Firework Fetish 2: Indoor Fireworks

Pic of 1960's indoor firworks by Martin Weselby (600 x 395)

There’s major part of my “Fetish” that I didn’t mention. Sadly it isn’t something I’ve experienced since probably the late 60’s, and that’s Indoor Fireworks. Indoor Fireworks you ask, surely some mistake? Not the type that Sergeant Alan refers to in his comment on “Firework Fetish”? No, you read me right, mini Pyros for use INSIDE the home. I think my earliest recollection of them is connected with Christmas Crackers, as I believe that at one time individual Indoor Fireworks were placed in Crackers alongside the paper hat and cheesy joke, as a type of novelty. I have a vague recollection of Crackers that once you’d taken them from the box it revealed a number of small perforated doors containing said Pyros. Can anyone verify that?

But the most common Indoor Fireworks I can remember were just like the ones in these beautiful photos by Martin Weselby. These little Pyros only happened at Christmas, which was such a “gas” for a kid like me, who loved and still loves Christmas and Fireworks with a passion. They were by no means spectacular, but several did flash and delight, and of course the mini Sparklers were a good reminder of the excitement of November the 5th, with their distinctive smell, which I’m pleased to say remains unchanged to this day.
And that’s a big part of the Indoor Firework experience, the smell! For instance, the “Flashing Lighthouse” which for all intents and purposes was like a miniature Roman candle, a bright sparkling flash of a morsel. But the smoke it gave off was phenomenal, and would easily fill the room. I can’t quite recall the smell, only that I loved it and that it was VERY chemical. Another classic was the  “North Pole” which I believe was essentially what were then called “Coloured matches”, long headed matches that burnt considerably longer than regular matches, with a coloured flame.

Tabella Box - Indoor Fireworks (2) (600 x 391)

And of course a concept that would be totally frowned upon and banned immediately(if not sooner!)in this day and age, the “Smoking Monkey”. Just like the little fellas with grand moustaches in Martin’s photo, who look like they have massive spliffs in their mouths. Just light the tip of the ciggy and yay! they start blowing smoke rings, more lovely chemical smoke! I can remember buying a little Monkey (made from plastic probably) at the wonderful Joke shop in Colchester, along with lots of little fags for him to smoke, what a happy little Monkey he was! And they sold Bangers out of season too,  a wonderful shop.

The “Snake in the Grass” was again a small flashing beauty, which when lit produced what looked like a wee Snake coming from it’s lair, some 4 or 5 inches of chemical ash rising from the cardboard. Or a big long curly poo depending on how you looked at it. How thrilling!
And another mini marvel missing from Martin’s pics is “Snow Storm”, again a cone of silver foil that when lit produced a shower of white chemical ash that would fill the room like a mini blizzard. Again with a major fog of chemical smoke. Also available at the Joke shop, small white pills that you put on a saucer that also produced a similar effect, I remember them being in blister packs.

Of course the promise of Indoor Fireworks was far more grand than was actually delivered, and the packaging probably excited me more as a young boy than the little Pyros themselves. I recall the kitchen in the family home at Fitch’s crescent, Christmas night, early evening, the family excitedly gathering around the table, the lights low, with either Jed or my Pa on lighting duties, happy times.
But oh that smoke!

Chemistry set (501 x 391)

And that’s probably why I cajoled my parents into letting me have a Chemistry set. A Chemistry set you ask? Children allowed to play with dangerous and toxic chemicals? Surely some mistake? No, again you read me right, in the 1960’s and way back to Victorian times, kids were allowed Chemistry sets, as an educational toy. And the selling point for me was the hype about them inferred that they had some “Magic” ingredients, more like Alchemy than Chemistry. Way before Harry Potter. And of course I was convinced I could make my own Gunpowder, which was surely one small step away from making my own Fireworks!!!
I actually found my Chemistry set recently whilst going through the bowels of my outside store cupboard. Ma and Pa couldn’t afford to buy me a Chad Valley set, so clever Pa made me a grand looking wooden box to keep all the bits and pieces I acquired from another wonderful shop, this time in Chelmsford, called Body’s. Body’s was right of Burger King, on the edge of the bridge, a marvellous old fashioned chemist’s shop, that amongst the myriad of pills and potions, and surgical aids too numerous to list actually sold chemicals! And it had a beautiful red neon sign above the door.I can recall buying Magnesium ribbon from this shop, which was a fabulous coil of silver metal, inside a small cardboard box the size of an incence cone box. I acquired my fondness for Magnesium ribbon at school when some hapless Chemistry teacher showed us the effects of burning Magnesium. Right, we’ll be having some of that then, looks a bit like a Firework, and the fact that it burnt at 473C (883F) and was extremely dangerous was irrelevant, the flame was beautiful and bright white and I had to have some!

