The Bonfire – Part 6

The Garw Valley Heritage Society are proud to present a story by Roy Davies, remembering his early days in the Garw.

In the weeks leading up to Bonfire Night, we are printing one part per week.

The following is an account of the author’s boyhood in the Garw Valley when gangs of boys collected anything and everything months in advance to build their bonfires for November 5th.


Part 6, The Bonfire

The flames stretched up to the Guy and within minutes the whole pyramid was cracking and spluttering with flames that shot and leapt with the smoke being pushed this way and that by the breeze so that the watchers had to keep on shifting their positions to avoid their chest stinging and their eyes smarting. The heat became so intense that the ring of observers spread increasingly wider before it crumbled entirely as the boys began throwing their bangers or crackerjacks over the fire at the unsuspecting observers. It was familiar, controlled, dangerous and different all at the same time and the light from the flames lit up the faces of the mothers and fathers sitting on the steep bank of the mountain as they remembered their own bonfire nights.

The fires blazed on and on but gradually up, and down the dark valley as the leaping flames subsided into soft glows of light and heat, it was less easy to see where the other main blazes had been. But further up the valley the Topenders fire was blazing fiercely and there was no getting away from the fact that in the competition for the most impressive fire Morpho and the twins had come out tops again.

With the remains of their own fire glowing only inches above the ground the five boys went to bed, all their fireworks gone, all their roast potatoes eaten, all the glowing sticks used to make patterns in the air burnt out.

When they got up the following morning there was little left of their own fire but a soft warm, pile of white ash spread over the patch at the top of the street where the fire had been held. It must have been the same in Pantygog and Waunbant and High Street, their great rivals, and in Victoria Avenue. But further up the valley at the Top End which they had to pass on their way to school, the flames were still high above the ground.

It was usual, if there was time before school, for the boys of the valley to visit the fire that was still alight to pay tribute and to squeeze the last possible moment of ritual out of their pagan year. It was also usual that on the morning after bonfire night, a policeman would be present to ensure the safe ending to the last remnants of fire.

But when they got to the Top End they were surprised to see the policeman poking at the fire as if he was trying to get it flaming again. The boys noticed that near to him were the frightening four of Spikey, Morpho and the twins who were standing there with their parents and a group of neighbours.

It was most unusual for grown-ups to be near the fire the following morning, but this year they looked very interested as the policeman, at that moment, hooked out of the fire several strong circles of steel wire to which, at one smouldering point, was still fixed a section of black rubber that was giving off a thick yellow smoke.

The grown ups and the policemen all looked around at Spikey, Morpho and the twins who began to protest their innocence and powerfully denied knowing anything about the remains of the tyre in their fire or about the night raid on the Co-op yard. But it was a tyre and although no one could prove definitely that it was the one that had been stolen, all four were under constant suspicion and parental threat from that year onward until they became trainee miners at the colliery and bonfire collection was beneath their contempt. And never again did boys in dark corners of sheds filled with rubbish in the earliest months of Winter fear their coming under cover of the night winds that hummed and whined their ways along the sides of that very narrow valley.

Three days later, the first Saturday after Bonfire Night, the boy who had led the raid on the co-op yard got out of bed, dressed, ate his breakfast and went out to the back wall of his house on which hung the family’s tin bath. On the rusty steel hook underneath was the hook made from the handle of an old coal bucket and his steel hoop. He lifted them off, replaced the zinc bath and went back through the house shutting all the doors carefully and quietly behind him. The other boys were waiting. They spun their wheels down the slope of the street and guided them with the home-made hooks in and out of the alleyways of their secret world. The seasons had changed and Bonfire night was another year and thousands of other interests away.

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