The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson: Chumping ahead of Bonfire Night

Community spirit: These little children were pupils at Eastborough School in the late 1930s, and would have known all about the joys of Bonfire Night. At this time of year they would have been out 'chumping' every night. I wonder if any of them belonged to the 'Hollow Gang' whose members really were the toughest kids on the block.
Community spirit: These little children were pupils at Eastborough School in the late 1930s, and would have known all about the joys of Bonfire Night. At this time of year they would have been out 'chumping' every night. I wonder if any of them belonged to the 'Hollow Gang' whose members really were the toughest kids on the block.

THE nights are drawing in and the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is upon us but I don’t hear anyone talking about Bonfire Night.

Churches are holding their harvest festivals and people have started preparing for Christmas, but it seems the tradition of Guy Fawkes Night is fast disappearing.

Margaret Watson.

Margaret Watson.

It has been replaced by Halloween and the American version of “trick and treat” but when we were children we didn’t dress up in ghoulish costumes, we were too busy going out chumping.

I remember the joy of running home from school, gulping down my tea and rushing out to gather all my friends together so we could go off collecting all kinds of wood for our bonfire.

It was always cold and damp and sometimes so foggy we couldn’t see a hand in front of us, but the weather never put us off doing anything in those days.

Every night we would go out scouring the area, looking in gardens for any branches or stray twigs or anything we would be able to set alight.

The boys carried the big stuff like heavy logs, tree trunks and sometimes whole trees which they dragged through the streets like a trophy to be paraded in front of the kids from neighbouring streets.

The younger children ran behind picking up twigs which had fallen by the wayside, and how proud we were to play a part in such a massive operation.

I was living in the village of Springfield at the time which had no gardens or trees, so we went up Halifax Road where the big houses were.

We went knocking on doors asking if they had anything we could burn, and were especially grateful when they give us a few bits of linoleum which really got our fire blazing. Every street had its own bonfire and we were always afraid that neighbouring gangs would come and pinch ours, so sometimes the big lads stayed up all night guarding ours.

We made up a little chant to scare such gangs of, hoping our terrifying words would scare them off and I still remember the words.

It went – “We are the Springfield Raiders, we stay up late at night.

“If anyone dare attack us, there’s sure to be a fight. Ah boobah.... Ah boobha...... Ah boobah boo boo boobah!”

The toughest gang in the district was the “Hollow Gang”, who got their name from congregating round a hollow on a spare piece of ground in Eastborough.

But we didn’t have to worry about guarding our chumps during the day because Mr Gallagher, whose house overlooked them, kept a close watch on them.

He was a good friend to all the children up our street, looking after our chumps, helping us get the fire started, and providing us with lots of giant potatoes to roast in the embers of the fire.

Our bonfire was always a massive one which we managed to keep burning for three or four days, thanks to good old Mr Gallagher who kept stoking it up throughout the day.

But all that stopped when slum clearance came along and we were all moved to the new housing estates on the outskirts of town.

I cringe when I think how dangerous our Bonfire activities were with little children carrying their fireworks around in little boxes, or sometimes in their pockets, with sparks flying all over the place.

But, compared to today’s fireworks, ours were relatively mild with the most frightening being penny bangers and sky rockets.

It does the brain good these days to think back to try and name the fireworks we used to by, which I did the other day and was relieved I remembered most of them.

My favourite was the little Snowstorm which overwhelmed me with its beautiful spray of blue and white sparks which looked like sparkling snowflakes.

The Catherine Wheels never seemed to work properly because they had to be pinned to a wall and we never seemed to know how to do it properly, and were always terrified they’d spin off the wall and come straight in our direction.

Roman candles were really glorious and added lots of excitement because we had to wait until the ball of flame shot into the air, making us all gasp in astonishment as though we’d never seen it before.

The little Volcano was gorgeous with its spray of breath-taking colours, but like the rest of our fireworks, they only lasted a few second and then fizzled out.

But to me the real pleasure of Bonfire Night was being able to stay up late, just standing and staring into the roaring flames in a hypnotic trance.

There was such a friendly atmosphere and everyone seemed to be laughing and enjoying themselves and we all seemed like one big family, which in a way we were.

It was “our” street and “our” bonfire, and we didn’t need to talk about things like “community spirit” because in those days we lived it.

And, if anyone from another street came round causing trouble, they were quickly chased off with the words “Get back to where you belong” ringing in their ears.

It was a sad day when we were all split up and sent our different ways when our houses were demolished, but at least we have our memories of happy times in a close-knit community.

○ If you have memories of past events in Dewsbury and would like to share them, contact me by email at tresham3@gmail.com.