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The Writings of the Immortal Lou Nadin

July 2003

Early Recollections

by Lou Nadin

Born in 1921, I have vivid memories of life between the wars, as seen through younger eyes - a varied and fascinating world of tramcars, steamships and railways, music, flowers and fireworks. Ships' sirens, burning embankments and flash bangers terrified me for a while, but once primed with the sights and sounds of this hostile world, rebellion made way for enchantment.

In 1925, still fearful of the dreaded flashpowder, I settled for a collection of squibs - or devils, as I preferred to call them. One of the corner grocery shops sold Excelsior Fireworks, and many a long browse over the ha'penny box would drive the shopkeeper spare - 'Come on son, my dinner's going cold', he would groan, as his cigarette turned to ash, hanging perilously above the box of 'small goods'.

My grand collection costing 1/8d comprised 'devils' of every available colour combination, many of them in plain colours without printing - not so much as 'Guess what'! I let my elder brother light them and asked if they would bang. He was not sure, so after two seconds of fizz I went indoors and hid under the table; well, caution in the face of uncertainty is a commendable aid to longevity when dealing with explosives.

The brightly coloured devils all popped off, then came the male - a penny Peacock's Plume. It had a lemon- yellow, slightly oval case with bold black lettering, and was a one-star roman candle about 12mm bore.. but dare I watch it? I stood in the doorway, wrestling with caution, when my brother announced the 'big green ball' which I ran out to see - just too late!

Having now somewhat got the measure of things, I resolved to keep a closer eye on future proceedings. 1926 afforded a capital outlay of 2/5d, and I ventured into the twopenny range when I visited the village newsagent who displayed a Brock's 1/- Jack-in-the-Box, and a 2/- Mine of Serpents in the window.., real mind stretchers! The twopenny versions were about 2 1/2-in high by 1 1/4-in diameter and had similar wrappers except in colour. The jack was red, merging into violet, with white flashes joined with 'lightning and the mine was yellow merging into red with white serpents similar to the current design of Brock's window display units.

The performance was pleasing but fell short of the inspired art work - just three off-white stars, probably a simple mix of chlorate and shellac, with a dash of charcoal. They rose about eight-to-ten feet, burning crisply. Examination of the inside of the case revealed it was rolled from thin card with printed photographs, which were almost unblemished by the heat of the lifting charge. Next year I should venture into the battlefield of the public bonfire...

By 1927,1 was a frequent visitor to Warrington's main toy shop, run by a genial Tom Prince who was appointed Brock's local distributor. In late September the small goods went on display, followed in mid-October by the larger goods, filling all the remaining glass cases -a wondrous sight, whilst in the window stood a 7/6d 24 oz rocket with a stick about seven feet high, and it was real!

A penny firework called Salvo, when stripped of its red wrapper revealed two penny flash-bangers of unfamiliar design - perhaps withdrawn, or purchased from the defunct Belle Vue Fireworks Co. In action, one banger rejected its companion sideways - the sort of thing our Safety Committee love to ban, but I was delighted with the 2d version which performed like an aerial maroon, shooting the second banger high into the air.

Brock's Snow Spray was the supreme white dazzler, a squat cascade containing large-flake aluminium with possibly a chlorate or perchlorate oxidiser. Standard's Snow Storm was not so bright and appeared to have a saltpetre and fine (paint) aluminium composition giving a pinkish flame with yellowish white sparks. A much brighter composition has been used since World War 2, probably using barium nitrate.

 In 1928 I moved into a junior school and found a new Excelsior shop, where the big boys bought their whizz bangs - fat white flash-cannons with a protruding flat blue fuse like that of a jumping cracker or rip-rap. I discovered similar bangers called Radium Flash; the pink ones exploded with a green flash, and the green ones with a pink flash... had there been a mix-up with the labels? The flash powder colours were not very deep but quite unmistakable. Why have we never seen these since? They would make a very novel rocket garniture!

The same day I also bought a 2d Shimmering Mine. It had a pastel-green case with black lettering, and again came up with something new in colour - amongst the silver- glitter stars were points of violet. Now even at the age of seven I sometimes had the feeling that I'd seen everything, but here was a breakthrough into secondary colours. I've never seen violet stars since, except at professional displays.

Single-shot Bomb Shells and Star Shells were glued to a circular strawboard base, whilst repeaters had a wooden point, stained red which, in post-war days, was superseded by the now familiar plastic version. Standard's 2d Air Bomb was virtually identical with today's product except for the base. Now in packs of six they have recently been up-graded from size 9 to size 10 per pack. Similar shaped fireworks were Standard s Lighthouse and Lion's Lightship which stood vertically, whilst projecting three jets of fire horizontally via three holes punched around the top periphery - another one to outrage the safety conscious!

Determined to see a real Jack-in-the Box with rip-raps, I spent two week's pocket money on Brock's 6d version. How disappointing to find only the usual stars, but I was later surprised to find that Standard included a rip-rap even in their 2d size. Lion gave two, and Cannon Fireworks produced a 2d square-cased jack with three rip- raps! Unfortunately this make never appeared again.

Standard's 4d, 6d, and 1/- jacks were superb. A real boy's aerial banger was Brock's 2d AA Artillery, shooting up two bangers simultaneously. Their Brocken had, in addition, two red Bengal matches as stars - presumably devoid of their phosphorous tips. Standard's2d Shrapnel Gun discharged three weaker bangers and their Skyscraper (1/2-in bore) discharged a flying flash-banger. Its drive composition appeared to be steel fire, with pyro-flash bounce. I think Brock's introduced their Hummer in 1930 - something totally new in sound, which was followed in 1931 by Pain's Humming Spider, then Lion's Buzzing Bee in 1932 and Standard's Screecher 1934-at least that was the order in which I discovered them. Pain's also did a 2 1/2-in long hummer unit at only ld - called Racketeer -a superb ground spinner, like a travelling musical top.

New to me in 1932 were Lion's Whistling Coon Shell and Musical Crash Bang - both 2d. These introduced into shop goods the dreaded picrate whistles which occasionally detonated on discharge, and worse - the bangers would detonate if you tried to light them at the bonfire, due to restriction at the aperture when forced against a burning log. Super fireworks though when fired correctly.

(In the next issue of Fireworks looks at the remainder of the 1 930s until the destruction of the Crystal Palace).

Early Recollections

Whilst large tourbillions with curved wooden wings, or sticks were well known in Victorian times, the 1930s saw the introduction of a simpler version in the twopenny range - Brock's Autogyro with cardboard wing, opposing corners of which provided elevator flaps marked 'bend slightly upwards' was matched by Standard's Aeroplane which had a more spectacular silvery fire. One jet at 45 degree angle provided rotation and lift at the same time, doing the work of four jets on the original models - and it worked - usually! Standard's 4d and 6d versions may have had two jets, they certainly gave a faultless performance.

Other flying novelties were Brock's 2d Rolypoly - a simple flyer about 5-in long, 3/8-in bore with a paper cone slipped over the clayed end, while Standard's1d Hoppity Hop had a perforated oval disc glued over its end. Nicely turned wooden cases also appeared: Standard's 2d Guy Fawkes' Barrel was filled with red fire. Brock's 1936 list includes a Guy Barrel - probably similar, and Pain's did a wooden cascade for 1/2d! (Emerald Casquet, I think)

Returning to conventional tubes, by 1932, I had ventured into the 1/- range, and Lion's 1 oz Maxim Gun Rocket contained at least nine thunder flashes - some volley! Their 1/- Thunder Flash Roman - about 1-in bore - shot a series of four very powerful air bombs to a considerable height. Standard's 1/- Parachute Floating Light was identical to today's size 9 product, except that the parachute flare changed colour - red-white-green in 1936.

Jewel Fountains of old had chlorate/sulphur coloured star clusters embedded in meal powder, interspersed with increments of Chinese fire containing cast iron borings, which, if untreated, could heat up... quite a horrifying combination well consolidated with a mallet and drift! Between the wars, they usually contained 1mm - 2mm hard chippings of purple, green and red stars, mixed into a fine golden rain, lightly compressed into 1d and 2d cones, or long choked fountains such as Pain's 2d Durbar Jewels. Pain's also made a superb 2oz Jewelled Fountain about 5-in long with 5/8-in bore costing 4d.

The only Wilder's product I encountered in the 1930s was a spent 4d Silver Screen. About 1930 I found a corner shop offering Wells' Fireworks, but they looked unattractive, especially the 1d Roman Candle with dubbed end dipped in glue and red lead - a process normally limited to squibs, rains, starlights and the like, also the shiny pink paper failed to take the black print properly. However, I was much impressed with Wells' presentation in the display field when, in 1936, I became the proud possessor of one of their beautiful programmes given to me by my previous form master who was Hon. Secretary to the Cottage Hospital Fete Committee which presented an annual firework display.

Back in 1930, my headmaster suggested someone wrote to Brock's asking for samples. One lad did so, and was disappointed to receive only a price list. I asked if I could look at it, and he said 'You can keep it'! I vaguely recollect that the front cover was devoted to such irrelevancies as Guy Fawkes and schoolboys, but the back was crammed with black and white reproductions of various fireworks including large set-pieces which were quite new to me. Within the folder was a list of everything from 1/2d to 60/-, from squibs and feathers to shells and waterfalls, and from water fireworks to Montgolfier Balloons.

The smaller goods were well known to me, but as I strayed over to the columns on the display side, the names read like an incantation - even the price sequences seemed meaningfully poetic! Never in the field of music, literature or religion have I ever been so moved to the very depths of my being, as by the images evoked by that simple price list. It was inexplicable, inexpressible, but the next list seemed to have lost something in the revision.

However, the magic of Brock and the Crystal Palace was undiminished, and when my family moved from Warrington to Amersham in January 1935, it seemed fated that Brock's had also moved from Sutton to Hemel Hempstead - only twelve miles from my new home, and Mr Arthur Brock - younger brother of the famous C.T. - lived in a beautiful white house called Haredon only a mile away!

From the age of eight, I had attempted to make fireworks under the guidance of my brother and it had gradually expanded into a full-time hobby. When I left school I longed to work at Brock's. Meanwhile, local chemists supplied me with chemicals, and my brother agreed to sign the poisons register when necessary. At school, my deskmate told me I could buy Curtis and Harvey's gunpowder at a nearby ironmongers. It cost only 11 1/2d per half pound! Later another lad brought a paper bag full of fine grain powder to school for me, and yet another presented me with a copy of Dr W.H. Browne's Practical firework making for amateurs which had cost 2/6 in 1880. Our insurance agent, whose son was also in my class, got wind of my activities and requested an inspection! This was made in my absence, but thankfully no change was made in the premium.

Whilst poring over Alan Brock's Pyrotechnics, newly purchased for 10/6, a companion told me his father was taking him to a Crystal Palace display that very week. Lucky lad! I never made it to the Palace, nor to Brock's, but settled for the comfort of the family business in November 1936. Settling down after work I switched on the radio to hear the news, which commenced: 'The Crystal Palace is on fire from end to end'.

A sad Mr Brock later spoke over the air of his firm's long and fiery association with the Palace, and how it was now destroyed by fire of a different kind. It was indeed the end of an era - perhaps the end of all hope as the war clouds loomed, and frightened politicians bluffed their way irretrievably into the inevitable consequence of war.

Round Up: Pyro Smiles (contained in Round Up) , by Bennett, John  in issue 17

The lightning response of Lou Nadin to issue 16's Astra Fireworks Competition won him Astra's £50 'X' selection of fireworks. His correct answers were: 1. Astra introduced an all-British policy in 1988; 2. Rainbow was the company absorbed into Astra; 3. The present Astra labels were introduced in 1986; 4. Astra's game was the Gunpowder Treason game; 5. The potted histories appeared in issue no.1, and 6. Remembering the Fifth in issue 2. As usual the competition answers were available in back issues of Fireworks. Our commiserations to those many other readers who correctly answered the questions, but whose replies just failed to beat Mr Nadin's.

Mr Nadin's response to our letter informing him of his success was:

'I don't believe it! Not being a gambler I seldom give myself a chance to win anything and would forget to claim it if I did, but not this time! I've tried - in vain - to buy this make for fifteen years and now you are giving them away! In a world so restricted by logic it takes time to adjust to miracles!'

Whilst the main objective in the publication of Fireworks may be to give pleasure and information to the enthusiast, it is gratifying to see some voice now being given to the trade on which our enthusiasm depends. In your editorial of issue 17 there is mention of false accusations and prejudice against firework manufacturers, the reasons for which often seem vague.

