Bonfire Night on The Labworth Estate

The early 1950's

Meynell Avenue / Eastern end of Labworth Road in the early 1950’s.

The mob consisted of Martin Zambra, John Knapp, Peter Wilson, Les Harvey, Frank Liddicott, Ricky Saunders & Rod Bishop, plus a couple of others whose names I am ashamed to say slip my memory. (Any others come to mind?)

The build up to November the 5th began in September, by gathering material for the bonfire, which was located in the field at the eastern end of Atherston Road where Meadway & Lubins School are now situated. At this time only half of Atherstone Road had been developed, leaving a clear view of the sea wall from the houses on the south side of Meynell Avenue.

We started our quest by collecting old furniture from Martins second hand store in the High Street by Florence Road. This consisted of old unsaleable three piece suites, tables and anything else that would burn. The items were loaded on a hand cart and transported via May Avenue with the bigger boys pulling and pushing whilst the smaller ones sat on top. This went on for a number of weekends and what a laugh it was when the whole lot regularly tipped off into the road. Good job there were not a lot of cars about in those days.

Once back at the site of the bonfire, we would pull the furniture apart and would find money, penknives and other items lost out of people’s pockets. At the same time as collecting from Martins second hand store, we would go opposite to Ron Pickett’s bicycle shop and collect old inner tubes and tyres.

Once all these items had been collected, we then started going around the area, offering to cut the larger branches from trees located both in peoples’ gardens and on the verges. This was carried out with some precision using ropes, various types of saw, and choppers borrowed from our dads’ sheds. All this material would be dragged through the streets to the bonfire site, sometimes behind bicycles, where it would be stacked around the old furniture.

The bonfire would now start to be getting quite big and doubled up as a camp with tunnels etc., which would remain until Guy Falkes night on November 5th. A great time was had by all, collecting, building and playing in the bonfire as well as watching the parents finally setting light to our masterpieces and fireworks each year.

One memorable occasion was when one of the dads, thinking his fireworks were safe, being carried in a metal ammunition box, opened the lid ready to take out a firework, just as a stray one landed in his box, setting the whole lot off with a bang!

Because of the size of the fire it would still be alight the following day, to bake the odd potato on.

Occasionally, somebody would try set light to our bonfire before November 5th but this was usually thwarted before too much damage could be done, as we would take it in turns to stand guard.

Our rivals, who built their bonfire further up the field came from part of Atherstone Road, Grafton Road and the rest of Labworth Road,  some names I can remember are Billy Adams, Denis Smith, Eddy Valentine, and the boys and girls from the Cripps, Collins, Greenwoods  and Kings families.

As well as making the bonfire we would make a guy, which would be taken up to the Haystack area and the High Street with a notice requesting a penny for the Guy. The money collected paid for some extra fireworks and the amount collected was dependant how good the Guy was. Although our Guy was always fairly good it never matched the ones made by Peter Day, who year after year turned out the best one. Sadly, Peter is no longer with us.

However did we manage to survive at such a tender age, lifting heavy items, using dangerous tools, climbing trees –  all unsupervised and without  the health and safety and risk assessments etc.that stop kids of today having this sort of fun.

The Bonfires ceased when the field was developed for housing and Lubbins School was built.

Pictures are for illustration only

Comments about this page

  • Rod, I remember the preparations for those bonfires. The names you mentioned were all the local kids, including yourself, that I and my brother Graham use to join in with for the wood gathering. We lived around the corner from you in Labworth Rd. Your right, those were fun times for kids. Peter Watkins.

    By Peter Watkins (15/09/2010)
  • Hi Peter was it your fireworks that went off with a bang?

    By Rodney Bishop (16/09/2010)
  • I remember the box going up in smoke, not ours though but their was something of a community spirit amongst the Mum’s & Dad’s, so every one saw plenty of fireworks. At a different time I also remember your father, helping my Mother, amongst others, in the morning of the flood in 1953. Our Father was working away so she was on her own with three children to worry about. Good job there were people like him to help others at that time.

    By Peter Watkins (16/09/2010)
  • Nice one Rod! Our bonfires on some land next to our bungalow ‘Sundown’ in Gafzelle never reached the dizzy proportions of yours but it was always great fun and a serious project getting all the stuff to build them. It became a tradition that was carried on by the next generation well into the 80s. Graham.

    By Graham Stevens (16/09/2010)
  • How I remember those bonfires,and as you say how did we survive but we did. I seem to remember carrying fireworks in my pocket highly dangerous but we didn’t think about it. Wasn’t there a Peter Spills from further down Meynell ave from you on the opposite side of the road? I met Matrin some years later at a dinner and dance at the Pegasus Club in Coringham, is he still about? Regards Frank

    By Frank Liddicott (19/09/2010)
  • Hi Frank, I do remember Peter now you mention him. Martin is still around, although he is not too well at the moment and sadly John Knapp passed away a couple of years ago. Regards Rod

    By Rodney Bishop (27/09/2010)
  • Hi Rod Bishop asked about someones fireworks going bang at the Labworth bonfire. I think he might mean my half brother Brian Gowan. My mum had taken us there with a load of fireworks belonging to him and his mates.

    When it began to rain mum covered them up with his sports jacket that was brand new that day. Suddenly the lot went up with such force that no-one could get near to stop it, taking the jacket with it. Never found out how or why but the next day mum had to cobble enough money together to buy an identical jacket before my dad found out.

    Re the Labworth,does anyone remember when the circus was there about the same time when the lion escaped? Massive panic and some of us were still running at the Haystack shops

    By sparrow (28/09/2010)
  • Yes I remember the lion incident but unfortunately missed the excitement as I was kept indoors by my mother, probably a good idea at the time.

    By Rodney Bishop (03/10/2010)
  • Yeah me to. My mum wouldn’t let me out till she knew the lion had been caught. As you say Rod a good idea at the time but I didn’t think so

    By Frank Liddicott (04/10/2010)
  • Oh lord I remember those bonfire nights. I was quite young and we always went back to Rods house where his Mum had hot soup and jacket potatoes on the go. What a superb community we lived in. I remember one year my cousin Valerie was not allowed to attend the fireworks because it was her night to clean out the kitchen cupboards, those were harsh days in her family.

    By Joan Liddiard (nee Bishop) (04/02/2011)
  • I remember these bonfires really well We moved from Tilburg Road to Grafton Road in 1952 So saw them for many years Sure mybrother Bill Goillau and some of his friends helped build the fires I remember he was friends with Dave Collins and Chris Roberts Meynell Avenue One year I can remember one of the boys putting a firework in my coat pocket Not very nice at the time but it never stopped me from going again Good childhood memories and good friends on the Labworth eastate Lived there for fifteen years Julie

    By Julia Cornwell Goillau (26/11/2021)

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