Guy Fawkes Celebrations in Victorian Exeter

November 5th had traditionally provided an outlet for the expression of popular attitudes towards religion in the city of Exeter. In this article Roger Swift examines the particular fervour of the celebrations during the Victorian period despite efforts by the authorities to control them.

The celebration of the Fifth of November was a notable feature of popular culture in many nineteenth-century towns and cities, none more so than in Exeter, where the festivities had long constituted one of the great annual events in the city. The celebrations were, in many respects, the reflection of an intimate and paternalistic society and fulfilled several important social functions. First, this symbol of the Protestant Reformation was important to the staunchly Protestant populace of the cathedral city whose clergy traditionally contributed funds for the erection of the annual bonfire before the west door of the Cathedral, and Benefit of the Clergy was extended to the multitudes who gathered in Cathedral Close to witness the proceedings. Second, Guy Fawkes Day was the one day in the year when the adult population gave over the city to its children, popularly referred to as 'Young Exeter', a tradition which, as the Western Times explained, 'hath been a custom ever since they can remember, and their fathers speak of it as one of the festivals of their boyhood'.

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