I suspect we are dealing largely with ghosts from the past, when the industry was very much in the hands of amateurs who, with luck, had coped with gunpowder and simple additives, but who were totally out of their depth when confronted by new highly reactive formulations which began to emerge in the nineteenth century.

The nature of high explosives would be incomprehensible to the uninitiated, and the phenomena of spontaneous combustion and detonation did create great alarm which may still echo down the corridors of time to haunt us today. Caring conduct in the firework industry now seems to compare favourably with the record of other hazardous industries which, coupled with the carnage on our roads, provides the main killing grounds of today.

The Rev Lancaster's article, 'Quo Vadis', (issue 17) tells of mounting stresses being heaped on the firework industry by disproportionate legislation. All too often laws seem to restrict the legitimate operator to the point of strangulation, whilst providing a legal loophole for the unscrupulous to get away with murder!

Perhaps, after all, freedom serves us best, if we temper it with enlightenment. The trouble is, we sometimes find people in management who are incredibly ignorant of the potential dangers lurking within the scope of their responsibilities.

When faced with new uncharted technologies such as nuclear energy, this is quite understandable, yet is in no way tolerable when it permits a serious accident within the same hemisphere! Tremendous local dangers can also be present in large chemical works which are declared safe - and then blow up... Remember Flixborough? A Warrington firm had devastating fires twice within eight months, and the explosive energies released in the second blaze produced the most terrifying picture I have ever seen - a fireball the size of a four storey warehouse rising into a mushroom cloud of dense smoke, towering hundreds of feet over a village which had to be evacuated, whilst the main London to Glasgow rail service had to be cut, and traffic on the Manchester Ship Canal held back.

Ten years or so ago, a serious fire with a series of explosions, occurred in a Midlands railway warehouse where chlorate weed killer was stored, and this was repeated more recently at a Manchester chemical depository situated near Exchange Station, close to the junction of main shopping streets - Deansgate and Market Street. News of the latter blaze and explosions was broadcast, and I immediately thought - that sounds like chlorate again!

The police had no information as to the contents of the building and had to locate the manager. An hour later, a radio bulletin confirmed that it was indeed chlorate, but the manager was mystified as to the reason for the explosions! Was there no record of a similar event which happened in the same town in 1908?

I have very little knowledge of chemistry, but was almost tempted to telephone the police to explain that chlorates release vast quantities of free oxygen when ignited, and that unventilated burning buildings accumulate vast quantities of unburned carbon gases. When these combine, a fireball develops, and when the elements reach stoichiometric proportions, a powerful explosion occurs. This may happen repeatedly, hence one may expect a series of explosions from a store containing several tons. In the 1908 fire, forty four tons of chlorate produced three explosions, which were heard ten miles away, whereas in the recent fire there were about a dozen explosions. However, with the damage already done, there seemed no point in warning the authorities of what they had now learned the hard way.

Here, on a city street, were dangers exceeding many times those which in a large firework plant would be dissipated over a hundred acres of private territory, yet no one was aware of the danger. What a different situation we find in the annals of the firework industry, where even over a century ago, C T Brock was largely responsible for formulating the guidelines for public and factory safety, as adopted in the 1875 Explosives Act. Indeed, his own firm's move towards the elimination of chlorate and sulphur compositions somewhat preceded the legislation banning them in 1894.

I have met several senior technicians from the firework trade, all of whom impressed me as being responsible, efficient, and very safety conscious, though, according to the Rev Lancaster (Quo Vadis), workers' anxieties can be somewhat erratic; one apparently preferred to fry to death rather than handle a poisonous phlegmatiser, which ironically was no more toxic than the barium oxidiser which caused the sensitivity. I am informed that barium solutions are administered nowadays just to facilitate a stomach x-ray - it sounds frightening!

Fear can sometimes be alleviated by precise understanding, but it should never be suppressed for the sake of expediency. Let us be constantly reminded of dangers lest we forget, but why bully the firework industry which has disciplined itself so well for the past hundred years?

'You must be mad; the crowds will be terrible', they said, but the prospect of seeing the ultimate firework display was not a matter for compromise. Armed with a special £4 rail ticket, I set off on my 200 mile journey, arriving at Euston early in the afternoon.

To my astonishment I found the underground almost deserted and was able to obtain instant refreshments at a stall before making my lonely way into Hyde Park. There the bands were playing for the procession and, through a forest of periscopes, I could just see the tips of the marchers' bayonets.

Never mind! the sun was shining and raindrops glistened on resplendent foliage. I seemed to have most of London to myself, yet felt the exhilaration of that enchanted city. Never once did I encounter anything to detract from the perfect joy of that day. Even a solitary drunk singing happily to himself raised no more than a broad grin from a watchful policeman.

Eager for the fireworks, I made my way to The Embankment and there, across the river, already erected along a thousand foot frontage, stood the giant set pieces.

With four hours to wait, I joined the three deep line of spectators, and there I would stay. Suddenly from across the river flew a formation of Lightning jets. A flurry or two of rain pattered our heads, but good humour prevailed, and, as the daylight faded, the ships and boats downed their lights. With only an hour to go, an air of anticipation pervaded an ever growing sea of faces. A solitary green Very light discharged from a river craft drew ironic cheers from the crowd, plus a comment from father to son: 'Right lad, that's it - off home!!'.

As darkness fell, tension mounted, until, at last, a portfire winked from across the water. Then a host of them scurried in all directions and up went the first maroon. I had seen flash maroons (as distinct from the black powder type) only once before, at the Liverpool Festival Display in 1951, where they performed with varied efficiency, but here the reports were hard and consistent, each maroon lifting off as the previous one shook the heavens.

This continued for some minutes whilst single rockets shed plumes of colour from an overcast sky. A glimmer of sparks now spread across a gigantic lancework set piece as damp quickmatch struggled to do its duty for the monarchy. Fiery replicas of Prince Philip, the Queen Mother, young Prince Charles and a diminutive Princess Anne were presided over by a mammoth portrait of a youthful Queen Elizabeth.

The maroons' relentless pounding was suddenly challenged by a barrage of mines from the bank. A gleaming twin column of silver glitter towered in awful majesty above the London skyline like some double headed Quatermass demon. Instinctively, one braced oneself for a sound of matching proportions, and it came as an almightly double thud, which, for one brief moment, struck terror into half a million hearts. It was as if the pavement had struck upwards at my feet with a violence that jarred my teeth. That one gigantic gesture seemed to define the scale of all that was to follow. The pace was set; the dimension fixed. Brock had spoken!

Now a hundred 16oz rockets soared into the void, and, suddenly, the sky was filled with radiant light, and the murky waters below became a shining mirror. Large Roman candles in eight huge batteries spanned the entire frontage, ignited by line rockets which tore down from battery to battery in less than a second. Coloured, Gloria and Empire stars each took their turn, and again the water shone.

In those days candles were seldom extraordinary but at least the stars rose uniformly to some 200 feet and included separate magnesium colours of white, red, green and amber, though the latter two appeared to also contain aluminium, judging by their long silver tails. The magnesium colours were more garish than present day examples, probably due to a chlorate content. The brilliance seemed harsher and less 'milky' than with nitrates. Goblin Guns at that period discharged silver glitter break stars, and the only other complex candle contained starshells with silver tails, commencing with mixed bursts of red and green and concluding with crackling clusters of the tiniest of flash reports.

I have no prepared notes or technical data regarding this display, but hope I have determined the shell details correctly:

Apart from an aerial arch of 3-inch comet shells, the smallest ordinary shells appeared to be no less than 8-inch diameter, fired fifteen at a time! The instantaneous 'crump' of their lift off suggests they were fired electrically, despite the presence of portfires, and a firing pattern was more or less maintained throughout the display, so that after the 8-inch, one could expect a salvo of ten 10-inch. In one case violet and green stars were displayed, while in another titanium/charcoal streamers featured which fell some distance away as faint comets, leaving behind a fine scintillating fire cloud in the sky. In later years, Brock's appear to have modified their titanium composition and added a powerful bursting charge which produced a much more dramatic, if short lived effect.

After the Royal 10-inch there would follow five 12-inch, then a trio of 16-inch to complete each shell sequence. The set pieces which followed each aerial sequence included a group of three Revolving Suns, the central one, of immense size, having about twenty arms, each powered by a 2lb. Chinese gerb. These contained cast iron borings which produced corruscating sparks like giant sunflowers. Chinese fire was frequently used for cascades, tree pieces and large horizontal wheels in those days, and I seem to recollect a long pyramid of eleven horizontal Revolving Fountains with coloured candles playing upwards.

There was also a trio of fixed pieces each comprising six arms with a six-case Brilliant Sun at each extremity, and one in the centre with coloured saxons, producing a mosaic of silvery-gold jets and whirling colours. The use of steel filings produced sparks of a finer, more elegant texture than the aluminium dross which one sees nowadays. Probably of 4oz calibre the 'fixt' cases were individually equipped with electrical igniters, and concluded predictably with black powder reports.

A simultaneous detonation of a score or more maroons, suspended from a Niagara of Fire of Crystal Palace proportions, heralded its torrential downpour, accompanied by the breathy squeal of sodium salicylate whistles. A brief interval was preceded by a mass flight of hundreds of rockets fanning out like a golden wheatsheaf, and culminating in a sky-wide canopy of blossoms. The general flights of a hundred were still breathtaking, and two very novel effects were produced by Dragon Fly Rockets. I was puzzled to note that the stars seemed to shoot out sideways instead of mingling with the tail fire. Presumably the attached candles had been reversed to point upwards so that the stars were deflected outwards as they struck the flared cap of the rocket. The choice of red and green was boring, but a similar flight with aluminium streamers produced a spectacular aerial trellis. Quick firing candles were also released from 16-inch shells which produced a similar effect in free-fall, beneath a contrasting backcloth of golden sheen.

New to me in 1953 were the silver-tailed rockets which emerged stickless from an enormous ground explosion - presumably a 25ªinch shell bursting in its mortar. These powerful rockets could well have been 16oz calibre and a hundred or more in number... some mine of serpents! I imagine this feature introduced Brock's plastic propellents which were soon to hit the retail market in the 3d Bolide Rocket. Before leaving the subject of rocketry, I would recall a few rockets displaying stars of colours quite unparalleled in depth and richness, and wonder if these were early experiments with ammonium perchlorate?

Prior to the Japanese 'invasion', one could not hope to see even one double chrysanthemum, but most of the larger shells here contained more than just stars, and included secondary multiple shell bursts, whistling bombs, thunderflashes, tourbillion, 'fixt', and wheel-turning cases, as well as those mentioned elsewhere.

Without doubt, the most devastating moment of the display was produced when three 16-inch shells almost overshot the river in a trajectory which emptied their contents over our heads! Three spider-like splashes of old gold stabbed their imprint on the sky, then all was lost in a glare of dazzling white light as the main content bore at our ear drums with a roar like the ripping of fabric amplified to infinity! Each shell must have contained a hundred or so thunderflashes - the sort they use for hardening the troops for battle - and the whole lot detonated within three seconds at what seemed an uncomfortably low altitude.

The echo rolled to and fro between the buildings, either side and along the river, then came roaring back from some distant headland with renewed vigour. Mute and stunned, should we drop dead or laugh? A suppressed snigger gave us a welcome lead! The display continued, then finished abruptly with no obvious finale. Shouts of 'More!' produced no response, but Brock had given us an hour we should remember with gratitude for the rest of our lives.

The crowd eventually began to move and I arrived at Euston in good time for my train, feeling, like my fellow travellers, hot and weary, but thankful for many things. Not least that we had been there, and seen that great city turn out as only London can, to give a truly royal reception; a reception, indeed, fit for a Queen.

No one was surprised when lads of my generation expressed a desire to become engine drivers or footballers, but a school essay on 'My Ambition' revealed one or two odd balls. One lad wanted to be a gents' hairdresser, and eyebrows might have been raised even higher had I not already made known my main affection. At twelve years of age I had three obsessions - steam railways, merchant ships and fireworks and, as I wished to go into business, fireworks would serve as a manufacturing medium, with a back-up venture in the form of a model railway for public exhibition. The latter eventually materialised and, although the firework factory did not, the love of pyrotechnics never diminished, and I often wondered why it should happen to me and to no one else - as far as I was then aware.