Body's chemist in Chelmsford in the 70's

Of course it would be a dreadful lie to suggest that I was committed to the educational qualities of my Chemistry set, all I wanted to do was blow things up, or at least make them fizz and erupt uncontrollably. A customer of mine told me one of her friends managed to blow his little finger off attempting to make his own Fireworks, in the family garage, with his Chemistry set! Bet he wore that stump like a badge. “No, I didn’t go to the ‘Nam, I did it making my own explosives!”
He must have been a God amongst his school mates………..

And so I read that certain American chain stores are predicting the must have toy for boys this Christmas will be the revamped, new improved Chemistry set! Without chemicals…………..but with safety goggles and apron.
Isn’t that a bit like Ringo being the last of the Fab Four reforming the Beatles with Liam Gallagher? Beatles lite. Chemistry set lite. Oh how sad………………

Anyway, as a last word about Indoor Fireworks, I think I spot a rather sinister  sub plot here. Silver foil wraps. The inhalation of toxic smoke. Little white pills, the smoking “Monkey”, “Flashing” Lighthouse………..God it’s a wonder my entire generation weren’t drug addicts and Junkies! And if that wasn’t enough,  they then gave us our own laboratory and chemicals and said “Go forth!”

Smoking Monkey

“Alwight Tel?!?”

10 Responses to “Firework Fetish 2: Indoor Fireworks”

  1. Hi Terence.

    Absolutely brilliant blog on Indoor Fireworks. I couldn’t have summed them up better myself and I own the box you describe! Such a shame such simple pleasures have virtually disappeared now. My mate’s son has just bought a modern pack to let off at Christmas and to his dismay two of the fireworks had actually been removed from the pack due to the latest regulations!

    Your other Firework Fetish blog is also brilliant, bringing back some great memories including the Johnny Seven (with which I accidentally shot my Uncle’s carefully constructed Airfix Galleon, complete with cotton rigging) and the Civil War Cards (remember the Battle Cards as well!). I’ve also got a bit of a firework fetish (some call it Pyromania!) and have quite a large collection of memorabilia. My article halfway down the following web-page might interest you:

    http://surrey.greatbritishlife.co.uk/people-and-places/people/main-menu-food-and-drink-drink-features-surrey-wine-heard-it-on-the-grapevine–177717/page/2/

    If you want some other photos of indoor fireworks and other firework items in my collection, I’d be happy to send you them.

    You whole site is really interesting and has brought back some great memories for me and a sudden reminder of those famous words on the back of the Ziggy Stardust album which my parents always regretted “TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME”

    Cheers.

