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A HISTORY OF DAMP SQUIBS

While most modern squibs used by professionals are insulated from moisture, older uninsulated squibs needed to be kept dry in order to ignite, thus a "damp squib" was literally one that failed to perform because it got wet. Often misheard as "damp squid", the phrase "damp squib" has since come into general use to mean anything that fails to meet expectations. The word "squib" has come to take on a similar meaning even when used alone, as a diminutive comparison to a full explosive.

In 1605 Guy Fawkes was part of a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. The plot failed. By some strange quirk of history that failure is still celebrated hundreds of years later by burning an effigy of Fawkes on a big outdoor fire. On or around 5th November every year firework displays light up the sky as Bonfire Night is celebrated all around Britain and in places as far away as Newfoundland in Canada, and even New Zealand. On this page, you can find out about local events and the history of Bonfire Night. Guy Fawkes instantly became a national bogeyman and the embodiment of Catholic extremism. It was a propaganda coup for the Protestant English and served as a pretext for further repression of Catholics that would not be completely lifted for another 200 years. It is perhaps surprising that Fawkes and not the charismatic ring-leader Robert Catesby is remembered, but it was Fawkes who was caught red-handed under the Houses of Parliament, Fawkes who refused to speak under torture, and Fawkes who was publicly executed. Catesby, by contrast, was killed evading capture and was never tried.

Newport Past recalls "On the 5th the streets were more lively than usual it is true and fireworks are still resorted to, but to a smaller extent than was previously the case, fortunately rough horse-play and street riots, in which ere now a policeman has lost his life; and the bitterness engendered between Protestants and Roman Catholics, are things of the past. Our Roman Catholic fellow townsmen, no longer regard the celebration of Guy Fawkes' Day as a studied insult to their religion. They now take part in the celebration, purchasing fireworks for the amusement of their children and their families. As a consequence, what is familiarly known as "Squib Night", has become perfectly harmless. The police have recognised this for some years past, and their non-interference, has done more than anything else in maintaining order. The glories of "Squib Night" are only to be regarded as things of the past."

The Argus stated that "Newport's method of celebrating the 5th of November is remarkable - and not creditable. Such an exhibition as that which took place outside the Westgate on Saturday night would not be tolerated in any other town in the Kingdom. Commercial Street was blocked by a mob - a foolish and reckless mob, which included many who ought to have known better - and they amused themselves for two or three hours by hurling fireworks into the air, reckless of where they fell. Squibs and crackers were sent into the crowd and hurled into shops, and the wonder is that fires did not occur and that some persons did not lose their sight, for it seemed to be a matter of indifference whither the sparks went or what damage was done, and in some instances foolish boys and young women directed the squibs point blank at people's faces, and that is in the name of "fun." Many tradesmen complained bitterly of the loss they sustained, for business was devastated during this unruly period."

In the early morning of 6 November 1949 Holy Trinity Church, Christchurch was discovered to be on fire. Although the vicar succeeded in saving the church records and the ancient chalice, the entire building, apart from the walls and tower, was destroyed. A week later St John's Church in Maindee suffered a similar fate. The fire, Newport's most disastrous for many years, was estimated to have done damage valued at 30,000 (920,000 in 2014 values). The roof had recently been thoroughly repaired. The fact that the previous evening had been Guy Fawkes Night was regarded as mere coincidence!