My earliest recollections of fireworks dates back to 1924 when my family visited my great aunt who prepared a small bonfire on the strawberry bed, whilst my father fired pinwheels and small fountains. These I tolerated from a safe distance and, to round off the evening, we walked up the avenue which led into a field where the big boys' bonfire blazed. My elder brother was soon spotted, silhouetted against the flames with his friends.

What appeared to be a very large pinwheel turned slowly on a high post at the back of the field. Suddenly a penny rocket swished into the blackness, arcing over menacingly in my direction, then mercifully cut out. As if from nowhere, a flash banger landed only a few feet away.. 'Oh bugger this, I'm off home', I swore - and that was that.

The next year my brother rose early one Saturday in October, leaving me in bed where I still reposed on his return. He sat on the bed and opened a 6d carton of fireworks, showing them to me one by one. They were fascinating, the pinwheel, rip-rap, starlight, flying dragon, and the fearful Brock's Cannon. All that pent up energy compromised the senses. I think that was the moment I was hooked and I accompanied my brother on his next shopping spree, making my first tentative purchase. The firework season became a way of life culminating each November in a symphony of space, fire and might.

There was a scent of something in the air whilst the ghostly echoes of distant detonations, and the faint bark of a dog, blended into a misty silence as we walked through the darkness towards the fire's red glare.

From the garden of a large house an expensive Roman candle lobbed its globes of coloured light above the hedge.. and a memory was forged. Large fireworks were seldom seen, but I think it was 1931 when, from the posh residential area about half a mile away, we watched a rocket climb majestically, to eject a golden 'Prince of Wales feathers' which hung in the sky for many seconds. There were four more; then, as we walked home, yet another, this time in dazzling aluminium fire.

I learned afterwards that these rockets cost 7/6d each - 24oz calibre, about 1 1/2" bore. Years later, in 1937, I saw a 3/6 (4oz) version in a shop window, and it was of Pain's manufacture. Alas even this was deemed beyond my 1/- a week economy!

The opening of a motor cycle speedway in Warrington about 1929 had produced a new fleeting interest, and, when it was replaced by a greyhound racing track about 1932, we ventured over to Belle Vue speedway in Manchester, but, of all the riders, only the name of Eric Langton was familiar - how quickly things change!

Then, through an opening in the scenic mountain railway, we entered the adjoining amusement park - a wonderland of music, motion and light, and, though there was no proper display, odd fireworks were going off. A salvo of four small shells burst into a cloud of reddish- gold fire dust tracings - like boomerangs. I have never seen this striking effect since, but imagine it was achieved by pill-box stars of golden rain composition beefed up with meal, like a shorter version of Lion's Dancing Demon, Comic Dancer, or Wriggler. These were sold in the shops at that time - vicious two second fountains which you were instructed to throw violently to the ground… they never danced for my brother, but he did! Wisely I chose to watch from a distance.

During the 1920s Standard made swift incursions into the corner shops, and one of these - Ward's - moved to the town centre into a double fronted shop in Sankey Street about 1931, stocking virtually the full ranges of Standard and Lion fireworks, which were piled onto a long L-shaped counter spanning the length and breadth of this imposing store. Customers had direct access to the goods and I remember holding a 5/- (16oz) rocket, and trying - unsuccessfully - to persuade my brother to splash out.

Next, we discovered in the same street two Pain's agents - Horobin's news agency, which is still in situ, and White's sports shop, which was regrettably demolished for street widening. The latter also had some fireworks open on the counter, and large dummies of candle batteries, a 10/- mine, and a huge Devil Amongst the Tailors displayed in the window. A whole new range of novelties was revealed to our great delight. The 6d Streamline Rocket carried a silver fountain alongside, and this double unit was fitted with two short sticks like two 2d rockets stuck together - but, disappointingly, with no garniture.

The Humming Spider, black cased with green marble-like streaks, had, I think, a red label, but, unlike Brock's Hummer, always gave an identical performance. Each unit would rise to about twenty feet, then dart off horizontally with a raucous scream. Aircraft Barrage was like an elongated mine and discharged a volley of flash bangers. Whirly Twirler - like a starshell, but charged instead with an aluminium composition - left a corkscrew of silvery fire in its flight. Hydra Headed Comet was similar, but ejected a gold sparkling comet which released a green star. Spangled Star Bomb discharged a red star with silvery tail - and these cost only 2d each!

Except when used in Jack in the Boxes, we were rather contemptuous of rip raps, but something urged us to try a giant 4d one.. What a joy! It went off like a machine gun and barely ever touched the ground. We could hardly wait to try a 6d one. However, this being longer, it did not manage to levitate so well. Lion listed a 1/- rip rap but we never saw one; what a pity these exciting and harmless little beasties have been withdrawn.

Letters  in issue 23 , page: 34

Barry Sturman's daring trespass onto the holy ground of sport, to expose the cost of injuries was priceless - how dare he?!! It would be a difficult task to analyse firework prejudice; the only way to preserve pyrotechny is to practice it. The banners want to ban it whatever we say, the motorist won by overtaking the man with the red flag and the law became inoperable. As long as the victim obeys, the bully threatens; freedom only exists in the will of the individual and failure to break that will has diverted the oppressors' attention from the subject to the object.

For 160 years - from 1690 to 1850 - the very existence of fireworks was illegal, yet manufacture and celebration continued, and the authorities had to legalise it in order to legislate for safety. This was done in such a way as to leave no legal loopholes for casual experimentation - thus cutting the main artery for the transfusion of new blood into the industry. Even this failed to starve the beast, hence a renewed attempt to kill it has emerged - again without success, but they never give up!

Now they are attacking fireworks one by one - eliminating the product by stealth - and look how our options diminish:

Before World War Two we had seen the last of rockets over 2lb calibre, and mines of flying serpents.

After the War came an immediate ban on multiple discharges of flash bangers (shrapnel gun etc.), except in the larger rockets which, in shop goods, were now limited to a 4oz maximum.

Standard introduced Telstar - a 25mm single-shot candle with a break star. Sensational! - until they removed the flash powder and ruined the effect.

Flash bangers, flying squibs and even ordinary recoiling squibs were then withdrawn - not to mention the harmless jumping cracker. If it moves unpredictably - ban it! Hence the jack-in-the-box lost its traditional garniture. In the 1960s, Standard made an air bomb type of firework which I think was called Flying Saucer. This discharged, simultaneously, three 'snakes', or 'tadpoles' which would have done justice to a Mine of Serpents - but, of course, that had to go.

Brock's at about the same time changed the style of their Goblin Gun from a silver glitter break-star to a flying flash-banger with aluminium tail and that soon disappeared from the shop counters.

Moving ahead to Standard's 1990 range, we find that all the familiar large rocket effects are deleted, together with their descriptive titles. Gone also, are the parachutes, traditional screechers and the volcano with its three-tier transformation, and presumably - on the assumption that some half-wit is going to eat the damn things - we can no longer be trusted with anything containing toxic material; so - no tri-sulphide of arsenic for the golden spur fire or barium nitrate in silver fountains; no copper arsenite for purple stars, nor barium chlorate for those rich emerald green stars. In fact the only distinct colours I saw in British 1991 shop fireworks were yellow and pink, which contrast badly.

In a democracy every individual is deemed to be endowed with certain inalienable rights in the pursuit of happiness, but this freedom carries with it a responsibility of self discipline, and because we fear the excesses of other people's freedom, we have consented to accept correction for our own trespasses. This does not give the government authorisation to ban that pursuit of happiness - only to bring pressure on the individual who causes offence. Thus, if we want firework manufacturers to produce the goods, we will have to first remove restrictive laws. - Lou Nadin, 4 Newlands Road, Stockton Heath, Warrington, WA4 2DS

More Recollections, part 2 , by Nadin, Lou  in issue 27 , page: 13

Except when used in Jack in the Boxes, we were rather contemptuous of rip-raps, but something urged us to try a giant 4d. one. What a joy! It went off like a machine gun and barely ever touched the ground. We could hardly wait to try a 6d. one; however this, being longer, did not manage to levitate so well.

Lion listed a 1/- rip-rap, but we never saw one; what a pity these exciting and harmless little beasties have been withdrawn.

Standard were never exactly reckless in those innovative pre-war days, but did manage to produce a Rising Sun, which accidentally lived up to its name all too literally. In those days its composition was of Chinese fire, and the 4d. one was gorgeous, but the 6d. version blew out its base with a dramatic 'Krakatoa' finish. Possible some iron filings had rusted into a solid mass and, when ejected, jammed in the aperture of the cone. Their 6d. Shooting Star Fountain had the appearance of a triple air bomb repeater, but shot six large red stars - good value but monotonous!

The 1d. Fairy Fountain - 1" bore and 1" high - had a strawboard top washer covered by a blue paper 'jam cover' which had to be torn off to reveal the tuft of black match, which you had to light directly and jump back quickly! Performance lasted barely more than two seconds but produced a six foot high fountain of Chinese fire.

Similar squat fountains were the 1d. Golden Orion and 2d. Golden Zodiac, but I think these both had lampblack (flower pot) composition, and were not so spectacular. As the motor car began to make a more painful impact, coloured signals began to control our crossroads, and Standard introduced the Robot Signal - similar to today's Traffic Lights. The presiding Minister of Transport, Mr Hore-Belisha, made a bid for immortality with his pedestrian crossings - so the Belsiha Beacon emerged as a penny cascade. I cannot remember whether an orange flame was achieved - maybe it introduced that annoying 'crackler' composition which was so overworked after the Second War.

Dazzling orange stars without crackle are now seen at displays, but the only prewar reference to this colour I can find is in Browne's Firework making of 1880, which gives a formula for 'Brilliant Orange Lances'. Aluminium was not then commercially available, and magnesium was very expensive, and its use in conjunction with colour was probably unthought of. Orange was achieved with four parts sodium oxalate and three parts strontium carbonate and the usual base compositions.

The coruscations produced by iron, steel and lampblack were familiar centuries ago, and, by the time I was taking notice (late 1920s), various glitter effects, apparently using aluminium or alloys, were in evidence, even in the tiny hand-held fireworks which we called 'waste-aways'.

The Mine of Serpents always conjured up magical expectations but, even by the 1920s, the retail product had lost its venom, ejecting short bits of pin-wheel pipe, instead of proper flying squibs or fat powerful saucisson though, around 1930, I did see a couple of lovely snakes turning over and over, rising from behind a forty foot embankment. Thus hopes were raised, and I dared to dream the dreams of Jocelyn Brooke, whose book A Mine of serpents reveals a kindred passion. Eternally optimistic, I bought a huge Pain's Serpent Mine in the late 1950s, but - alas - no venomous vipers, only snigs!

Standard's Tadpoles, and Whistles and Snakes, Rockets discharge aluminium snakes, but these too appear to be unchoked and very docile, producing silver ringlets instead of lashing tails.

Should terrestrial fireworks really matter to us? Is there indeed any virtue at all in physics? Probably virtue is a creation or experience of mind, yet somewhere betwixt the cold equations which operate in art and music lurks a trigger of inspiration which penetrates the psyche of all mankind - and apparently even that of birds and animals. Since time immemorial, the so-called elements of earth, air, fire and water have also struck an affinity with life, and man's contact with them still calls up a cry from within.

Consciousness of life's qualities absorbed through physical senses, which have only the means to quantify, may seem to transcend all logical understanding, but perhaps the justification of our humble longing is well enough expressed in the literary works of Roger Bacon, a thirteenth century English monk who loved to experiment with what we now call gunpowder. Upon considering the question, 'Why?' he wrote simply:

'When the flame of powder touchest the soul of man, it burneth exceeding deep'.

Lou Nadin on: Liverpool Festival , by Nadin, Lou  in issue 28 , page: 9

n Festival of Britain days British firework manufacturers were in full control of the home market. In the northern towns one could buy Brock's, Standard, Lion, Pain's, Wilder's, Excelsior - and a few newcomers! This diversity seemed to pervade all aspects of life and the River Mersey was still a throbbing artery of commerce, with liners and freighters steaming in and out of the ports of Liverpool, Birkenhead and Manchester in constant procession.

On 26 July came the first of three gigantic river spectacles, with air displays by the Fleet Air Arm's Seafury fighters and Firebrand Torpedo bombers; river displays by the Royal Navy's fast patrol boats, and the Port of Liverpool's tugs, pilot boats, dredgers, ferries, and a fireboat which projected plumes of water to a height of about 200 feet.

