Saturday, November 07, 2009

Guy Fawkes on Blackheath with the Treasure Seekers

Fireworks night on Blackheath is a long established tradition, and  Guy Fawkes night in the area even features in The Story of the Treasure Seekers by Edith Nesbit, the popular children's novel first published in 1899. The author (and socialist) lived in various parts of South East London and Kent for most of her life, including a period at 16 Dartmouth Row, Blackheath , where she moved in 1879. 
In Chapter 7 of the novel the Bastable children have fun on the 5th November: 'When Albert-next-door had gone his uncle sat in the Guy Fawkes armchair and took Alice on his knee, and we sat round the fire waiting till it would be time to let off our fireworks. We roasted the chestnuts he sent Dicky out for, and he told us stories till it was nearly seven. His stories are first-rate - he does all the parts in different voices... ...we were getting very short of money again--the fortunes of your house cannot be restored (not so that they will last, that is), even by the one pound eight we got when we had the 'good hunting.' We spent a good deal of that on presents for Father's birthday. We got him a paper-weight, like a glass bun, with a picture of Lewisham Church at the bottom; and a blotting-pad, and a box of preserved fruits, and an ivory penholder with a view of Greenwich Park in the little hole where you look through at the top. He was most awfully pleased and surprised, and when he heard how Noel and Oswald had earned the money to buy the things he was more surprised still. Nearly all the rest of our money went to get fireworks for the Fifth of November. We got six Catherine wheels and four rockets; two hand-lights, one red and one green; a sixpenny maroon; two Roman-candles--they cost a shilling; some Italian streamers, a fairy fountain, and a tourbillon that cost eighteen-pence and was very nearly worth it. But I think crackers and squibs are a mistake. It's true you get a lot of them for the money, and they are not bad fun for the first two or three dozen, but you get jolly sick of them before you've let off your sixpenn'orth. And the only amusing way is not allowed: it is putting them in the fire. It always seems a long time till the evening when you have got fireworks in the house, and I think as it was a rather foggy day we should have decided to let them off directly after breakfast, only Father had said he would help us to let them off at eight o'clock after he had had his dinner, and you ought never to disappoint your father if you can help it'.

They plot a play ambush of a neighbour on the Heath itself: ...Our plan was this. We were all to go up on to the Heath. Our house is in the Lewisham Road, but it's quite close to the Heath if you cut up the short way opposite the confectioner's, past the nursery gardens and the cottage hospital, and turn to the left again and afterwards to the right. You come out then at the top of the hill, where the big guns are with the iron fence round them, and where the bands play on Thursday evenings in the summer. We were to lurk in ambush there, and waylay an unwary traveller. We were to call upon him to surrender his arms, and then bring him home and put him in the deepest dungeon below the castle moat; then we were to load him with chains and send to his friends for ransom. ...As I said, it was Guy Fawkes Day, and if it had not been we should never have been able to be bandits at all, for the unwary traveller we did catch had been forbidden to go out because he had a cold in his head. But he would run out to follow a guy, without even putting on a coat or a comforter, and it was a very damp, foggy afternoon and nearly dark, so you see it was his own fault entirely, and served him jolly well right. We saw him coming over the Heath just as we were deciding to go home to tea. He had followed that guy right across to the village (we call Blackheath the village; I don't know why), and he was coming back dragging his feet and sniffing'.


neanderthal d said...

Oswald Bastable is a character that pops up in various Michael Moorcock books (Warlord of the Air etc - Airships and Anarchists feature quite strongly in the books).

Michael Moorcock Must have got the name from the Treasure Seekers book.

Gonna have to track down the book - local connection and Moorcock connection - all part of the Multiverse i guess.

Transpontine said...

Yes, Moorcock took the Bastable name from the Treasure Seekers. At a previous thread it was suggested that Moorcock lived in Blackheath at some time, but I haven't been able to confirm this.