First hand account of how the gunpowder plot rocked London

Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plotters
Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plotters

Just hours after Guy Fawkes plot was foiled a man from Lancashire was in London to witness the very first bonfire night celebrations. Keith Johnson reports

In late October 1605, Lord Monteagle received an anonymous letter advising him to stay away from the Houses of Parliament during the following week and to destroy the letter after reading it.

The contents of the communication predicted that a terrible blow would be inflicted on those present.

In fact, it was a plea for him to stay away, thus avoiding the intended plot to blow up Parliament by a group of conspirators including Guy Fawkes.

Rather than burn the letter after reading it he passed it on to the Earl of Salisbury, who subsequently informed King James I of the planned atrocity.

Consequently, in the early hours of November 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes was discovered underneath Parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder, and the plot was foiled.

In his possession were found matches and other things necessary for firing the trail of gunpowder.

While all of this was being acted out on that November day a letter was being penned from London to William Farrington at his home Old Worden Hall, near Chorley, in Lancashire.

The scribe was John Sumner, his friend down in London on business, who wrote the following, “True it is that upon Monday, late in the night, being the 4th of November, or rather upon Tuesday morning, there was found in a vault or cellar directly under the Parliament house a great quantity of gunpowder barreled up – beer barrels full, 36; puncheons, 2; and hogsheads, 2 – laid there by Thomas Perry, one of the king’s pensioners, and one Johnson (Guy Fawkes), his servant or confederate; which vault or cellar the said Johnson had taken, with some of the housing adjoining there unto, of purpose, it is thought, the better to work his exploit; with a full determination and purpose, that when the king, queen, and young prince together with all the nobility and peers of the realm, had there been assembled, to have set fire upon the powder, and so, with bars of iron and faggots and such like stuff that were laid upon the barrels, to have blown up the house: which wicked practice was revealed by my Lord Monteagle, who, having received this letter, presently acquainted the king and council therewith.

“Johnson (Guy Fawkes) is in the Tower, and hath this day, it is said, been upon the rack, and examined by divers of the Privy Council; but as yet, I do not hear that he bewrayth apprehension before the king, who asked him whether he was not sorrowful for that his wicked purpose; who answered that indeed he was sorrowful because his purpose did not take full effect.

“Great bonfires are made throughout all the streets, and ringing of bells throughout all of London upon Tuesday, 5th of November, at night, for joy the said devilish practice was revealed, all the streets being set with watchmen the same day.”

According to Thomas Baines, in his book Lancashire and Cheshire Past, published in 1868, Lord Monteagle received a grant of £200 a year in land, and £500 in money, for communicating the letter which led to the searching of the vaults and the thwarting of Guy Foulkes and his companions.

The letter to Lord Monteagle was supposed to have been written by Francis Tresham, one of the conspirators, whose sister was married to Lord Monteagle.

During the next few weeks the plotters were killed or captured and the survivors were put on trial.

Guy Fawkes and the other surviving chief conspirators were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered in London. Moments before the start of his execution, on January 31, 1606, Fawkes jumped from a ladder while climbing to the gallows, breaking his neck and dying.

Worden Old Hall dated from the 1530s and was home to the Farrington family. It was more than 400 years later a derelict building within the Royal Ordnance complex at Chorley.

However, a decade ago it was transformed into a five-bedroomed mansion and stands these days in the middle of the Buckshaw Village estate.

That declaration by King James I to build fires to celebrate the discovery of the plot would lead to the tradition of bonfires and the burning of an effigy of Guy Fawkes throughout the land.