Mr Alan St Hill Brock came down from his Chorleywood home to conduct (by radio communication) the aerial display of fireworks, fired from two converging barge trains, hauled by Liverpool tugs.

Mr Brock spoke at some length over the tannoy whilst hundreds of thousands of spectators took their positions along the river front from Wallasey to New Brighton. The description in the official programme seems more poetic than accurate, and I can but describe a few of the effects which I clearly remember:

The opening sequence of aerial maroons appeared to introduce a modified flash powder in place of the usual grain - and evidently in unstrung canisters, judging by their inconsistent performance. The rocket flights of fifty (one pounders?) also lost a little of their impact, as two or three would blow through on lift-off, so robbing the climax of any surprise.

However, this did little to offset the overall grandeur of the display which I would place second only to the £12,000 Thames Coronation spectacular which I saw two years later.

Viewing at constantly varying distances - a half to one and a half miles - gave the display some novel qualities, notably the transient beauty of large coloured stars, like dancing orbs of gleaming light, rising silently from 200 Roman candles and falling softly towards their reflections in the tinted waters. And the almost echo-less hard bark of shell discharges across that great expanse seemed totally unrelated to the visual effects, often reaching us only when the last embers of their fading fire-dust hung low over the water in sullen disarray.

Shells were fired in salvoes of twenty five 5 1/2", ten 8", five 10", and single 12" and 16" diameter, but are described in the programme in circumference sizes - rather as they were in the Brock programme of 1880 reproduced in Fireworks, issue 11, (pages 12-13) except that the sizes were then based on the shell cases, whereas Mr Brock has now marginally enhanced the impression by quoting the mortar circumference!

The first barrage of twenty five mines gave my brother the impression a barge had blown up - indeed it was the first experience of pyro on the 'colossal' scale for both of us.

Candles of note were the Goblin Guns which produced a kaleidoscope of glitter comets breaking and darting in all directions with a constant crackle.

Five 10" Double Shells released a cloud of blue and violet stars, spreading an eerie glow of cold light, suddenly warmed by the secondary bursts of green and amber stars. A 12" shell containing 'fixt' cases of steel fire with grainpowder reports produced a mass of writhing silvery serpents which seemed to get more menacing as they spread and accelerated, finally going into a mad dance as they exploded.

The 16" shells lifted with less sound than I would have expected, the Roman Candle Shell broke with a splat of old gold, whilst beneath, the falling candles juggled their red and green stars in an ever widening canopy. The Shell of Shells was even more splendid, with a deceptively modest offering by the parent shell, followed by a bewildering and brilliant eruption as some two dozen small shells bathed the sea in dazzling light.

Perhaps the most dramatic effects came as the two barge trains met, and each fired a 16" Thunderbolt. These shells each released a hundred 4 oz rockets - an awesome sight.. the jagged amber flash from a pound of meal powder, the spikes of fire-dust trails stabbing outwards - overtaken by the firmer lines of radiation as the rockets roared in accelerating fury, finishing like giant sunflowers of a 1000 feet diameter.

For the life of me, I cannot recollect the grand girandole of 2,000 rockets - even though I attended the first two displays, and indeed saw the third one from the beach at Llandudno some thirty miles across the water. This proved interesting for, though most effects were reduced to a dim haze, one could clearly distinguish red magnesium, and even the tiny thunderflashes from rockets appeared as pinpoints of white amongst the haze of stars.

The final items were unmistakable - the Harlequinade - twenty six 5 1/2" white magnesium shells bathed the whole eastern sky in a ghostly radiance, sharply silhouetting the Little Orme. Passers by halted and asked gravely: 'What is it?' I was able to reassure them it was just old Brock - and I watched for the final barrage of maroons. The bold white flashes were clearly discernable - though sadly, not a sound was heard!

Lou Nadin on: Bangers , by Nadin, Lou  in issue 29 , page: 36

History may well record the banger as the most controversial of all fireworks, dreaded by mothers, the scourge of sisters, the terror of tom-cats - yet held in good natured contempt by fathers - and definitely the ultimate weapon of male adolescence.

I suppose it was really a tolerated outlet for belligerence - 'boys will be boys' - and, though we may have felt intimidated by our own initiation, fear soon becomes a challenge and leads to the degenerate joys of 'tit for tat'.

Guided through the November mists towards the glowing beacon, we knew that by the fitfulness of its light, our approach would be marked with the traditional greeting, and in a perfectly friendly manner we would return the compliment.

It was the 'done thing' for boys to hurl thunder-flashes at one another and seemed harmless enough, until the gap between violence and vulnerability closed.. children just don't believe in accidents until they happen.

In all my seventy four years I have never seen or heard of an injury from a firework, except through the media, but at some point the penny dropped - I suppose I grew up.

Charles Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby (1839) suggested a firework display costing only eighteen pence - nine men spread in a line holding up their arms at 45? from the vertical with a penny squib in each hand - 'it would be very grand - awful from the front - quite awful'.

No provision for 'fall-out' here, nor any consideration for fingers, but at least the reports were only black powder - not high explosive.

It seems the humble squib was in fact the traditional British banger until somewhere around World War I. It had the same dimensions in 1880 as it had in 1939, and, if these applied in Dickens' time, then the price remained static for a full century! The increase in workers' wages after World War I would be off-set by the reduction in retail profit margin and the development of some mechanisation in manufacture.

Long ago, the French introduced some shorter squibs - like our flyers, but fatter and meatier, having a choked case of 1/2" or even larger bore.

They had a powerful composition of meal powder and special (N?3) grade charcoal, with a report of 'lower-proof' or 'treble strong' - very fine grain powder. These were called 'saucisson' (sausages!) and are still effectively used in mines and shells, though they are now generally upgraded with flash powder.

We never really liked adopting French customs so we inverted the equation and called our sausages - bangers!

Squibs and devils were poor bangers and eventually lost even that which they had, but their fierce jet of sparks was visually pleasing and, with the introduction of cheap aluminium in 1894, the electric squib became practicable in a climate where steel dust would quickly corrode and, in the late 1920s, Lion were incorporating a new bounce mixture of fine grain plus aluminium flash!

Possibly this was an early experiment in the use of barium nitrate as a safe oxidiser for aluminium, whilst the grain powder would ensure its ignition.

About the same time, Brock's were inserting a 3/4" length of black match in their flash bangers indicating some anxiety about fire transmission from Bickford fuse to flash powder.

In his book, Pyrotechnics of 1922, Alan Brock lists only a chlorate oxidiser for sound production and this would require no assistance in ignition - which is the basis of my deduction that Brock's had probably changed over to the more stable per-chlorate by the late nineteen twenties, hence the match.

Does anyone know when flash-powder was first used in British-made shop goods?

The Chinese were untypically quick off the mark, apparently using it in Chinese crackers from the late 1890s, but no home-spun flash bangers or air-bombs appeared in the Pain's 1904 price list. Maybe the current British policy was already at work... If you can't compete - import!

I would guess that the Chinese crackers and cannons, plus some Japanese products, held their own until The Great War, when such imports were possibly banned due to suspect mixtures, following reports of terrible manufacturing accidents in China.

The world's first pyrotechnic explosions probably took place before the turn of the millennium - inevitably by accident, like most discoveries! As all fireworkers will sadly agree, it is much easier to succeed by accident than by deliberation. Try to get a good bang, and it goes FOP! Try to make a rocket or a gerbe, and it will shatter like you'd stuffed it with lead oxide.

History is drenched with the tears of failed amateurs, and the sheer cussedness of firework making soon sorts out the men from the boys, hence we have scores of display operators, but only a few intrepid souls who ram tubes!

The demise of the flashbanger has now seen the evolution of something which looks like one, but isn't and, performing so abysmally, appears to face imminent extinction.

Ageing enthusiasts may well mourn the passing of the Penny Wizard of the 1950s - or the prophetic Mighty Atom which preceded the vaporisation of Hiroshima by a decade or two.

With what swank in 1934 I put down 3/- (15p) for 72 Brock's 1/2d bangers, carefully monitoring the vendor's choice - Oh NO!! - not Cannons or flashguns - just the ordinary bangers: Little Wonders (blue), Boy Scout Rousers (yellow), Empire Guns (red) and Thunderflashes (green).

Constructionally, one might condemn them as junk, but you could cram three dozen in each pocket - and they looked good, set out on the kitchen table in their gay wrappers! There were also orange ones in the 1920s called Belle Vue Bangers, and they all gave as good a bang as you could get.

That sneaky short, silent fuse gave nothing away, so you could drop it at the victim's feet without detection. In rough justice, the biter was occasionally bit when the priming flashed around the Bickford fuse and fired the report in his hand, but it was all in the game, and you learned to hold them so the blast would escape without whipping your fingers too hard.

Heroes could get what they deserved!

Lou Nadin on: Bangers , by Nadin, Lou  in issue 30 , page: 5

I never understood why Standard's Little Demon was hailed by some as 'the best'. It was no different in construction from the Flash Bomb or Thunderbolt. They were neatly made, but the narrow case did nothing for the sound, and I thought Standard's flashpowder was weak. Even their pre-war Air Bombs seemed to lack virility! Standard's post-war Air Bombs were cheapest and best of all, and the general excellence of their products ensured their survival.

In the 1930s, Lion had a fine range of bangers in the richest of colours, substantial and reliable, with clayed ends and safe protruding hand-rolled spouts:

1/2d range: Thunderflash, Zulu Banger, Little Demon, Big Bang, Mighty Atom.

1d range: Thunderflash, Thunderbolt, Big Bang, Champion Banger.

Pain's also produced a superior product, and I can recollect the red Little Terror, with dubbed end sealed with orange wax.

In earlier days, we had favoured Excelsior bangers which gave a powerful flash report, but were bulky - like Cannons. A curious flat fuse protruded from one end, and I vaguely remember they occasionally flashed through! The Whizbangs were white and gave a white flash. Radium Flashes came in pink and green, and were the only bangers I know to produce coloured flashes.

In the 1920s, Standard introduced their 1d Big Demon (Little Demon's big brother) - then Brock's quickly followed their new 1/2d Little Wonder with a 1d Big Wonder of similar pattern - a new departure in design for 1d bangers - the Brock's possibly using a 3/8" Bickford fuse.

From Standard there also came the Double Banger at 2d - a weird red and black monster 6" long by 15mm diameter, clayed at both ends, with a 3/16" delay spout coming out at right angles from its long centre. Lion produced a similar Double Banger in pale blue, also a fabulous 2d Whistling Banger in orange - about 18mm outside diameter and 4" long, clayed at one end, with a 3/8" picrate whistle acting as delay fuse at the ignition end. I first encountered it about 1932 when it was called Musical Crash Bang, and it was re-named the followed year as Whistling Crash Banger. My brother held one whilst lighting it from the bonfire and the whole thing detonated, leaving his entire fore-arm numb for ten minutes!

Picrate whistles have this unique tendency to explode if there is any obstruction to their free combustion - even the pressure from a prime or propellant charge can cause this reaction, and, thankfully, safer catalysts, developed in World War Two, have rendered picrate of potash obsolete.

A simpler double banger came from Brock's in the mid-1920s - two flash bangers side by side in a single red wrapper, called Salvo, at 1d and 2d.

Brock's and Standard Cannons looked fierce to the uninitiated but were all paper and no guts, and came in 1/2d, 1d and 2d sizes. Standard's Pom-Pom has to be relegated to this category, but had a wider bore case choked to grip the usual spout, and probably used grain powder.

Brock's 1/2d Flash Gun used flash powder, but had a shorter, narrower, 3/16" bore, giving a weak, high-pitched, report, and it had a long hand-rolled fuse which was too conspicuous for our devious purposes! I do not remember seeing their Little Demon as listed in 1936, but I have recently acquired a dummy of their 11/2d post-war equivalent, and it is of similar design to the old 1/2d Flash Gun.

Wizard rocked the post-war market, introducing a penny banger when other firms were hard pressed to produce them at 11/2d or even 2d. Such was the efficiency of automated production, they even planned a 1/2d banger, but I don't think it ever surfaced.

Although fireworks produced in 1939 were stored for the duration of World War Two, I was unable to purchase any in 1945, so we had to endure eight years without fireworks from 1938 until 1946 when I managed to grab a Pain's guinea box - but prices had now doubled. By 1955, some pre-war prices had trebled. Lion retained their Zulu Banger, Mighty Atom and Little Demon, adding Wotabang, Block Buster and Sonic Banger, all at 11/2d, but they seemed shorter than pre-war designs.

