Fireworks are much loved around the United Kingdom. They are a familiar sight during special occasions and celebrations, and some people even buy them to hold fireworks displays simply because they love them and enjoy the whole experience that surrounds using them.


However, as much as fireworks are loved for their colour, noise, and other awe-inspiring qualities, many people are blissfully unaware of the history behind fireworks and how they even came to be popular in the UK in the first place.

The Gunpowder Plot

The gunpowder plot, a photo by chad_k on Flickr.

The origins of fireworks can be traced back to 7th century China. China is where gunpowder was first used, and at this time, pyrotechnics experts were as valuable to Chinese rulers as the best war generals.Origins of Fireworks

Gunpowder didn’t make its way to England until the 13th century; the Arabs gained knowledge of gunpowder from China around the year 1240, after which point the secret quickly spread around the region and into Europe. It is thought that Roger Bacon, a monk, was the first person in the UK to use gunpowder, as there have been discoveries of various documents where he charts his experiments, including one from 1242 where he writes that, “…you will get thunder and lightning if you know the trick.”

File:Elizabeth I of England Hardwick 1592.jpg

Fireworks First Use

Although fireworks were probably used in the UK from the late 13th century onwards, they didn’t begin to become truly popular until at least 200 years later. Indeed, the first documented use of fireworks in the UK is the wedding of King Henry VII, which was in 1486.

It wasn’t until the reign of Elizabeth I, however, that they’d become popular across the country. In fact, the Queen herself was such a huge lover of fireworks that she appointed a ‘Fire Master’ to oversee royal displays.

A number of Shakespeare’s plays mention the use of fireworks, too, which indicates that they were widely known and in use throughout his lifetime.

Of course, the most common association many in the UK make with fireworks is to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

5th November Significance

In the UK, ‘Guy Fawkes Night,’ or ‘Bonfire Night,’ is marked on November 5th every year, to mark the arrest of Guy Fawkes and the failure of the Gunpowder Plot. Although fireworks didn’t become part of the festivities until the 1650s, the date was celebrated with bonfires after Londoners were invited to light them in 1605 as a means of celebrating the failure of the Plot.

Fireworks Use Today

NY 2011 - London by BMcIvr
NY 2011 – London, a photo by BMcIvr on Flickr.

While ‘Bonfire Night’ is the occasion most often associated with fireworks, it is more of a traditional event, usually aimed at the enjoyment of children, rather than the political, religious, and patriotic occasion it was for a long time historically. Nevertheless, fireworks have become regular features of weddings, as well as being used during religious festivals for people of many faiths living in the UK.

Other celebrations, such as New Year, are also synonymous with fireworks, although the UK doesn’t host specific fireworks festivals like many countries, including Japan, around the world choose to do.

This guest post was written by Aidan, who loves Bonfire Night and always ensures he finds the places with the best fireworks for sale early so that he is able to buy the biggest and best fireworks for his home displays.

Written by Abigail Young

I've had a passion for everything British my entire life, despite being raised as a small-town girl in the American Midwest, After years of dreaming, I got the chance to live and work in England for an entire year. Now I write about my favorite country, and hopefully inspire my fellow Britophiles to get over there and experience it for themselves.

This article has 3 comments

  1. yannakerl12 Reply

    I would rather stay at home to listen to the beautiful music the orchestra brings. Your photo’s of the fireworks uk are great. I know it’s not easy to get some good photo’s.
    Have a wonderful day !!

    fireworks uk

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