The British are a nation with a long and proud history steeped in ritual and tradition.
None more so when it comes to the rather odd celebration of ‘Guy Fawkes Night’ where we gleefully celebrate the burning of a Catholic traitor caught trying to blow up the houses of parliament. However there is one rather odd tradition surrounding this event that we would suggest is best not revived – ‘Smugging a Guy’.
As we all know Guy Fawkes Day is traditionally celebrated on 5 November to mark the failure of the Gunpowder Plot against King James and his Parliament in 1605. It was officially a public holiday of thanksgiving from 1606 until 1859. Even today effigies of conspirator Guy Fawkes are burnt on bonfires and fireworks are launched into the night sky.
‘Smugging The Guy’
In the 19th century gangs of boys in London would prepare long in advance for the festivities. Fuel for bonfires was acquired stealthily: raids were made on poorly nailed fences, deserted buildings with wooden floorboards, loose doors. These ‘burnables’ were secreted where other collectors would not find them. Next a Guy had to be assembled – a straw man clothed in an old coat, breeches and stockings. A wooden head could be made from a barber’s block with a face drawn on with chalk and charcoal, topped by a stiff paper cap painted and knotted with paper ribbon strips. A lantern was placed in one hand and a spread bunch of matches in the other. The Guy was then tied to a chair and carried through the streets, its owners running up to passers-by with a hat for coins exclaiming ‘Pray remember Guy!’ or ‘Penny for the Guy!’.
If two Guys met in the street, a scuffle often broke out as each group tried to capture their rival’s effigy. A gang who hadn’t made a Guy might acquire one by attacking a weaker group, a mission known as ‘going to smug a Guy’.