Standard in 1962 did not list the names of their fireworks, but offered a 'Bang' selection in the 1d, 11/2d and 3d range, and I well remember the 3-2-1 Zero blackpowder cannon at 3d.

Wessex was now a name to be reckoned with, and had joined the penny banger brigade. Their 1962 list offers: Thunderbolt, Crasher, Earthquake, and Bomb Blast at 1d; Mighty Atom, Blaster, Barrier Breaker, and Block Burster at 11/2d; and Sarum Scarum, Dam Buster and Depth Charge at 2d. A Wessex 1948 'Factory Instruction Sheet' shows a 2d Sarum Scarum only 3/16" bore, using a flash explosive with a nitrate oxidiser. No interior space is left for the formation of a blast wave, so I assume these bangers would explode, but not detonate - an early move towards safety?

Brock's 1962 list includes a 1d Brock Bang, and five at 11/2d: Brock Buster, Atom, Bang, Demon, and Sonic Cannon. At 2d were Loud Banger and Smasher; at 3d: Thunderclap.

Pain's, like Lion, had evidently voted the penny banger a loser, and, by 1964, Pain's loud bangers were priced as follows: at 2d: Krakerjack, Little Terror, London Rouser, Cannon Crasher; at 3d: Cannon Crasher, Supersonic Bang.

After 1962, firework prices rose generally and, by 1969, Astra listed Royal Salute, Cannon, Bomb and Big Wallop at 3d, and Blast at 4d.

At displays, one is occasionally treated to powerful ground maroons - short tubes capped at each end with thin wooden discs, and wound tightly with strong cord which covers the entire surface. They are then dipped in glue to produce a tough brittle case. Strong grain powder can give a sharp, powerful thud in a well-made case.

Until recently, Chinese crackers were just something my mother remembered, but they now play an effective part in battle scenes and the like, using hundreds of flash bangers, sometimes of varied and quite large calibre, linked together with quick-burning fuse, giving a fast sequence of reports.

A childhood experiment to produce a bang sequence, by facing bangers at one another was successful up to three bangs, but we didn't understand that, if cases are too close alongside, the detonation wave from one will instantaneously activate all those in close proximity!

What is the biggest banger on record? Possibly the opening item in Standard's 1992 Lord Mayor's Show Display, which I believe was an 8" aerial flash maroon, topped with sintered titanium. Devastating!! - but I wouldn't put it past some crazy Spaniard to go one better!  . While English readers will be familiar with the origin of this name, our friends overseas might like to know that this banger was made in Salisbury - or Sarum - the name, of course, a play on Harum Scarum - Ed.

Lou Nadin on: The Shrewsbury Flower Show , by Nadin, Lou  in issue 31 , page: 34

The first display I saw at Shrewsbury was by Wilder's, and an excellent show it was (possibly in the late 1940s - anyway it was their last year before the Brock take-over). Wilder's did a superb set-piece called 'The Maypole', which frequently featured in subsequent displays by Brock - a horizontal wheel with six or eight strings of coloured lances hanging from the end of the spokes. As the wheel spun faster, the trailing strings spread outwards like the arms of a centrifugal governor.

Other features I recollect were a tremendous bombardment by thunder-flash candles, and the near-simultaneous discharge of mines and bursting of shells immediately above so that the streamers falling from the shells met those from the mines in mid-air.

Brock's displays were somewhat stereotyped, but nevertheless impressive - their first display being staged on the steep opposite bank of the River Severn, immediately opposite the showground arena, with illumination of the trees by loose piles of coloured fire and a wealth of set-pieces in elevated positions.

Shells were fired in sequences: 5x41/2" 3x51/2 and single 8", but in subsequent years the display was fired in the arena, and the 51/2 shells were eliminated in favour of mine sequences of 5x41/2" and single 8". The big shells included the usual multicolours, lampblack and other stars, but featured several 'specials' including Roman candles, whistling bombs, serpents (probably 1oz turning-cases), a gigantic umbrella of titanium comets, and a flash burst of red stars and aluminium comets which was singularly worthwhile for the big-bang - even if many of the stars came out blind!

About a quarter of a century later, hard times seemed to hit the show and a sponsored display by Excelsior was the last I saw for many years. I assumed the show was doomed and I heard no mention of it until Kimbolton took the contract, and how glorious was the comeback, with less smoke from ground works and a whole new world of aerial effects in such variety as I had never imagined.

There have been many innovations every succeeding year, and still the show thrives with two full days of major events, huge marquees of floral and other exhibits and a finalé each evening with male voice choirs, three top marching bands, terminating with the momentous '1812 Overture' played by the massed bands to a flurry of fireworks, before the grand display. The Coldstream Guards - last band to leave, play out with 'Old Comrades - accompanied by our 4-in-the-bar hand- clap... then the Rev Lancaster and his merry men re-light their green portfires, spilling red dross as the take up firing positions to the cheers and bravos of a waiting multitude of ardent supporters.

Shell-burst rockets, 30mm - 60mm bombette candles, volleys of star shells and magnalium colour mines, then from a thousand feet overhead, a 10" 'finalé' bombshell rouses a final cheer. If it isn't the biggest, it is now my favourite firework show!

Lou Nadin on: Belle Vue Gardens , by Nadin, Lou  in issue 32 , page: 8

The London Pleasure Gardens were a great attraction in our capital city during the 18th and 19th centuries and dreams of a similar facility for northeners began to take shape in the 19th century.

From a wayside inn, expansion took place with a collection of animals which, without the drive and vision of a genius, could not conceivably have developed into a nationally famous zoological park, let alone a sports and leisure complex of almost Disney-like proportions.

No doubt inspired by the grandeur of London's Great Exhibition of 1851, our intrepid inn-keeper engaged in a bold new venture in 1852 with spectacular enactments of famous battles which were continued without a break until 1939.

Fireworks played a part in these live outdoor plays and I believe they were resumed in more recent times. I remember seeing the 'sets' when I visited the twin-ballrooms which backed onto the grandstand from which these events were viewed; however I never attended one.

Until 1926, the fireworks used were manufactured within the grounds of the resort by the Belle Vue Fireworks Co., but Brock took over the contract from that year, introducing the 'Belle Vue Banger' for the retail market.

My first visit to the resort came in the early 1930s when my brother, still bewailing the loss of our Warrington motor cycle speedway, after its conversion to a greyhound racing stadium, suggested we visited Belle Vue Speedway, which incidentally afforded free access to the adjoining pleasure gardens.

From the speedway we could see the towering artificial sandstone cliffs of the ghost train scenic railway, which was our first appointment after the 'dirt track'. The vast fun-park was to me a wonderland, with dodg'ems, roundabouts and all the latest rides, with fireworks going off at intervals, though there was no formal display.

It was not until our return to the north, after ten years in Buckinghamshire, spanning World War 2, and a brief family residence in North Wales, that we paid a return visit to Belle Vue.

It seemed to have altered beyond all recognition with the addition of an enormous big dipper and regular firework displays.

Soon after the war, huge displays (someone told me they cost £1,000) were fired by Brock's every night (Monday to Saturday) during the autumn season, with a grand finale display and bonfire on November 5th.

Later in the 1950s they were confined to four nights, and then to Saturdays only, but displays were also introduced on Saturdays from Easter to Whitsuntide.

It was not until the 1960s that economics demanded a cut in the content of the displays, and eventually the closing down of the resort about a decade later.

Although displays lasted barely twenty minutes, an incredible volume of material was consumed. The firing expertise of seasoned operators under the direction of firemaster Jim Gregory ensured a smooth theatrical performance. Jim was a relative of the far-famed Bill Gregory, who, outlined in lancework, and billed as Signor Gregorini, slid down a tightrope from one of the 284 foot high water towers of London's Crystal Palace in late Victorian times.

As observed by Mr D E Henstock in his atmospheric article in issue 16 (page 21), flight rockets were not used at Belle Vue, though rocket motors were used stickless for line propulsion in the device 'Flying Pigeons'. Small rockets were also used as mine serpents. Jack in the Box mines were always a feature, disgorging a cloud of jumping crackers, whilst Serpent Mines discharged a curtain of Italian Streamers, together with about a score of 1/2oz rockets which terminated with either flash reports or single white stars.

With restricted space for fall-out, the close proximity of massive wooden structures, and a busy main road at the rear of Firework Island, rockets would be a safety hazard, and this situation also limited the size of shells to a maximum of 51/2" calibre.

To compare these displays with those at London's Crystal Palace in pre-war days would do them no favours. I would estimate the Crystal Palace displays would be four times as big overall, and though the proportions differed by only twenty five to ten for 41/2" shells, we have to remember that the duration of a Crystal Palace display may have been twice that of a Belle Vue show, and included large flights of 1lb rockets, large shells of 8", 10", 12" and 16" calibre, also a mammoth lancework set-piece 200-600 feet long by ninety foot high, which alone could swallow up a couple of miles of quickmatch!

Let us put things into perspective by comparing the pre-war values of three displays:

Belle Vue £500, Crystal Palace - say £2,000; Coronation of Queen Elizabeth - £4,000.

Post-war inflation doubled prices by 1950, and trebled them by 1953.

As at Crystal Palace, regular sporting events, music festivals and exhibitions were presented at Belle Vue, whilst the pleasure park accommodated a comprehensive zoo, with lions, ligers, tigons and tigers hunting relentlessly behind the forbidding bars of claustrophobic cages, whilst humans could enjoy an early evening meal in one of the restaurants, before visiting King's Hall to see a boxing or wrestling match.

In later years, after a disastrous fire gutted the timber-built ballroom and grandstand complex, widespread re-planning took place and a new open-plan zoo replaced the cages; all creatures were given space and a more natural habitat, and a bear-pit was excavated on Firework Island which could be viewed from the rear. An elephant stood in the open grounds, taking children for rides in a harness high on the elephant's back.

On a lawn in the extensive gardens stood a peacock displaying its plumage, whilst beyond, towards the Longsight entrance, we encountered replicas of prehistoric animals, which could also be viewed from a scenic railway at tree-top level.

Back in the pleasure park, next to the water-shute, stood a new monkey house - an airy wire cage of huge dimensions, which afforded its inmates every conceivable means of demonstrating their agility.

Nearby, an open-topped cage housing giraffes enabled these gentle creatures to crane their necks over - to face an ill-prepared bystander eyeball to eyeball!

In earlier days, the fireworks could be viewed from the afore-mentioned grandstand which could incorporate a military band to play before and during the display.

A fanfare from the brass section would herald the opening fire - three 41/2" aerial maroons matched together, followed by a lancework portrait of King George VI in brilliant fire accompanied by the band playing the National Anthem.

There would then follow an announcement, such as 'Ladies and gentlemen, we proudly present Belle Vue Fireworks - the greatest nightly/weekly display in the world'.

Up would go ten 41/2" star shells with a roar like a thunderclap, and the whole tree-lined background would glow in pink and green illumination from hidden flares.

Roman candles would follow - the Brock system used a wooden block of about 4"x4" section, drilled to take six candles - three angled to the right and three to the left. Four of these batteries would be spaced across the firing ground and ignited simultaneously with portfires.

The display would then settle down to a fairly regular pattern: 10x41/2" shells, 5x51/2" shells, Roman candles as above - or novelty candles in one long battery of twenty or so candles playing vertically (flash, break, or hummer), followed by a set-piece group.

Variety was provided with discharges of a trio of mines, a flight of tourbillion (simple gunpowder composition) and a display of water fireworks on the boating lake fronting Firework Island.

The aquatic show included spinning water lilies, snowflake candles and gerbes, and floating mines of red and green stars, rising from the water like trees of fairylights.

Shell and candle effects were generally run of the mill, but a few may be unfamiliar today. Red and green magnesium stars were of an intensity which defied competition - except from the white which were fired separately - their glare visible across the county.

Candles occasionally included peacock plumes - red and green stars with gold (lampblack) tails. A curious illuminating star was sometimes used in 51/2" shells with variable success. These single-ended pillbox stars gave a small, very pale green flame of intense brilliance, weaving about as they fell, sometimes appearing to burn with difficulty. I would think they used a non-chlorate composition of barium nitrate, rosin, magnesium - and possibly some aluminium - though no tail sparks appeared. 51/2" shells of whistling stars were fired singly in succession, whilst the band obliged with a golden silence! In the 1960s these were sometimes replaced with titanium star shells which burst with terrific force, giving the spread of a superior 8" shell.

