Every year people up and down the country light bonfires and burn effigies of a man named Guy Fawkes.
Weston Park on the Shropshire/Staffordshire border has hosted one of the regions biggest bonfire and fireworks celebrations, attracting around 10,000 people every November, since 1986.
Staff have been busily constructing the bonfire and making preparations for this year’s event which takes place on Sunday November 3.
Building a bonfire is a tradition that dates back to 1605 when a group of conspirators including Fawkes attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament.
But the plot to kill King James I and his government was rumbled, and fires were lit in celebration of the monarch surviving an attempt on his life.
Later straw effigies of Fawkes started being made by local communities to be thrown on top to be burned.
Taking centre stage at the popular event at Weston Park will be a 20 to 22 ft high bonfire which has been built in the parkland.
Building the bonfire
It has been made from wood that has been gathered by the team from around the estate during the year.
“We gather timber throughout the year from branches and trees that have fallen down in the park,” said park events and visitor manager, Stuart Craddock.
“This year we’ve also got old horse jumps, that have seen better days, and donated from the horse trials,” he adds.
It takes two weeks to build the pyre and taking the prime spot at the very top will be the Guy, which this year has been made by pupils at Wrockwardine Wood Junior School in Telford.
“Every year we ask a school in Shropshire or Staffordshire to build a guy for us. We’ve been doing that for about 10 years. The only requirement is that is large enough to be seen at the top so it needs to be about 6ft.
“They bring it down to the park and we do a photo shoot. It’s great fun for them to be involved.
“In the 1990s, the Guys used to be modelled on members of staff and there was one of me, so this is much better,” said Stuart, who has worked on the estate for 32 years.
Once the giant bonfire has been constructed, the team will do a last check for any wildlife that may have wandered in, before taking precautions to ensure no creature can come to any harm.
“We always put wire mesh around the base to stop hedgehogs and other wildlife from making a nest. The last thing we want is to have any injured animals,” explained Stuart.
The bonfire will be lit at 5.30pm on Sunday and will continue to burn until Tuesday morning.
There will be plenty on offer for visitors during the night with two firework displays, a fun fair, food stalls and two bars.
Stuart and the rest of the team will be keeping their fingers crossed for clear skies so that the fireworks displays are as sparkling as possible for visitors. “You know it’s going to be a cold evening but what we don’t want is mist and fog. The company that does the fireworks can vary the display depending on the weather,” he explained.
The annual November display is one of 16 public events organised by Stuart throughout the year, and is staged by Weston Park’s own team. They range from the smallest – a competition for German Shepherds involving 12 dogs – to the largest – The Midland Game Fair, which attracts 35,000 people every year.
Stuart knows the park like the back of his hand so he can choose the best spot for each activity.
The location for the bonfire and firework event was picked to ensure it could be accessed easily both by visitor and operators of the funfair and the stallholders who need to bring their equipment and supplies onto the site.
“We used to hold it in the centre of the parkland but all of the funfair attractions had to be wheeled over there, now the site is easily accessible,” Stuart tells Weekend.
He says organising and managing the bonfire and fireworks event provides plenty of job satisfaction and he enjoys seeing the whole team come together to provide visitors with a night to remember.
“For me the satisfaction is seeing everything working, seeing the traffic plan working, people coming on to site, getting parked, seeing the bonfire and fireworks and experiencing the whole event before leaving with as little congestion as possible and hearing the feedback afterwards,” adds Stuart.
He says the event has grown in popularity over the years and become a firm family favourite.
“People come back year after year. As soon as the date is announced they put it in their calender,” adds Stuart. “It’s a busy time of year for the team who are also gearing up for their Christmas Food & Craft Fayre, which takes place on December 7 and 8 and features 100 indoor and outdoor stalls.
Hot on its tail will be Enchanted Weston which will weave plenty of festive magic with an illuminated forest experience.
“I think people are looking for more experiences so as well as the traditional events, we try to offer something a bit different too,” says Stuart.
Tickets on the night cost £22 per car (up to six per car) and the gate opens at 3pm. Fireworks displays take place at 6pm and 7.30pm.