It’s 70 years ago this November that a gorilla named Guy arrived at London Zoo and went on to become one of its most famous residents. 

A Western lowland gorilla, Guy was captured as a baby in French Cameroon on behalf of the Paris Zoo which then exchanged him for a tiger from London Zoo. He arrived in London while still a baby, clutching a tin hot water bottle, on Bonfire Night – 5th November, 1947, hence his name ‘Guy’ (after Guy Fawkes).

Guy went on to become one of the zoo’s biggest stars (on a par with a contemporary, Chi-Chi the Giant Panda, another of the zoo’s most famous residents).

The giant ape, who lived for the latter part of his life in the zoo’s Michael Sobell Pavilion ( it opened in 1971), weighed some 240 kilograms and had a nine foot armspan but was known, despite his size and occasional outbreaks of bad temper, for having been a ‘gentle giant’ – there are stories that he used to hold out his hands and carefully examine small songbirds that flew into his cage before letting them go.

He was introduced to a mate, Lomie, after 25 years in solitude but they never produced any offspring.

Guy died in 1978 of a heart attack during a tooth extraction. He continues to attract sightseers, however – Guy was stuffed and put on display at the Natural History Museum in 1982. He was later moved into storage but went back on permanent display in 2012.

A bronze statue of Guy, by William Timym, can be seen near the zoo’s main entrance (pictured).

PICTURE: Chris huh/Wikimedia Commons

 

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Today marks what was traditionally known as Guy Fawkes Day or, as it’s known more popularly today, Bonfire Night, when, along with people throughout the UK, Londoners celebrate the capture of would be regicide Guy Fawkes and his conspirators, who in 1605 plotted to blow up the House of Lords and with it, King James I, during the State Opening of Parliament.

We’ve previously run a couple of pieces on the conspiracy and some of the key people and places involved – check out our earlier entries here and here.

Meantime, if you’re wanting to attend a celebration in London, Time Out has a terrific guide to all the events taking place – simply head to their page here. Enjoy the night!

The Victoria and Albert Museum has opened a new permanent gallery displaying highlights from its internationally renowned collection of photographs in what amounts to a chronicle of the medium stretching from its invention in 1839 to the 1960s. The gallery, which opened in late October, initially features works such key figures as Henri Cartier Bresson, Man Ray, Alfred Stieglitz, Diane Arbus and Irving Penn. Among highlights are the oldest photograph in the V&A’s collection – a daguerrotype of Parliament Street taken from Trafalgar Square in 1839, a Robert Howlett portrait of Isambard Kingdom Brunel standing in front of the Great Eastern, and an early botanical photography taken without a camera in 1854. The display also includes two “in focus” sections, looking at the lives of two photographers – initially British photographer Julia Margaret and the influential Henri Cartier-Bresson – in depth. The V&A was the first museum to start collecting photographs when it did so in 1856. Entry is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

• Remember, remember, the 5th of November! This weekend is Bonfire Night (aka Guy Fawkes Night) and across London communities will be gathering around bonfires to gasp at fireworks displays. We don’t have the capacity to collect all the details of where they’re taking place but thankfully the people at View London do. Follow this link to see its listing of where fireworks displays are taking place. To see our previous entry looking at the origins of the night, follow this link. For more on the Gunpowder Plot, see our previous entry here.

• On Now – War Hose: Fact & Fiction. A book, a long running stage performance and a soon to be released film, War Horse is now also the subject of a major exhibition at the National Army Museum. War Hose: Fact & Fiction is a family-friendly exhibition which tells the real-life story of horses in war and includes archive material from the animal charity The Brooke, which was founded after Dorothy Brooke rescued some former war horses being sold into a life of hard labour in Cairo (Brooke, who rescued some 5,000 horses, went on to found the Old War Horse Memorial Hospital in Cairo in 1934). The exhibition also features content from Michael Morpurgo, author of the novel War Horse, as well as the National Theatre’s production and the upcoming Spielberg-directed movie. Entry is free. Runs until August 2012. For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.

On Now: Private Eye: The First 50 Years. A celebration of the irreverent Private Eye magazine which, since it was founded in October 1961, has distinguished itself through a combination of satire and hard-hitting journalism. The exhibition features more than 120 of the magazine’s funniest cartoons and a display of the magazine’s distinctive covers with one of from each year chosen by editor Ian Hislop. It also shows how surprisingly low-tech the magazine’s production remains despite great changes in technology, and there’s a recreation of the editor’s Soho office. Admission is free. Runs until 8th January. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

One of the most significant events during the early year of King James I’s reign was the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot.

The plot, which involved a group of Catholic conspirators including Robert Catesby and  Guido ‘Guy’ Fawkes (you can read more about Fawkes in our earlier entry on Bonfire Night), centred on a plan to blow up the House of Lords in Westminster Palace during the State Opening of Parliament in November 1605, thus killing the king (who had aggrieved Catholics in a public denunciation at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604; it should also be noted that he was already aware of several other failed Catholic plots to kill him) and, presumably, many MPs and Lords.