In those days, set-pieces were the backbone of a display, and a typical Belle Vue selection would be as follows:

1 Portrait of the reigning monarch.

2 A group of three revolving suns - the centre one had twelve arms flanked by two smaller wheels with six arms, each arm equipped with a 1lb. driver (Chinese gerbe), with a coloured double saxon on each alternate arm.

3 A lancework mechanical feature, such as: acrobats; a battle at sea; the goose that laid the golden egg; a dancing skeleton (accompanied by the band playing 'Dem Dry Bones'). The head and trunk would periodically separate, and, in a desperate effort to retrieve the head, the trunk would leave the dancing legs with a scream of agony from the live operator. Larger pieces included: a life-sized elephant with young - spouting fire from swinging trunks, or speedway aces - four motor cyclists in red, green, blue and yellow attire, racing across the front of the island towards a lancework winning post.

4 A large fixed piece with saxon or vertical wheels, with secondary mutation of fixed jets forming an outer fringe. Alternatively, two smaller devices of the saxon diamond type.

5 A pair of six-arm suns revolving vertically (gold fire) converting into horizontal revolving fountains in aluminium silver, with silver gerbe and silver- tailed candles playing upwards, the conversion being operated manually. Alternative - Seven smaller revolving fountains with coloured Romans, spaced across the entire island in pyramid form.

6 A pictorial set-piece such as the Eruption of Vesuvius.

7 A mammoth pyramid of coloured Roman and iron gerbe batteries spread across the island.

8 Two flying pigeons - rocket propelled to and fro from a lancework cote, and emitting screams that would see off the king of cats!

9 Finale: The Niagara of Fire - six strings of waterfalls supported by forty foot poles across the entire island frontage. This piece was always preceded by a battery of large candles emitting red and green star bombettes followed by flash- cracker bombettes. The final crackles from these were the signal for the electric ignition of the waterfall, from which dangled about a dozen 31/2" maroons. These broke with an ear-splitting crack - then with an eye-blinding flash, and the shower cases released an avalanche of molten aluminium, spitting and steaming in the lake beneath, and - as if that wasn't enough to bear - an eerie whistle began to build up from a dozen stout cases of the new sodium compound which in the early post-war days was new to fireworks, and was probably still on the military secrets list. Their amber flames could be detected dancing about between the dazzling shower cases.

In the 1960s a single long string of waterfalls was suspended between two lattice steel masts.

A last flurry of shells rained down from the skies to meet a wall of fire going up with an earthquaking thud from a long line of mines - either stars of four colours, or silver glitter with a roar of flash reports.

Finally up went a trio of maroons and we were bade:

'Goodnight from Firework Island'.

Letters  in issue 33 , page: 46

I should like to respond to Mr Bryce's letter in issue 32, which makes reference to the Rev. Lancaster's article in issue 31. Whilst it is not for me to interpret the words of The Master, I do feel that an incomplete quotation can alter its apparent meaning. The full quotation reads: 'There was also a much larger cracker costing as much as four old pence [pre-1939 price rising to one shilling in the 1950s]. This was made with fine gunpowder, but did not jump about like the small ones'.

I shall speak only from my own experience and say that they did not jump about in the same way, which is precisely what Reverend Lancaster states at the end of the same paragraph; i.e. that they exploded more frequently, like a machine gun, and only touched the ground occasionally, and, whilst on the ground, their deviation was attenuated by the frequency of reports. They would generally travel in the direction thrown, whilst the small ones returned to the ground between each jump and were totally uncontrollable.

Surely the names rip-rap, jumping cracker and jack are synonymous. Pipes of two main diameters were used in various lengths, and FFF grain powder was invariably the filling. Alternative systems have proved inferior to a degree depending on expertise. Up to 1939 the smaller 6 or 8 gauge pipes were used for 1/2d, 1d and 2d, and the extra large for 4d, 6d and one shilling crackers, but the two largest would be too long and heavy to get airborne, and, in past centuries, were effectively used for crowd control.. much safer than truncheons and rubber bullets.

The rolling-mill process partly crushed and caked the grains, reducing the burning area and, consequently, the combustion speed. In this condition gunpowder burns much like 'golden rain' in small tubes; but, like any composition, burns faster in tubes of larger section. The 'fizz' does not propel the cracker, which only moves when the next bend inhibits the escape of gases, and it is the resulting explosion which makes it jump.

Explosions occur whenever expansion rate overtakes escape rate. If you stuff the burning end of a portfire into soft soil, it will soon react quite dangerously. Don't try it! Raw match, likewise, burns slowly but, when the flame enters the piping, it is driven along by the restriction of expanding gases, causing a chain-reaction effect - the faster the flame moves, the more fuel it consumes.

Even a well-integrated, hand-mixed, gunpowder will communicate successfully at a modest pace, whereas a foot or so of best match goes into overdrive, and, in long lengths, will fracture the pipe at intervals, the measure of which is determined by the specification of the components.

Like Mr Bryce, I am fascinated by the strange and varied silvery coruscations occasionally seen in shop fireworks. Perhaps some great authority will one day reveal more of these dark secrets!

Incidentally, Mr Bryce's reference to pin wheels has triggered off a most unlikely subject for an article! - Lou Nadin, 4 Newlands Road, Stockton Heath, Warrington WA4 2DS. (We should like to thank Mr Bryce for suggesting the subject of pinwheels which inspired Lou's latest offering, to be seen elsewhere in this issue -Ed.)

Lou Nadin on: Defending the Pinwheel's Honour , by Nadin, Lou  in issue 33 , page: 37

A likely story! Early experience soon convinced me that, whilst flash- bangers sufficed for friendly battle, aerial fireworks provided the best entertainment.. Pinwheels did not signify.

However, one mellows with age and some assessments seem to warrant revision, but pin-wheels? I ask you!

As far as I know, seventy three years of heated argument amongst physicists and mathematicians have failed to clearly establish how and why the little beast works - and who cares anyway?

It's just something about the sheer honesty of mathematics that, when an equation cannot be clarified, questions need to be answered.

Mortimer's instructions for making the pinwheel appeared in 1824, and even then controversy raged over the properties of involute and evolute curves and the mathematical conflict between centrifugal and centripetal forces, which, as far as I can deduce, would have no effect whatsoever on the resistance, momentum, or acceleration of a rigid structure.

I can accept that a change in dimension - e.g. an elastic body under the stress of centrifugal force - would expand and suffer a reduction in its frequency of rotation. Likewise a spinning skater can slow his rotation by spreading out his arms and free leg; or alternatively - accelerate his rotation by drawing them in, so demonstrating the centripetal effect, and one may imagine the burning away of the pinwheel as an example of this, since the reduction in diameter would proportionately increase rotation, but the acceleration of the flame is due only to a reduction in mass.

Dimension does not necessarily affect mass, other than to re- distribute it, whereas mass is a critical factor in that it imposes drag, which, after inertia, is the only resistance we have to overcome.

Inertia is only a delay which controls the rate of acceleration of both the wheel and its ejected fuel. These two strike a balance proportionate to their relative mass and velocity.

Once inertia is overcome, acceleration has begun. I shall endeavour to show that all other factors can be eliminated, including leverage and internal pressure (or the lack of it!) and indeed any excepting the four I shall specify.

Even Alan Brock, writing in 1949 (A History of Fireworks - page 203), seemed to be taken in somewhat by the alleged mysteries of shallow open-bore propulsion, but did at least grasp the principle of reaction, i.e. that mass expelled produces a feed-back of energy to its source, yet he seemed to imply that it depended on air for reaction, which surely it does not.

If A pushes B away, A also pushes itself away from B. An aeroplane moves forwards by propelling air backwards, but everyone knows that the jet has superseded the air-screw, and a jet can produce its reaction in a vacuum, which an air-screw certainly cannot!

The sophisticated jet produces internal pressure which, escaping at high velocity through a restriction at one end of its combustion chamber, recoils at the closed end.

The pinwheel virtually lacks this refinement, but in atmosphere, both react against the fuel they discharge, which, having the property of mass, also provides a continuous, if weaker, secondary reaction platform in the wake of the jet.

The air-plane, however, has to overcome three major obstacles which the pinwheel does not:

(1) It has to displace air in order to move, whilst the pinwheel only moves within its own air space.

(2) The plane has to drag an undercarriage, whilst the pinwheel simply rotates with a minimum of friction.

(3) An aircraft has to fight gravity to achieve lift-off. No wonder the pinwheel can afford to throw away so much energy and still function!

No wonder the irrelevance of high efficiency has permitted an amazing range of formulae which are varied purely for visual effect.

In Victorian times quite exotic, if commercially questionable, versions appeared, with metallic sparks and colour - sometimes carried in separate pipes fired in parallel with the driver, whilst today aluminium compositions in tougher flattened tubes have transformed the pinwheel into quite a serious firework.

Traditionally the basic composition has been of mealed gunpowder, nitre and sulphur, but, even when the energy-rich sulphur is replaced by carbons which produce a lot of sparks but little energy, it still works.

About 1930, Standard introduced a two-penny colour wheel, commencing and finishing with the conventional drive composition, which also briefly appeared between the colour sections of red and green. The colours seemed pale, with evident lack of heat or chlorine content, probably relying on a simple addition of strontium carbonate or barium nitrate to impart the colours.

This addition visibly reduced the speed of the wheel because it reduced the proportion of gunpowder consumed, and I propose to show that it is the gunpowder alone which generates the power - not the nitre and sulphur which are discharged before they are fully activated. Hence, the heavier the wheel, the faster the gunpowder must disgorge the other fuel, which is there only to steady combustion and produce a visual after-effect.

Old text books describe the basic pinwheel as a thin paper tube about 1/8" (3mm) bore, sometimes tapered to facilitate filling. This would also afford greater power at the broader (starting) end, and provide telescopic connection to a second length of pipe.

An adequate wheel would use one pipe about 20" long, with a typical composition of gunpowder, nitre and sulphur in proportions of - shall we say - 16:8:8. In a very large wheel using four tubes, an extra part of gunpowder is added for each additional tube, so that the proportions in the outer tube would be 19:8:8.

The power increases when the nitre and sulphur are coarsely ground, which, in a combustion chamber, would be counter-productive because of slower energy release but, having no enclosed pressure, the pinwheel derives its energy from the speed of the gunpowder combustion, which is increased if the other ingredients are granular, rather than of compacted powder, as the fire expansion can flash through the gaps around the coarse particles, and more rapidly eject them as missiles, which burn only in the jet stream outside.

According to Brock, the speed of the wheel's rotation seemed to be unaffected either by the fierceness or the extent of the fire, which makes sense only if combustion takes place independently of the wheel's propulsion system, as I have suggested. As proposed earlier, only four factors materially affect this propulsion, which are power, weight, friction and size - or - if preferred: energy, mass, drag and dimension. However, if we remove drag completely, failure cannot occur, as will be observed in space: the sun may have a mass one million times that of a planet, yet they would orbit each other's centre of gravity with precisely proportionate trajectories and velocities.

There can be no such thing as an immoveable object and, if there is no drag, the weakest force will - in relative measure - move the heaviest object, but it also follows that a supreme force - whatever that might be - would eventually overrule all others!

Life, with conscious creative mind and freewill should, in its ultimate state, prove a likely contender for the title, meanwhile God changes his wayward image with a fiery adversary!

In physics too, all forces are counter-balanced and these also get disorderly at times, but I must stray no further beyond the scope of either terrestrial fireworks, or what may already be a tedious article.

Now, let us imagine a 16" naval gun firing just a propellant charge: reaction would be relatively small, but add a heavy missile, and the recoil would rock a 30,000 ton Dreadnought! In other words, pressure without resistance produces little reaction, thus, I suggest, it is not simply an expansion of gases, but the weight and speed of the fuel ejected which defines the bulk of the pinwheel's reaction.

Eliminating the manageable factors of drag and dimension, we are left with a simple equation which seems to ratify the logic of this theory:

(Mass of pinwheel with its undischarged fuel) x (the velocity of the wheel) = (Mass of the ejected gas and fuel) x (its velocity).

Dimension, as distinct from mass, can alter performance. Increased diameter of the light wooden or plastic centre of the wheel would reduce the number of revolutions. It would improve leverage on the bearing friction, but not on the load, because the load is still equally distributed each side of the fulcrum.

