Steeple Claydon Fireworks
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THE STEEPLE CLAYDON FIREWORKS DISPLAY TEAM OUR HISTORY
THE TEAM TO-DAY
Geoff Phillips Firer, Designer and Financial Organiser
Mike Wells Firer, Designer, Safety Officer
John Lamb, Construction and Team Firer
Nick Naysmith, Construction and Firing co-ordinator
Ian Boulter, Music ‘guru’ and Safety Officer
Robert Dongray, Events Co-ordinator
If you look back at the history of fireworks in Steeple Claydon there is one
name that stands out – namely Ralph West. Ralph, whilst living in Steeple
Claydon was probably best known for his baking and activities for helping
Sometime during 1974/5 the subject of a swimming pool for the village came into
being and a considerable sum of money was required if the project was to be
considered. Ralph was a prime mover in the setting up of a fund to help acquire
a pool for Steeple Claydon. It was not easy and many ideas were put forward to
help raise the capital. One of which was to put on a firework display, charge an
entrance fee, make a profit and put the money into the fund for the pool.
Steeple Claydon Fireworks were born as nothing more than a means to a somewhat
different end – namely the pool. The profits from these early displays were
channeled into the fund and were quite successful.
The first firework display took place in 1976. The fireworks were purchased, set
out on the day and lit during the early evening, with little design but none the
less an active Ralph setting off the fireworks for every ones enjoyment. By
today’s standards these first displays were small but of course good fun.
These events continued for a number of years continually raising money for the
swimming pool, which was finally opened during 1979.
It was considered that after the pool was built there was no need to raise money
through the fireworks display and would have stopped, but for many people saying
to Ralph that he should continue as the displays were a good feature for the
village. Ralph, always rising to the challenge, decided that it would be good to
continue, but with the emphasis on making the displays bigger, more interesting
and self funding.
The display continued for some time using the same format with Ralph at the
helm, purchasing, picking up, setting up and firing, mainly on his own. As the
displays became more involved it was time to recruit additional help. This came
in 1986 with Geoff Phillips lending a hand for the first time, This eased the
burden of setting up (In those days the launching tubes for the shells had to be
dug into the ground – a hard feat during November, considering there were
approx. 20 shell launchers).
Between the years of 1986 and 1990 the format remained much the same and the
displays grew in size and complexity. There were some helpers during this time
that only stayed a season or two, so most of the work was shared between Ralph &
Geoff. Ralph organised the buying of the fireworks and dealt with the layout of
the displays, while Geoff did the heavy work and most of the setting up, but
both enjoyed the firing of the display in the evening. The firing shared with
Ralph firing the set pieces and candles with Geoff firing the shells, mines and
1991 saw a fundamental change in approach to the fireworks display. This was the
first year that a theme for the display was used, along with music. This may not
sound very significant, but neither Geoff nor Ralph had any formal training for
firing to music. The event was a resounding success – thus setting the format of
the Steeple Claydon Firework display to the present day.
The subject for that year was ‘Hot Air Balloons’ and the music to accompany the
display was ‘Up Up and Away’ which was rather appropriate. The hot air balloons
were built in the traditional firework display manner, namely on a wooden
framework, using ‘lancework’ to create the outline, and lit all together using
1992 – Williams Racing Car
This was the year that Nigel Mansell won the F1 World Drivers Championship and
so the theme was racing cars and fired to the music of Fleetwood Mac as the
theme tune to BBC’s motor racing program. By this time the fireworks displays
were getting more ambitious and the crowds was beginning to increase each year.
It looked as though the formula was working. The displays were beginning to pay
their way and each year more fireworks were fired.
1993 – The Dambusters
This year saw the anniversary of the ‘Dambusters’ and so the theme for that year
became a bombing raid on
a dam. The Aircraft were formed from wooden frames again with ‘lancework’
forming the outline, but this
time the aircraft was pulled along on a fixed line to give the illusion of the
aircraft flying. The dam was
constructed from boxes with a ‘Waterfall’ firework laid in such a way that when
the aircraft ‘bombed’ the
dam it appeared that water flowed from the dam. This was a very successful
display played to the music
from the film ‘The Dambusters’
1994 – Lunar Landings
This was the celebratory year of the moon landings, and so the subject became
‘Lunar Landings’. As the displays were becoming larger in content and more
complicated additional assistance was sought. This came via Mike Wells who
helped generally with the setting up of the display but did not fire that year,
as no training was available. Training and safety were becoming an issue due the
complicated firing patterns of the display, and so the suppliers ‘Fantastic
Fireworks’ offered 1 day training courses to enable additional helpers to be
safe in their approach to these displays.
The Lunar Landings in Steeple Claydon did not go as smooth as the real thing but
hopefully it did not spoil most peoples enjoyment of the display.
