Welcome to the fireworks history section.
In this section of fireworks.co.uk, you can read all about the various historical and cultural aspects of fireworks. Fire celebrations, which form our traditions and cultural heritage.
Fireworks History: How it all began.
Fireworks history begins in medieval China; However, there is some speculation as to the exact date.
Some scholars believe that the history of fireworks begins over 2,000 years ago in the 7th century Chinese Tang Dynasty (618 to 907). With the discovery or formulation of what we know today as gunpowder.
Others believe this discovery didn’t occur until the 9th century during the Chinese Song Dynasty (960 to 1279)
It’s believed that the discovery was, in fact, a pure accident made by a Chinese cook at the time working in a field kitchen. He had made a mixture of mix charcoal, sulphur and saltpetre (all ingredients common to the kitchen back then). The blend burned well and when compressed in an enclosure (a tube of bamboo), exploded!
Additionally, It was believed until recently that, the history of fireworks could be traced back to India. However, in an online edition of an Indian national newspaper “The Hindu” published on October the 18th 2003, The discovery of gunpowder is credited to the Chinese.
It is the formulation of this blend, the compression and enclosure into a tube that we now know, love and celebrate as a firework.
Approximately 1,000 years ago. A Chinese Monk by the name of Li Tan, who lived in the Hunan Province close to the city of Liuyang. Is credited with the invention of what today we know as a firecracker. On the 18th of April each year the Chinese people celebrate the invention of the firecracker by offering sacrifices to the Monks. There was a temple established, during the Song Dynasty by the local people to worship Li Tan.
Introduction to Europe:
It is widely accepted that Marco Polo, the 13th Century Italian explorer, is credited with bringing Chinese gunpowder to Europe. However, some scholars accredit the Crusaders with bringing black powered back to Europe when returning from the holy war.
Black powder, once it had arrived in Europe, was quickly used as a military device, in rockets then later in guns and cannon. The Italians were the first in Europe to begin production of black power for the use of fireworks. Followed by Germany in the 18th Century.
Fireworks in England:
The earliest recorded use of gunpowder in England, and probably the western world, is by the Franciscan monk Roger Bacon.
He was born in Ilminster in Somerset in 1214 and lived, as a master of languages, maths, optics and alchemy to 1294.
He recorded his experiments with a mixture which was very inadequate by today’s standards but was recognizable as gunpowder. His formula was very low in saltpetre because there was no natural source available. It did contain the other two essential ingredients: charcoal and sulfur.
In 1242 he wrote: “. . . if you light it you will get thunder and lightning if you know the trick”. Fireworks as such probably arrived in the 14th century, brought back from the East by Crusaders. They rapidly became a form of international entertainment.
The first recorded fireworks in England were at the wedding of Henry VII in 1486. They became very popular during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and they were so much enjoyed by the Queen herself that she created a “Fire Master of England”. James II was so pleased with the coronation display that he knighted his firemaster.
William Shakespeare mentions them in his plays and pyrotechnic effects were used in the productions. In fact, the misuse of pyrotechnics was the cause of the fire which destroyed the original Globe Theatre.
Firework and Spirituality:
It is a belief by many, back then and even still to this day that fireworks can be used to bring happiness and luck as well as warding off evil spirits.
Important to remember:
The Liuyang region of the Hunan Province to this day remains the primary area of production of the world’s fireworks. An important fact to remember is the origin of fireworks, geographically speaking. Anti-firework campaigners often state that fireworks are produced in China to take advantage of cheap labour. However, the reality and simple truth is, that’s where they have always been created.
Festivals of Light
In the United Kingdom, November 5th is associated with Guy Fawkes. The conspiracy to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. In fact, it is really a new format for a much more ancient tradition. One with its roots in the old pagan years which started on November 1, a date that also marked the first day of winter. Bonfires were lit, torches carried in procession and sacrifices made to drive away evil influences and uphold the fertility of the world.
Festivals to mark the onset of winter. Celebrated with bonfires are associated with many religions and cultures around the world. Thus the pre-Christian Celts, Saxons and Vikings had their Festival of Light. The Hindu celebration of Divali in late October is of growing significance in the UK calendar of celebrations.
All Saints’ Day
From pre-history to Stuart times, country folk have carried on an old tradition with bonfires. With the arrival of Christianity, it was re-named “All Saints’ Day” in much the same way that many other pagan festivities and locations were taken over and had a religious significance imposed upon them.
The burning of effigies is a relatively recent innovation harking back to near voodoo religious practices of centuries ago. From the mid-13th century onwards the word “guy” was used to mean a dummy or effigy. “Guy” in turn was derived from the Anglo-Norman word “guyser” describing the stooge in medieval comedies, hence our well-known word “geezer”. In parts of the South East of England fire and fireworks celebrations are accompanied by the burning of effigies other than Guy Fawkes. Each Bonfire Society will nominate its subject for that year, which may be any person of their choosing – politician show-biz personality, etc.