Leverage merely sacrifices achievement for extra power, and, unless leverage extends outwards beyond the mass, there is no advantage. In a pinwheel this is impossible as the energy is integral with the mass.

Even in a display wheel, which, incidentally, is no longer referred to as a Catherine wheel, I can see no way of increasing leverage, as doubling the dimensions of the structure will simply make it eight times as heavy. Drag would become disproportionately high and this procedure eventually arrives at a point where the weight of the structure will outstrip any motive power which the structure can support. In short:

Increased load = reduced rotation.

Brock's biggest wheel had about twenty spokes, each equipped with a 2lb. gerbe. This wheel measured sixty feet across, emitting a circle of fire a hundred feet in diameter, and I can vouch that it worked successfully. I did not count the revolutions, but they were noticeably fewer than those of its thirty foot, twelve-armed companions.

I understand that Brock fitted ball-races on comparatively small wheels of this type, and no doubt used roller bearings on these monsters. In Hyde Park, on the eve of the Royal Wedding in July 1981, Pain's stupendous Vivat Wheel, commencing as a fixed piece, was raised about 150 feet by hydraulic lift - and was the only set- piece most of us could see!

On reaching high elevation, it transmuted into a revolving sun, slowly rotating above the tree-tops. It was the most impressive feature of the display, and, though I do not have its dimensions, I feel this, and the Brock wheel, must both be close to the dimensional limit for such a system.

Returning to 1824 and the elementary pinwheel, Mortimer was puzzled in that the expectation of increased leverage on a larger diameter wheel only met with a dramatic fall in performance. Obviously, if the diameter is doubled, the flame has twice as far to travel on each revolution achieving it, because the fulcrum is still in the centre of the load, which, by doubling its diameter, has now increased fourfold!

Thus, with only the same energy, we have to move four times the weight through twice the distance, to achieve one revolution in the place of eight. Conversely, as the piping burns away, the power and leverage, being integral, remains constant, whilst the mass is progressively reduced down to the lightweight centre, and the wheel accelerates to a frantic climax.

To sum up the whole thesis:

Providing weight and drag are kept within tolerable limits, the viability of the pinwheel is assured. I rest my case for the defence. End of story!

Provincial Displays of the 1930s , by Nadin, Lou  in issue 34 , page: 10

After an early diet of bangers and trash, the sight of larger goods in the Warrington shops fired an appetite for something grander, and the announcement of a military tattoo and firework display in our town promised a fulfilment of my dreams.

Alas, my tolerant mother, still stunned by the obscenities of World War 1, for once put her foot down firmly... a military tattoo was not a suitable environment for an impressionable young lad!

So, until 1935, the magic of display fireworks had been limited to brief glimpses of Crystal Palace and Valencian displays in cinema newsreels, and some of the effects appeared far too bizarre for my logical interpretation, thus bestowing in me an all-consuming sense of wonder.

Our move to Buckinghamshire in 1935 coincided with the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary. A celebration was organised by the local scouts' group and presented on the common at Chesham Bois, and enabled me to see in action some of those big Brock's fireworks I had longingly stared at through the toy-shop's glass cases.

This D.I.Y. display would have cost about fifteen guineas (£15.75) and included two or three made-up wheels and a six-case 'Brilliant Sun'.

Firing commenced with a couple of 4oz (3/-) rockets which shed about a dozen stars, followed by two 2/- Roman candles each ejecting eight or nine stars.

For a while all went well and I was thrilled by the first 41/2" shell - surely the grandest sight of my life - a spreading cone of a hundred stars, shooting down towards me.. then presently one of the rockets went haywire - maybe lost its stock on take-off and emptied its stars in the gorse bushes.

At the close of a hot sunny day, everything was tinder-dry, and the scouts had to spend the next ten minutes thrashing the fierce flames with their jackets, to win a glorious victory over the most fearsome of elements!

The display resumed, but one shell of red and blue stars burst in its mortar, producing a spectacular ground-mine effect. An even more impressive shell ejected 'Empire' (snowflake) streamers which, in those days, were something of a rarity in shop goods.

A month later - on July 25th, which again was blessed with glorious weather, I saw my first grand display, professionally fired by Pain's, at Chesham Hospital Fête. Cost? - about £35!

This commenced with an aerial maroon and lancework portraits of King George and Queen Mary. There were no rockets, but shells galore, including two 'octopus' shells which I thought might be of 8" calibre; they were so dramatic - great golden umbrellas of fine Italian streamers.

Numerous water fireworks played on the tree-lined lake, and a lancework silvery swan drifted by in this idyllic setting.

Amongst the impressive line of devices, stood a whistling flying pigeon, a mechanical acrobat, two fans of gerbes and Roman candles, a large revolving sun, and an impressive fixed piece of multiple fixed suns, then a final 'Good Night' lancework piece.

1936 opened and closed on a sombre note - the death of George V and abdication of Edward VIII, not to mention the cremation of London's Crystal Palace, all in stark contrast with a bewildered continent where 'born again' Germany had pushed back the Communist frontiers, rejected the restrictive domination of the League of Nations, built their new autobahns, hosted the olympic Games in a vast new arena, and a confident and idealistic Hitler Youth hailed their new Fürer in a transient orgy of 'strength through joy'. My one bright hope in this depressing year was marred by skies of grey, but, at the second hospital fête, the first and last portrait of our dynamic young king warmed our hearts a little. Brock did the display, and everyone agreed it was rather a flop!

The weather had been atrocious morning and afternoon, but did clear up in time to erect the display in a cold failing light. Maybe it was the damp atmosphere and smoke which finally rubbished our day, but I did enjoy one other set-piece which appeared to be the front wheel of a four-armed chromatrope, as it had suitable lancework on the four arms in red, green, amber and blue, with large iron gerbes as drivers.

This was my last year at school, and my previous form master was the hospital's hon. secretary, who selected the displays for the annual fête. He gave me the programmes offered by Wilder's and Wells' in 1937 which, to my surprise, he turned down in favour of Brock's again!

I asked him why, and he said Brock's had promised to throw in a few extra fireworks as recompense for the 1936 disappointment.

The 1937 display, of course, introduced portraits of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (now Queen Mother) and was the last display to be fired at this venue.

In June, we had celebrated the Coronation of our new King and Queen with another small Brock display on the common - but this time a little grander at twenty guineas - and well away from the gorse buses!

Again the red and blue shell exploded prematurely, leading me to suspect Brock's were using an unstable composition - probably a chlorate with copper sulphide in the blue stars. Twenty years later, when I asked their display operator at Shrewsbury, they were then using copper arsenite (probably Paris green), but he said that was dangerous too! He also commented on the excessive price of calomel - 25/- per lb. It must be a lot cheaper in bulk, as I was paying that much back in 1934! (1/5d per oz.)

Reverting to the June 1937 display, I remember seeing a saxon wheel - a large vertical wheel with a double series of drivers around the hoop, and three coloured saxons rotating on the spokes. However the feature which most impressed me at this small display was a pair of huge iron gerbes (2lb. calibre I should think). Until then, I had no idea just how spectacular these large fountains could be with jets of golden coruscations rising some twenty feet.

With no further local displays in prospect, I persuaded my brother in the summer of 1938 to give his new Royal Enfield a road test with me on the pillion. The Thames was a popular attraction; we had never been to Eton, and it happened to be June 4th!

The fireworks were not as impressive as I had hoped, but included a sequence of six repeater shells and a spectacular mine of jewelled serpents, which rose high above the college, changing from gold to silver before ejecting coloured stars. I don't know who did the display, but thought it might be Wells', if only because they had the contract for Henley and possibly Marlow Regatta which I saw in 1939.

A notable feature here was a substantial shell - possibly 6" calibre - which burst into a near perfect circle of yellow stars - quite novel in those days! There was also a superb 6-armed chromatrope with gold and silver turning cases and coloured intersecting lancework, i.e. two wheels, one in front of the other, turning in opposite directions, producing geometric loops of fire similar to the illustrations in Brock's books.

From September 1939, the only pyrotechnics were of German origin, which caused the spectators more misery than entertainment, yet some people today would rather ban civil fireworks!

Thankfully it hasn't happened, and, thanks again that I lived to see the last of Brock's and Pain's 'colossals' before the days of importation.

That leisurely ordered style of presentation seemed compatible with British good taste, as compared with the vulgar ostentation of current trends, and, whilst the new age of fireworks has its merits, for those who remember, there still lingers a nostalgic sense of loss.

The Safety Danger Equation , by Nadin, Lou  in issue 36 , page: 6

We are constantly reminded that we live in a dangerous world and that we must take care. Safety is an 'absolute' and cannot be accomplished in an imperfect world, so we have to settle for a degree of danger which must be kept as low in profile as is practicable. Any creature with perception will be capable of fear, which is a warning factor we should constantly use without allowing it to use us. It has to be mastered, but still respected, and conscious life sooner or later becomes aware of it.

The elements of air, land, water and fire all present hazards, and fire is the most feared. All animals run scared of it when it appears to be out of control and only mankind can co-ordinate the intelligence required to deal with it. Fireworks embody a refined control of this element and, though specifically designed to be 'safe', they can find many escape routes of 'malfunctions' which permit them to become unexpectedly dangerous.

Whilst I do not claim to be an authority on firework techniques, I have noted the behaviour of fireworks for over seventy years and, though some excellent coverage of this subject has been given, I feel an urge to fill in a few gaps which may have been overlooked.

To the newcomer, fireworks may appear to be of many varied types, but the basic principles are quite few and often merged. The simplest form is a single tube, blocked at one end and filled with a single composition which produces a flame and/or sparks - i.e. the flare or fountain. This burns with great heat but is unlikely to move under its own power and is considered fairly safe. To improve the fountain a choke, or restriction, may be made at the business end to hold back some of the power so that the fire emerges as a jet. If the calculation is wrong, the power may increase until the casing explodes, hence there is a possible danger even with a fountain.

These should not be held and the recommended viewing distance should be observed in case of a malfunction. Volcanoes start peacefully but become more powerful and can blow through the base, spreading fire outwards - so keep the recommended distance. Even a golden rain can back-fire if powder is trapped within the dubbed end which children used to hold.

A Roman candle is the same open-bore fountain with the addition of a star and gunpowder charge which ejects the star upwards, but remember - energy expended in one direction results in an identical thrust in the opposite direction and, if held, the clay base may be blown back down your arm along with the hot flash from the powder, so there is always a danger in holding even the most inoffensive of fireworks. Give every firework the space it needs, allowing for any malfunction.

When fireworks are connected together with uncovered plastic fuse, remember this burns through very easily and can ignite from the dross from a portfire, thus bypassing any delay fuse, so always make sure connecting fuses are completely and adequately covered.

Roman candles, star shells and air bombs all eject small projectiles from a mortar tube. Mines are simply an extension of this principle, ejecting a number of projectiles simultaneously. Rockets have a motor which drives the load of projectiles into the sky, showering them downwards. Shells serve the same purpose on a larger scale but are ejected from a mortar similar to a mine or Roman candle.

Shells are favoured at displays as they are more predictable than rockets even though they are potentially dangerous if you try to share their space, as they are lethal in flight. Never stand over a mortar and, when you ignite a shell, make sure it's the fuse and not the safety cover; then walk away and don't look back. Shells today rarely burst in their mortars. The main fear is that a damaged transmission fuse may fail, and possibly smoulder until it picks up again, so don't go back to examine it as it may go up without warning. Sooner or later, of course, the firer must retrieve the mortar and, after the display, the shell has to be removed. To avoid direct handling, it is a good idea to equip each mortar with a wire harness which clips over each side at the mouth of the tube and passes down the inside through a circular plate which will lie flat beneath the shell. With a pitch fork - or two rods - one can then lift the shell out but, if it ignites, turn away, run and fall flat on your face (all within four seconds to escape the shell-burst!)

I would prefer a fail-safe system and recommend electrical remote control with the igniter well inside the time fuse, which should then face downwards into the lifting charge. This would eliminate all transmission fuses and give instant firing with no handling risks from stray sparks, as the ignition system would be totally sealed. Rockets too, especially the shell-head type, are best fired electrically by remote control, and always directed away from the spectators. Even at professional displays we hear of the odd flight rocket going astray. This should not happen if all is done correctly. Obviously warped or unsound sticks should be rejected, and sticks should be stapled to the paper tube provided. Solid- charged rockets seem less vulnerable than those charged around a spindle, but can still cause accidents. They are less likely to absorb moisture, but can blow out the metal choke.

