by Jeannie Swales
However grand the fireworks you’re planning for next Wednesday, I can guarantee that they won’t be as spectacular as the ‘immense firework display by Messrs. C.T. Brock & Co’ that took place in and around Scarborough’s Cliff Bridge Grounds on July 17, 1884. That’s assuming that the event lived up to the promise of its advertising flyer, of course.
What you see here is the front, which is impressive enough – the display was prefaced by a grand chess tournament with living pieces, music from the Band of the Princess of Wales’ Own Yorkshire Regiment, and buildings brilliantly illuminated by ‘Upwards of Eleven Thousand Jets of Gas’.
But on the back, there’s a more detailed list of the programme of fireworks – and trust me, it’s pure poetry.
An ‘Ascent of two large Gas Balloons with Magnesium Light, shedding a flood of intensely dazzling rays over the sea, and discharging fireworks in mid-air, concluding with a shower of silver rain and variegated gems’ started the display at 9.15pm.
It was followed by a ‘Silver Tree’, ‘Mines of Silver Sancissons’ and a ‘Flight of Tourbillions, forming a perfect umbrella of fire’. (I’ve been unable to track down the meaning of the word ‘sancisson’, but a tourbillon [without that second ‘i’] is a whirlpool or tornado.)
If that wasn’t enough, there was a ‘Flight of Fiery Pigeons’, ‘Batteries of Jewel-headed Cobras’, ‘Mines of huge glow-worms’, a ‘Salvo of 18-inch Crystal Palace Shells, with stars of ruby, emerald, sapphire, amethyst, topaz, opal, pearl and brilliants’, plus a ‘Display of Signal Rockets with Silver Plumes, Streamers, Peacock Plumes and Tail Stars’.
And we’re still only halfway through the programme. There’s more: the Falls of Niagara, a ‘rushing torrent of silver spray, covering an area of 1,000 square feet, and producing a noise like a mighty cataract’, a ‘Flight of Shooting Stars’, a ‘Grove of Fiery Palms’, and a ‘Great Golden Cloud studded with Jewels’ were amongst many other tableaux that were all trumped by the grand finale, which included a ‘large Turning Sun, 60 feet in circumference’ and – wait for it – a ‘Pyrotechnic Portrait’ of military hero General Gordon, who, even as the blue touch paper was being lit, was defending British-held Khartoum against rebel forces – clearly the man of the hour.
I just wish I’d been there. Happy bonfire night!
The fireworks flyer is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects that have been acquired by the borough over the years, and now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org or (01723) 384510.