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Penny For The Guy

Posted by Big Boo on November 3rd, 2008

Last week I wrote about how the customs of Halloween and Trick or Treating seemingly began to invade UK shores during the 1980’s.  I feel it was also during this period that one of the UK’s older traditions started to die out, this being the concept of Penny for the Guy.

In the UK November 5th is known as Bonfire Night and one of the most important tasks in the run up to this festivity was the construction of an effigy of Guy Fawkes, who is the man most commonly associated with the failed Gunpowder Plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament.  This effigy eventually ended up being burnt as part of the celebration, but more on this particularly aspect later this week.

Building the Guy Fawkes effigy was a lot of fun.  Dad’s wardrobe usually ended up being ransacked for an old pair of trousers and a shirt, which were then stuffed with scrunched up newspaper.  The arms and feet were tied with string and the two items of clothing attached together at the waist.  A paper bag, again stuffed with newspaper, was often used for a head, with a picture of Guy Fawkes face drawn on to it.  If some old gloves or shoes were available then those two could be added for extra bit of finesse.

Once the Guy was built you would then take him round the streets in an old pushchair or a “borrowed” shopping trolley, greeting anyone you met on your travels with the phrase “Penny for the Guy”.  Basically this was a way of generating some money to later spend on some fireworks for Bonfire Night.  At least that was the idea, though I suspect most of the money collected probably got spent on sweets or something.

Kids would often realise that a good place to stand was where many people passed by, such as by the entrance to a shop, and most people were generally good natured enough to throw a few coins in your collection bucket.

Sadly this tradition appears to have faded away, probably due in most part to the fact that most families no longer have their own bonfire but instead visit organised fireworks displays over safety concerns.  I for one feel this is a great shame, but given the size of many gardens in the UK these days I grudgingly admit it’s probably for best.

I would finally like to acknowledge the Activity Village website for the image accompanying this post, although I must admit I drew on a better looking face in an art package!