When firing from cones, sticks may jam together in the point of the cone, and a group of rockets may go into flight dragging along one which has not yet reached lifting power: the heavey head will then fall sideways so that the rocket flies point-blank at the spectators. The sticks should pass separately through a metal grill at the top and thus be held clear of restriction at the base so that they can move independently.

Another possibility of a mis-fire may occur with the conventional rocket charged round a spindle. Sometimes these are primed around the choke at the base with the hope a few sparks will fly up the interior. A much more positive ignition is achieved with a length of plastic fuse or, ideally, raw match extending the full length of the aperture but, if this is secured by bending over at the top, it may jam half-way, and ignition at the lower end may cause an air- lock above, delaying transmission of fire with consequent loss of power. The rocket may then arc over into the audience with dangerous consequences. This should not happen with proper priming. To ensure the match reaches the top of the aperture, it should have a double bend so that it secures itself lower down with a single extension to reach the tapered top of the aperture, thus quickly bypassing any possible air-lock.

Air-locks are believed to cause mis-fires in other fireworks - even bangers, due to the space which usually accompanies flash charges. This failure might also occur in gerbes if the clay choke is not filled with primer, as any narrow passage with a closed end can produce an air 'buffer' which can momentarily bounce the fire back.

In gerbes, there is also a chance of explosion if a powerful composition is used, unless the first scoop is of a slower burning type as, at the commencement, there is no space to accommodate a rapid expansion of gases.

The same applies to wheel-drivers and one should never stand at the side of a wheel as, if an explosion occurs, or a case becomes dislodged, it will fly in this direction and inflict serious burns. Remember that the power comes from the burning end of the case with an equal reaction at the other end, so never stand along this line of force!

Always view displays from the front, but remember that - like the cinema - the best seats are central and further from the action, though - if you find yourself down-wind of the display - some compromise should be sought!

True fountains and set-pieces are best viewed at about 50 metres, but all other large display fireworks are more comfortably seen from 200 to 400 metres, so don't try to get a front seat! Above all, don't view a display from the side. Roman candle bouquets often land their stars here, and you get a poor view of the set-pieces.

Now just do it right - and have fun!

Lou Nadin on: Whatever Happened to Bonfire Night? by Lou Nadin

Children no longer pester us for lumber, nor for pennies to buy fireworks - and there is little worth having for less than £1 anyway! Guy Fawkes is no longer mentioned but, then, he had nothing to do with Bonfire Night in his lifetime. It appears to have been an ancient pagan festival which could not be suppressed and, as the Protestant Church had no space for it in its calendar, it was left for Parliament to deal with, hence it was transferred from 1 November to 5 November to commemorate the narrow escape of Parliament from the Guy Fawkes atrocity.

Hence for nearly 400 years we have suffered the consequences of this delay for, as we know, the good weather usually terminates on 4 November and, as it has recently become a totally adult celebration, it may take place on any fine night within a week or so of the 5th and sometimes the conventional night is quieter than some of the others!

In pre-war days I remember my mother remarking on one occasion that it had been a very quiet night. I doubt if any but the deaf could have said that in recent years - even when it is spread over a fortnight.

Fireworks do seem noisier than ever before with endless cakes of air bombs, whistles and crackles. It is difficult even to find a quiet fountain these days when titles and descriptions are so non-committal.

For at least three years I have fired nothing on the 5th, preferring the panoramic views of the proceedings from a high level bridge. A fellow enthusiast pointed out a large bonfire on a distant hill - I had not noticed the slight glow above the glare of modern street lights - but yes! there was a large brazier glowing in the grounds of our new local fire station, and plenty of fireworks going off there, and at times one could hear a continuous cannonade from some more distant display.

My 'big night' now is whenever my friends can co-ordinate with the appointment, and I have a small log fire in the back garden, which they love to stand around prior to the display of shop fireworks, though its real purpose is a source of ignition for the portfires.

In recent years I have sent away for fireworks not normally available in the shops and advisedly so, for this year my local newsagent had nothing to tempt me, and there was little on offer elsewhere, hence my display was not fired until 9 November.

The fact that so many excellent fireworks were fired in local gardens leads me to think that many people are now buying at specialised stores - or sending away as I do, and the local shops are missing out simply because they do not cater.

My Bright Star agents had none of the new packs of five Star Bursters or assorted mines mentioned in the last Fireworks magazine, and did not even unpack the Proton Bombs until I had bought a pack elsewhere. Thankfully I had a few large Chinese cakes and some excellent 10-star Vulcan candles and 8oz gerbes from Kimbolton to ensure a pleasing show.

There is a demand for good fireworks but will the local shops ever meet our needs? Retailers: Wakey Wakey!

Transition to the Third Millennium , by Nadin, Lou  in issue 41 , page: 34

Over the past century, innovations in display techniques seem to have replaced the dimensional growth of fireworks. True, we do see larger Roman candles but, due to space restrictions, rockets and shells of the larger calibres are rarely seen at the major displays and, because largely of new packing and transport legislation, major set-pieces are virtually eliminated.

                One would scarcely have imagined that miniaturisation of shop fireworks would have even been attempted, yet this tendency made a showing between the wars, and has since been successfully exploited by Chinese pyro artists. Prior to World War I there was a range of simple fireworks at a farthing each, but aerial novelties such as mines started in the 6d. range!

                Between the wars came a feast of novelties in the 2d. range and, in the 1930s, came the 1d. Air Bomb and Thunderflash Rocket. Today, the minute turning cases on Chinese triangle and vertical wheels are sometimes only half-filled, yet give a fair burning time, with adequate power and a change of colour and other effects.

                In British shop goods, true star-shells emitting a shower of coloured stars only came to my notice in the years following World War II, and, with a bore of ¾" (18mm) – or even less, could only be classed as toys, yet in recent times, I have seen these develop into quite dynamic performers, especially when the casing bursts, displaying a broad circle of micro-stars. (Black Cat’s Magnum Five, at £1.50, gives five excellent shots of varied effects).

                Larger bombettes of 30mm bore produce gorgeous bursts fit to grace large garden displays and seem safe and reliable when fired with reasonable care in ordinary back gardens. Larger calibre display fireworks such as shells and mines of 3" diameter increase the spectacle, but are often too violent for comfortable viewing in such confined spaces, and require an open field.

                Public bonfires offering facilities for self-firing seem to be a thing of the past, and private displays are now confined to the back garden. Retail fireworks should therefore be designed for this market, but the present selection of single (one-tube) items is rather limited.

                Bright Star listed packs of five Star Busters (single-shot star shells) at £4.99, and are were different. Likewise, their Razzle Dazzle pack at £5.99 contained five mine-fountain combinations all with different effects. Two of these had been available, separately, at £1.25, and were previously only 99p… a pity, I thought, about the price increase, until I compared the difference. The Tower of Hell Mine gave only four bangs in the original version, but then contained seven – so no complaints there!

                Perhaps a larger version at £2 or £2.50 would still have been acceptable in the garden range. Bright Star’s 4-colour 8-shot Roman candle seemed reasonably priced at £1.25, but were increased to £1.45. The blues and greens were rather pale in the original version.

                Rocket selections of ½ oz. calibre are now appearing in packs of four under Brock’s and Standard labels, and larger models of 2 oz., 4 oz. and 6oz. are available separately.   I believe these and others under Chinese labels are now all of the solid-charged type, and I have seen no malfunctions so far.

                Everybody loves a good rocket, but I must say I don’t like dropping spent material in neighbouring gardens, or indeed in the public highway. However I feel some tolerance of this should be accepted on our national firework night at least!

                Many enthusiasts I’m sure will agree that small individual fountains are rather timid, and I do feel that some considerable capacity increase is justifiable. Anyone who has witnessed the firing of a Kimbolton 8 oz. Gerbe (24mm bore) will agree it is the most splendid of fireworks, especially the one which transforms from the bright golden sunflower sparks of iron borings, to a dazzling silver deluge of titanium. These large fountains require some care and skill in construction, and consequently are expensively priced at about £6.

                They are 10" in length however, and perhaps a shorter version of say 5" or 6" would be more affordable for small private functions. Some large gerbes produce an excess of molten dross, which, blown by the wind, can be a fire hazard, so keep these well away from wooden fencing and undergrowth which – in the unlikely event of a dry November – may be capable of ignition. Take care, and help to maintain the good will of sensitive neighbours!

                There are many noisy fireworks on sale today, with loud crackles, piercing whistles and flash reports – good fun to watch but rather wearing on the neighbours – so try to minimise their use in back garden displays. Bright Star’s double-shot Proton Bomb, at £4.99 per pack of four, was a superb 30mm double air-bomb, and Stealth Bombers, at the same price, emitted a whistling air-bomb followed by an ordinary, but louder, air-bomb.

So far I can find no hummers on sale except in the expensive Standard Mine of Hummers and Kimbolton’s Emerald Mine. If there is some anxiety about the discharge of these at ground level, they could be more safely released singly from an aerial bombette together with a few micro-stars.

Rip-raps were withdrawn because they moved unpredictably, but the larger calibre quick-firing variety could be safely used in shop mines providing they are short, and burn out at high altitude, as this type – once set in motion – moves in a straight line. I see no reason why mine serpents should not similarly be used in shop mines and Roman candles, though I suggest that such mine cases should have a length of at least two and a half times the bore.

A surprise in Millennium year was a new local supplier by the name of.. Woolworth! Sure enough, at the store’s entrance, was a long counter full of substantial cakes and rockets which I had never previously seen, though one or two seemed to have familiar names, which I traced back to an advert in Fireworks’ Summer issue, wherein Stourbridge Fireworks offer Silver Fish (19-shot) and King Cobra Rocket. Of greater interest to me was the Triple H-Bomb which I have seen fired locally a couple of times, but was not stocked at Woolworth’s.

Possibly the price was thought excessive for an initial presentation but a 25-shot cake giving 75 starbursts of various colours for £15 plus VAT is not to be sneezed at!

I’m sure that, if these were sold singly or in smaller stacks, they would sell like hot cakes. The all important factor is to ensure aerial shots cannot fall over and I find it best to fire single shots from a pre-fixed tube into which the firework case can be simply dropped – ready to fire.

As our population increases, land and particularly factory space becomes more expensive and any hint of danger often meets with hostility from neighbouring occupants.

                Many suggestions may seem impractical when first considered but it has occurred to me that many small – and perhaps some large – factory sites could be literally floated in sheltered bays or unused harbours.

                A firework factory could comprise two or more old ships – perhaps a fishing vessel as a chemical store and mixing bays, and a larger cargo vessel (with engines and bridge deck astern) could be equipped with separate composition stores in the bow, a series of isolated filling-cabins, each side of the ship (one side ‘colour’ – the other ‘black’) with a separate steel escape corridor along the centre with entries opposite or staggered between each workshop door.

                The bridge deck astern would comprise two separate staff messes, each side provided with a separate lifeboat launched down a separate slipway at the stern.

                Personnel would always be close to shore and each shift could be ferried across. The factory ships would enter an off-shore dock and, at high tide, the steam from their engines could then power hydraulic jacks to raise the dock-floor a few feet to render the ships stable even in the roughest weather.

                These provisions would entail substantial capital, but think of the savings on land acquisition, rates and security!

                Already we have witnessed a previously inconceivable return of large cruise liners for pure pleasure rather than travel, whilst outdated liners have been converted to universities and prison ships. Even floating cities are now seriously contemplated, so why not factory ships?

                Waste products could be periodically dumped on some designated island by the factory ship itself, or a service vessel, thus avoiding the present hazards of road transport and site limitations.

                The suggested off-shore docking facilities could be government sponsored and hired as required for factory, or display, use where suitably sited.

                The largest of shells, and rockets of 6lb. calibre could once again be fired and, along the deck of an ex-bulk carrier, huge set-pieces could be raised from modified holds with very little last minute preparation.

                Mortars would be permanently fixed, and the display ship could be hired out for use at any event around our coastline. (A big ship might not require a dock and could perhaps be anchored at both ends).

                New concepts of fireworks would be evolved, such as 6" comets fired from long mortars to heights of a thousand feet or more and could, for instance, have a coloured head, and a tail of show-burning micro-stars of a contrasting colour.

                20" spiral galaxies containing fixed gerbes and Roman candles could be sent whirling 2,000 feet into the sky, the paper debris falling harmlessly into the sea with little or no danger to wildlife.

Is this dream really beyond the scope of modern technology?

I think not!

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