Bridgwater Squibbing, SomersetFirework displays in these days of risk assessments and litigation at the drop of a hat can too often be rather antiseptic events, held at a very safe distance and without a visible human element. For good reason of course, fireworks are dangerous things. One event in the country, however, has managed to retain the involvement of townspeople in what is a brief but magical display.
Bridgwater 's squibbing takes place within its Guy Fawkes Carnival . Since the Catholic plot to blow up Parliament was discovered and foiled in 1605, Guy Fawkes celebrations have been held throughout the land, indeed they were instigated by James I . Bridgwater at one time had a massive bonfire in the town centre, but improvements to the road surface (tarmac burns very nicely) and a riot in 1880 meant that the tradition metamorphosed into a carnival, with floats and costumed participants. Interesting but not in itself unique. What is unique is the squibbing tradition still held in the centre of the town.
Squibs are special fireworks that pour forth a shower of sparks and light. They are a long-standing custom in the town, with records showing that three members of the Taylor family were killed by a gunpowder explosion in 1716, supposedly while making squibs. Today a firm in Peterborough makes the squibs, doubtless to the relief of the local fire brigade. In past times fireworks were thrown into crowds, at houses and shops, and even through open windows. Whilst this attitude has changed, there is still an element of daring in the synchronized display of squibs, though participants wear safety helmets and jackets nowadays.
Squibs are attached to a block of wood, known as a cosh, at one end of a six foot pole. When the signal is given the squibbers, standing in a long line two-abreast, light the squib, and then hold the pole horizontally over their heads, like a successful weightlifter. The squibs are held at the outer edges of the line. What results is a spectacular and rather moving display, all too brief, with well over 100 showers of sparks from parallel lines merging to form a river of fire down the street, the squibbers beneath picked out in the glare, motionless as they hold their fireworks until they burn out. Large crowds watch the squibbing , and the display ends with cheering and applause.
The carnival is held on the first Friday in November.
More British Folk Customs?
1 Response to Bridgwater Squibbing
From Clive Kett on 6th November 2009
As Squibbing Officer for Bridgwater Carnival, I would ask that you change your text. The squibs are set off at the inner line, away from the spectators. Kind regards Clive Kett 01278 423 229 07814 654 944