It is believed they intended replacing James with his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, whom they hoped could be made more amendable to Catholic worship.

But such a plot was hard to keep mum and an anonymous tip-off to Lord Monteagle, a Catholic, not to attend the event, led authorities to eventually uncover the plot in a basement storeroom below the House of Lords where, at around midnight on 4th November, they found Fawkes guarding the 36 barrels of gunpowder.

Fawkes was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered – a sentence never fully carried out after he leapt off the scaffold and broke his neck – and the other plotters, who had fled from London soon after the discovery, were either killed during subsequent arrest attempts, imprisoned or executed.

So happy was King James I – that he had Act of Parliament passed which made the 5th November a day of thanksgiving – it remained in force until 1859. Celebrations of the plot’s foiling continue every year on Bonfire Night.

But what were some of the significant places in the event? The cellar where Fawkes was arrested no longer exists – it was destroyed during a fire in 1834.

The conspirators who had been arrested were subsequently taken to the Tower of London where King James I authorised the torture of at least Fawkes and perhaps others among the conspirators. Fawkes capitulated quickly and signed two confessions (which are now in The National Archives). Another of the conspirators, Francis Tresham, died of natural causes while in the Tower.

The eight surviving conspirators went on trial at Westminster Hall – still part of the Houses of Parliament complex today; the end of the hall is visible in the above picture – in late January 1606 and were all condemned to death for treason.

Four of them were executed on 30th January in St Paul’s Churchyard outside St Paul’s Cathedral while the remaining four including Fawkes were executed the next day outside Westminster Hall in Old Palace Yard. The heads of Catesby and Thomas Percy, both of whom had been killed during a shoot-out in Staffordshire, were set up outside the Houses of Parliament.

Arrests – and in some cases executions – of others believed to be associated with the plot continued in the following months.

Another place of note in the story of the Gunpowder Plot is Syon Park in the city’s west, now the London home of the Duke of Northumberland. The aforementioned Thomas Percy was a cousin of the then Earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy, and apparently dined with the Catholic earl at the house on the night of 4th November, before the plot was uncovered.

That association subsequently led to the earl’s arrest and he was confined to the Tower for the next 15 years on the order of the king.

It’s Guy Fawkes Day!

November 5, 2010

Guy Fawkes Day has arrived. In case you missed it earlier this week, here’s our explanation of the origins of Bonfire Night.

For a comprehensive list of where you local bonfire is taking place in London, take a look at the View London website.

This week, on November 5th and surrounding days, people across England will mark Bonfire Night, an annual event which involves burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on top of a bonfire and setting off copious amounts of firecrackers.

So who was Guy Fawkes and what’s it all about?

Bonfire Night (the 5th November is also known as Guy Fawkes Day or Fireworks Night) has its origins in 1605 when a group of Catholics – including Guy or Guido Fawkes (the latter the Spanish form of his name) – attempted to blow up parliament in what became known as the Gunpowder Plot.

Born in York in 1570, Fawkes converted to Catholicism some time before selling his inheritance and heading to continental Europe where he fought as a mercenary for Catholic Spain against the Protestant Dutch in the Eighty Years War.

Having later travelled to Spain where he unsuccessfully tried to drum up support for a Catholic rebellion in England, he then returned to England where he was introduced to Robert Catesby, who planned to assassinate King James I and much of parliament and put a Catholic monarch back on the throne.

Having leased an undercroft beneath the House of Lords, the group of 13 plotters stockpiled gunpowder there with Fawkes put in charge of lighting it on 5th November before making his escape to the Continent. An anonymous letter, however, to Catholic Lord Monteagle warning him not to attend the State Opening of Parliament, led authorities to the site around midnight on 4th November and there they found Fawkes guarding the 36 barrels of gunpowder.

Arrested (he initially gave them the name of John Johnson), he subsequently confessed under torture and was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered – a sentence which he shortened by leaping off the scaffold and breaking his own neck before it could be carried out. The other plotters were also either killed, imprisoned or executed.

Bonfires were supposed to have been lit the night after the plot was foiled – 5th November – to celebrate the king’s safety and they have been ever since that date (in fact, James I passed an Act of Parliament making 5th November a day of thanksgiving – it remained in force until 1859).

Effigies of Fawkes followed (although some people substitute that of Fawkes with other people) as did the firecrackers. Some children carry effigies of Fawkes around asking for a “penny for the Guy” in an effort to apparently raise money for firecrackers. The poem which starts “Remember, remember, the fifth of November” is also associated with the night.

The night, which is now celebrated for all sorts of reasons – some suggest Guy Fawkes should be recognised as a hero for defending persecuted people against governments, is reportedly still observed in places as far afield as the US and New Zealand.

The cellar where Fawkes was arrested no longer exists – it was destroyed during a fire which consumed much of the medieval Houses of Parliament in 1834. But interestingly, the Yeoman of the Guard still do search the Houses of Parliament before each State Opening of Parliament. Two confessions signed by Fawkes are held at the National Archives.

PICTURE:  Agata Urbaniak (www.sxc.hu)