With fireworks filling the night sky and Bonfire Night celebrations going on, here are some Guy Fawkes night true stories from Essex history for Memories readers to enjoy..

In November of 1925 Guy Fawkes celebrations resulted in one of the most serious fires seen in Rayleigh for many years.

It saw a builders’ yard next to the railway station erupt into flames which spread to a nearby furniture shop and a row of cottages. At times the fire was so fierce it could be seen all the way in Southend. Fire crews from Rayleigh and Southend spent hours battling the blaze. In the end it caused more than £5,000 worth of damage.

At one point the fire was dangerously close to spreading to a farm where a stable full of horses were kept. Fortunately, William Pudney, a taxi driver, who was about to go home for the night, noticed the drama and went to the farm to alert the owner, Mr Devenish and the horseman who lived in a cottage nearby. Together with other volunteers they heroically saved the farm’s 12 horses from perishing They arrived at the stables just in time, as flames were licking the sides of the timber and smoke was filling up the stables. The horses were petrified.

Echo: The aftermath of the Rayleigh November 5 fire is shown here. You can see the owner of the builder’s yard in the middle surveying the extensive damage.The aftermath of the Rayleigh November 5 fire is shown here. You can see the owner of the builder’s yard in the middle surveying the extensive damage. (Image: Newsquest)

Even though the fire broke out on November 5, as bonfires were raging everywhere, ironically the cause of the drama was put down to some rain getting into a lime shed in the builder’s yard and causing the substance to overheat.

In November of 1928 a spark from a huge bonfire led to a fire breaking out at the Southend Sanatorium.

The fire started on the roof of the hospital, in Balmoral Road, after a bonfire was lit nearby on November 5. The outbreak occurred in the female ward and led to the women having to be evacuated.

Members of staff managed to stop the flames from spreading using fire extinguishers.

During the Second World War Bonfire Night celebrations had to be scaled back or scrapped all together.

In 1939, the wartime blackout restrictions meant it was impossible for bonfires to be lit after dark, so many established and long held firework events were changed to become afternoon displays instead.

This is exactly what happened in Burnham, Essex in November 1939. For the first time in the town’s firework celebration history, the blackout laws meant the evening bonfire could not go ahead, so instead was held when it was still daylight.

When the firework ban was lifted and once again November 5 could be celebrated with a roaring bonfire and all the pyrotechnic trimmings, there was a huge scramble at the shops.

From early in the morning on November 5, 1945 queues formed outside every shop selling fireworks across Essex.

Little boys who had saved up their pocket money stood in line to buy sparklers.

In Chelmsford there was a frenzy as hundreds of women surged over the bridge in Moulsham Street in order to be first in the line for fireworks.

A local newspaper report described the scene: “They filled the roads, some pushing prams, others dragging children after them. Impatient cyclists threaded their way between. A bus tried in vain to edge its way through the crowd.”

At one shop in Chelmsford, ‘Pope and Smith’s’ one woman shopper described the queue as the ‘longest she had ever seen in her life.’ The article continued: “All of these women had children looking forward to their firework display. Some for the first time in seven years, others for the first time in their life.”

That same night – November 5, 1945 – in Radley Green near Ingatestone a huge Guy was burnt on the village green, along with a German flag.

On Canvey children gathered to burn an effigy of Hitler. One of the fun-packed nights on the calendar was finally back – and everyone was going to make the most of it.

Even during the war years when bonfires were banned, children still rallied to create a Guy, even if it was out of rags or scraps found on the street.

The custom of children making Guys and displaying them on the street, stood the test of time for many decades, but seems to have all but died out now.

Fireworks Night on Canvey used to be lots of fun. The following account can be found on the Canvey Community Archive (canveyisland.org) and describes how children used to celebrate November 5.

“The build up to November the 5th began in September, by gathering material for the bonfire, which was located in the field at the eastern end of Atherston Road where Meadway and Lubins School are now situated.

“At this time only half of Atherstone Road had been developed, leaving a clear view of the sea wall from the houses on the south side of Meynell Avenue.

“We started our quest by collecting old furniture from Martins second hand store in the High Street by Florence Road.

“This consisted of old unsaleable three piece suites, tables and anything else that would burn. The items were loaded on a hand cart and transported via May Avenue with the bigger boys pulling and pushing whilst the smaller ones sat on top.

“This went on for a number of weekends and what a laugh it was when the whole lot regularly tipped off into the road. Good job there were not a lot of cars about in those days.

Echo: A display at Waterside Farm on Canvey in 1988A display at Waterside Farm on Canvey in 1988 (Image: Newsquest)

“Once back at the site of the bonfire, we would pull the furniture apart and would find money, penknives and other items lost out of people’s pockets.

“At the same time as collecting from Martins second hand store, we would go opposite to Ron Pickett’s bicycle shop and collect old inner tubes and tyres.

“Once all these items had been collected, we then started going around the area, offering to cut the larger branches from trees located both in peoples’ gardens and on the verges.

“This was carried out with some precision using ropes, various types of saw, and choppers borrowed from our dads’ sheds.

“All this material would be dragged through the streets to the bonfire site, sometimes behind bicycles, where it would be stacked around the old furniture.

“The bonfire would now start to be getting quite big and doubled up as a camp with tunnels etc, which would remain until Guy Fawkes Night on November 5th.

“A great time was had by all, collecting, building and playing in the bonfire as well as watching the parents finally setting light to our masterpieces and fireworks each year.

“One memorable occasion was when one of the dads, thinking his fireworks were safe, being carried in a metal ammunition box, opened the lid ready to take out a firework, just as a stray one landed in his box, setting the whole lot off with a bang!

“Because of the size of the fire it would still be alight the following day, to bake the odd potato on.

Occasionally, somebody would try set light to our bonfire before November 5th but this was usually thwarted before too much damage could be done, as we would take it in turns to stand guard.

“As well as making the bonfire we would make a Guy, which would be taken up to the Haystack area and the High Street with a notice requesting a penny for the Guy.

“The money collected paid for some extra fireworks and the amount collected was dependant how good the Guy was.

“Although our Guy was always fairly good it never matched the ones made by Peter Day, who year after year turned out the best one. Sadly, Peter is no longer with us. However did we manage to survive at such a tender age, lifting heavy items, using dangerous tools, climbing trees – all unsupervised and without the health and safety and risk assessments that stop kids of today having this sort of fun.

The bonfires ceased when the field was developed for housing.”