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This exhibition, the first of its kind, explores Britain's November the fifth celebration through the history of Fire Festivals, the Gunpowder plot of 1605 and the astonishingly vivid advertising and packing of domestic fireworks from the 20th century. The History of Fireworks in Britain will be vividly brought to life by the Museum of British Folklore, in their first collaboration with Compton Verney.
The main body of the exhibition will look at the vital artwork connected to the design and display of 20th century Fireworks. This eye-popping display of vintage boxes and fireworks has been collected over many years by Maurice Evans, who has been an avid firework collector since childhood and is now in his eighties. “It all started with my father who was in munitions in the First World War,” explains Maurice, “He had a big trunk with little drawers, and in those drawers I found diagrams explaining how to work with explosives and it intrigued me. Then came World War II … there were loads of shells lying around, so we used to let them off.” After the war, Maurice teamed up with a pyro technician from London and they traveled the country giving displays which Maurice devised, achieving delights that transcended his childhood hunger for explosions.
This part of the exhibition promises to be a nostalgic sweetshop of delights for visitors, with fireworks from all the main UK companies, such as Standard, Pains, Wessex, Brock’s and Astra on display. Visitors will recognize well-known firework names such as Jack in a Box, Mine of Serpents, Traffic Lights and Screech Owl, as they walk through a charted history of the British firework industry.
Other themes explored within the exhibition include the celebration of Guy Fawkes Night and its significance to British culture since the failure of the Gunpowder Plot of 5 November 1605, in which a number of Catholic conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, attempted to destroy the Houses of Parliament in London. From its origins in an Act of Parliament called The Thanksgiving Act, which made it compulsory until 1859, to celebrate the deliverance of the King of England, Scotland, and Ireland to the long standing tradition of fire-festivals across Britain which will be brought to life in a multi-media display.
The exhibition has been curated by the Museum of British Folklore team in collaboration with Compton Verney and designed by Simon Costin.