    Martin

  2. I found this site looking for ‘Body’s’ the chemist – my mother worked there in 1940!

  3. I’m amazed and delighted by the reaction to my Firework Fetish articles.
    It would seem I’m not the only person in this country who loves and adores Pyros, especially the old “Blue touchpaper” variety, which were finally phased out in 1995 because of safety factors. The reason being was that they were inconsistent in terms of fuse timing, and indeed as my Pyro buddy Martin Weselby says, there were times when you’d light the blue touchpaper and the Firework would ignite immediately, as a result of powder leaking into the fuse. This did make things a bit more exciting on occasions and taught you to respect them more!
    People may not be aware but there’s a growing number of Firework “Fetishists” in this country who collect the vintage blue touchpaper firework memorabilia, and I for one can totally understand that. Having spoke to a number of these people there’s several things they all have in common: obviously they adore Fireworks, and love lighting them, and have great nostalgia for the pre 1995 Pyros.
    And a general nostalgia for the 1970’s too, when music, art and literature were on fire! I think it’s now given that was the last time British culture was truly original and meant anything, certainly globally but definitely nationally.
    These people are patriotic too, and see Fireworks as a major part of British culture.
    Our sort are typically in their 40’s and older with the type of moral upbringing that made us respectful of our parents and authority in general(ok at least up til the Punk years, when we had time out!)which instilled a proper set of morals to deal with life, and made us pretty damn responsible adults.
    We were taught old Christian values, knew right from wrong, respected other people’s property and beliefs, whilst still reserving the right to say “Bollocks!” when we disagreed.
    One of the big things that unites most of our generation is a disgust at the “Nanny state” and all that entails, and truly see it as a complete erosion of British culture and freedom in our society.
    It’s incredible. In their efforts to minimise costs and increase profits big business is watering everything down, our Fireworks, our food, our coffee, our booze, with the over-zealous Health and Safety brigade backing them all the way. As the Reverend Ron Lancaster said in November 2007 “The only growth industry in Britain is Health and Safety”.
    But the very people that are telling the masses what they should do, and what should be “banned” have been shown to be completely corrupt, in every possible way. They have lied to us, and stolen from us, and they continue to do so.
    A lot of these “clever idiots” harp on about our “broken” society, and we can all see evidence of that being true.
    But I sincerely believe these people should rule by example, yet what’s the average young Chav going to think when he hears his local MP has been robbing the country blind for many years? I’m sure he thinks “F**k ’em, I’ll have some of that!”
    These buffoons don’t realise they are the very people helping the moral decline of this country, along with of course the more unsavoury elements of American culture. Ok I know my parents thought the New York Dolls were going to turn me and my buds into cross dressing transsexual drug fiends(what’s wrong with that then?)but Kee-rist they didn’t preach misogyny, murder and the “kill or be killed” attitude of the basest forms of Rap.
    I don’t know how to fix our beautiful nation, but I do know just like a partner in a relationship that has “a bit on the side”, trust is broken between us and our “Old boy’s club” politicians, and I can’t see how it can ever be restored. Because they’ve lied to me so many times, have been shamed as liars and criminals and continue to lie and I see no change in the future. The best thing that could happen is they all step down and we start anew. And hey let’s chop all the heads off the monster, the parliamentary committees, the junkets etc. If we stopped ALL that robbery we’d probably have a fully functional NHS, and money in the coffers for proper care for the elderly, which I believe is the most important problem facing our country in the near future.
    There’s a song, it’s called “Rule Britannia”. which was originally a poem by James Thompson(who was a Scot!), set to music by Thomas Arne, in 1740. It’s probably on the government’s banned list now, but the song was originally meant to show a pride in the freedom we had as a nation(personified by Britannia, a symbol of our fair isles since Roman times, and a beautiful woman to boot!). Of course this probably offends any number of politically correct souls nowadays, my advice to them being if it bothers you, bugger off!
    The lyrics of the first 3 verses are:
    1
    When Britain first, at Heaven’s command
    Arose from out the azure main;
    This was the charter of the land,
    And guardian angels sang this strain:
    “Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
    “Britons never will be slaves.”
    2
    The nations, not so blest as thee,
    Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall;
    While thou shalt flourish great and free,
    The dread and envy of them all.
    “Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
    “Britons never will be slaves.”
    3
    Still more majestic shalt thou rise,
    More dreadful, from each foreign stroke;
    As the loud blast that tears the skies,
    Serves but to root thy native oak.
    “Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
    “Britons never will be slaves.”

    There’s also a version that contains the lyric “War shall cease, welcome Peace”, still amazingly apt!
    As David Bowie once said: ” Give us back our unity, give us back our family…………….”
    Where is Guy Fawkes when we need him the most? “The only man to enter Parliament with honest intentions”!!!

  4. Hi Terence, stumbled upon your website whilst waiting 4hours for a plane to Malta. You may remember me, I lived down the chalets with Chaz, and generally bummed around Maldon in my younger years.
    Saw you on soneones Facebook and got directed here.
    I was on a real nostalgia trip reading about the fireworks. Isn’t it great how the net has bought people together. I no longer feel so alone in my fondness for fondling a firework!
    I found a forum called UKFR, and we get together once or twice a year and have a play in a field somewhere. My names Shedman on the forum. What a relief to find some likeminded nutters!
    I’m hoping to see some fireworks in Malta. They make the most intricate and elaborate and massive catherine wheels, plus the shells, made by the churches, are quite a spectacle, being hand designed to fill an entire acetylene bottle which is then used to launch them. Health and safety, although important is secondary to the love of the fireworks. Check out Maltese fireworks and Las Fallas in Valencia if you want to combine a holiday and a passion!
    Glad to see you’re still rocking and rolling, last saw you down the maltsters around 99 so may have to look up another gig, and I’ll bring a little something for your collection!
    God Bless

  5. Hi Terence,

    Thank you for sharing your passion for indoor firworks from a bygone age.

    I don`t know if you are aware, but there is a `not for profit` society called the UKPS, I and few others are in the process of creating the UK`s first firework museum in west sussex.

    Please take a look at our dedicated project website – http://www.wellsatamberley.org

    You can also join our forum (free) or join our firework society – http://www.pyrosociety.org.uk

    cheers

    Keith

  6. nice colours on your site here, and your recollections were vivid enough to get a strong scent also…thank you very much, you are the only person who posted the rare image of the fireworks…..mmm..nectar :))

  7. Your blog posts are very entertaining, truly laughing out loud! Thanks for sharing your wit!

  8. Hello Terence,

    very nice website.
    Take a look at our indor fireworks.

  9. May the Fawkes be with you all!

  10. Hello Terence, I actually have a box of 12 Harlequin Christmas Crackers made by Batger & Company Ltd of London. They have never been taken out of the box so I don’t know whether the fireworks are inside the crackers, or underneath as I think you have suggested. We’re taking them to an antiques fair tomorrow, if they don’t sell temptation may get the better of me on Christmas day after a couple of glasses…. If you like I’ll send you pictures of them.
    Regards, Joe.

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