy Fawkes and his fellow plotters still have an awful lot to answer for.

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