Penny for the Guy?

Do you still put a ‘Guy’ on your bonfire? Children displaying their homemade ‘Guys’ and asking ‘penny for the Guy?’ is thought of as an iconic British tradition.

Most people know that after King James I survived an attempt on his life by Guy Fawkes and his conspirators, bonfires were lit around London to celebrate. This continued across the country and gradually became part of tradition to commemorate the event.

The holiday is often been associated with violence in one way or another, not least because of the dangerous nature of fire and fireworks. It’s associated with Protestant ideals, and as such is used for anti-Catholic sentiments. Nowadays the politics of the celebration isn’t celebrated, but it is used as an excuse for a social gathering to observe the winter months coming on.

In the 18th Century children began to create their own ‘Guy Fawkes’ effigy to burn on the bonfires, carrying around their homemade guy and asking for money. In the 1960s however, the City of Gloucester Headteachers Association petitioned to not only stop the practice, but make it an offence. This petition was unsuccessful, as it was a seasonal practice and not considered threatening. It was also pointed out to them that what they were concerned about (children begging) was already covered under the Vagrancy Act of 1824.

Whilst children were allowed to continue begging a penny for the Guy, the teachers might like to know that the practice has now almost totally vanished. Instead, we’ve seen the rise of trick-or-treaters on Halloween who ask for sweets rather than money. Would they have shown similar disdain and anger towards this? The answer is: very likely.

Typed letter from the Town Clerk

Reference: GBR/L7/1/1/1/5