Did you know that before the Chinese took over the world of fireworks, the British also played well in this category? In fact, the Guy Fawkes celebrations every November is a testament to this piece of history. As a British holiday dedicated to commemorating the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, this holiday is peaked in the evening by a stellar display of fireworks.
The UK used to make some of the most breathtaking fireworks, however, the art and tradition slowly died off as years passed. While it may seem like mere figments from a bygone era, a retired pyrotechnician is trying to revive these colourful memories—through the creation of the first-ever exhibition in the UK dedicated to Britain’s lost art.
Who Is Maurice Evan?
Maurice Evan made the exhibit happen in 2011. He used to fill his home in Sussex with actual fireworks, photographs, posters, and shop displays—all relating to British fireworks history.
When he was a child, he suffered from bad asthma attacks—making Guy Fawkes Nights as some of the worst nights of his life. He was never allowed to see the bonfire nor the fireworks to cater to his safety. He was always stuck in his room, hearing only the loud bangs and seeing mere faraway flashes from his home.
His father was in munitions during the First World War, and he had a trunk full of diagrams about explosives—which triggered the curiosity of the little Maurice Evan.
When he became a teenager, it was the time of the war. The curious child in him made him roam around the nearby army ranges together with his friends, searching for any unexploded ordnance. One particular pyrotechnical experiment cost him his finger, but that did not stop him from barreling forward with his passion for the pyrotechnics.
When in his 20s, Evan started to buy all types of fireworks he could find. His collection included some lost and long-forgotten fireworks, such as the Wizard, Lion, Britannia, Hammonds, Rainbow, Excelsior, Wessex, the Astra Floodlight, the Invicta Sparkler, and Attaboy.
After World War II, more fireworks stores closed and only small factories remained. That’s the time when the mass import of Chinese fireworks started. Because of their cheaper rates, all domestic fireworks then up to now are imported.
Evan, who has the most comprehensive fireworks collection in the country, donated his entire collection to the Museum of British Folkore. For safety purposes, the gunpowder was removed from all the pieces, except for the Catherine Wheels and Bangers. Unfortunately, the gunpowder can’t be extracted without ruining these two pieces.
What to See in His Exhibit
The designer of the exhibition—and 2011 director of the Museum of British Folklore—Simon Costin, believes that the purpose of their exhibit is to reveal a lost world.
The majority of items present in the exhibition are unique. He considered the exhibit as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to personally see the only remembrance of the efforts of thousands of men and women creating these dangerous displays, and the smart people behind their packaging and advertisements.
Fireworks are an amazing invention that deserves to be recognized and remembered. Through exhibitions, such as Evan’s, the memory and history of these beautiful pieces can be immortalized and relived.
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