1995 - Volcano
This was a difficult year because hard as we tried there was nothing significant
to celebrate, so we invented the idea of a large Volcano erupting. There were
several interesting points about the volcano, how do we re-create an eruption
and how do we keep it 'smoldering' while we wait. The answer to the second part
was by Mike who worked at that time in the tobacco industry. An amount of waste
tobacco was set burning in a funnel secretly hid behind the top of the volcano
and slowly let off smoke. The flames were provided by a specially made gas
burner supplied and built by Geoff, and run off butane gas. As the display
progressed the valve was turned up, increasing the flames until the final
‘eruption’ created by mines and roman candles were set off behind the structure.
We were told that it was impressive.
1996 – Mississippi Steam Boat
Again a year that was difficult to represent, so Ralph came up with the idea of
a Mississippi Steam boat fired to music from way down South. The boat was made
out of the usual wooden frame but this time moving across the firing ground
(pulled by Geoff). We had gone a step further with animation. The display was
fairly well received, but several comments were made about the musical content
so we had to look at how to improve the music.
This was the year that the House of Commons debated the safety of fireworks. In
the light of two fatal accidents directly involving fireworks (shells in
particular) and after the debate on Wednesday 20 November 1996, laws were passed
to inhibit the use of display fireworks and unless intensive safety training was
undertaken. Only large suppliers and display organisations would be allowed to
use these fireworks.
This would have meant the ending of the Steeple Claydon Fireworks display,
unless we were able to take formal training. This was arranged for Ralph, Geoff
and Mike to be trained in the official use of these display fireworks. All
qualified and of course the displays each year have continued.
From our own safety point of view Mike decided that the only safe way to fire
shells was to do so electrically. With this in mind he built a fire control
panel capable of firing up to 110 shells, either singularly or in groups, and
this year was the first year that the display was fired in this way. It was a
complete success and we felt relieved for more than one reason!. Also it was
declared that ‘sparklers’ would no longer be allowed at the display due to
safety requirements – but so as not to disappoint our younger followers we
introduced the magic strips which have become very popular (and so much safer)
1997 – Star Wars
This year saw the addition to the team of Ian Boulter (music and ideas) and John
Lamb (willing to do anything to help), they both went on Fantastic Fireworks
training courses to allow them to handle display fireworks.
The theme was a very ambitious number of set pieces being created to portray
‘Star Wars’ as this was the year that John Lucas re-released the trilogy of the
Star Wars movies. Most of the work was completed but that night there was a
torrential downpour and the display suffered with a number of failures. We had a
number of complimentary comments but we knew that as rain was our enemy we had
to do something to stop these failures from happening again. Waterproofing the
display was the answer. After this event Ralph decided to hang up his firing hat
and pass the event over to Geoff & Mike to run. Ralph’s plans were to sell the
pet shop business he ran in Winslow and settle down to a more peaceful and
1998 - Mallard
This was the anniversary of ‘Mallard’ breaking the speed record for steam
engines and we honored this achievement by building our own ‘Mallard’ with
working motion and was an animated display, Geoff doing the pulling again. The
display was fired to music from the Flying Dutchman. This was a display with
some minor problems with the timing but nonetheless enjoyed by many. We decided
that to run a tighter display we would need to do three things,
1 – to try and video the display and note any shortcomings whilst watching in
the comfort and warmth of our homes
2 – to start to use radios to keep in contact, as the display are very noisy in
the midst of it all
3 – to use single pieces of music wherever possible or limit the number of
segments to as few as possible.
1999 – The Viking Longboat
It was this year that saw the implementation of radio communication between the
team members. Along with a small number of classical pieces of music to fire to,
but we had difficulty in persuading anyone to video the display for us. In the
end Lindsey Wells stepped in, braved the cold and hand held the camera for about
20 minutes (arms aching etc). The theme for this year was the ‘Viking Longboats’
played out to the music of ‘The Knight on Bear Mountain’.
Several static displays were used this year including ‘Wizard & Dragon’, ‘Flying
Pig’ and of course the ‘Viking Longship’. This was again an animated display
with Geoff yet again being lumbered with the job of pulling the Longship across
the front of the display. This was also the year that we tried to make the event
have that little bit extra and we introduced a Guy competition, which was good
fun and the winner was able to remotely start the display.
2000 – The Battle of Britain
This year was the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and we decided to
commemorate those brave young men with our own tribute. There was one
unfavorable comment printed in a local newspaper by a villager, who accused us
of making money out of the memory of those that had gave their lives during this
conflict, this of course is utter nonsense as the money raised from the gate
proceeds is put, 100%, to-wards the following years display.
The display went without a hitch with the display being fired to the music from
the film ‘Gladiator’ which we thought was rather appropriate and went down well
with the crowd. There was only one ‘failure’ and that was no one apparently
heard the Air Raid Siren that was used near the beginning and towards the end of
the display. That’s a pity as it was hard work turning the handle (if we need to
use one again we will get an electric one and place it nearer the front of the
A note from the team on finance:-
We would like to state here and now that we do not make a profit out of the
displays, and should any excess money come from the paying public, it is put
back into the following years display. Helping us to achieve one of our original
aims of being self-funding.
This year also saw the team set up and fire the Millenium Display during the
Summer month of June. This display was a welcome change from firing on cold, wet
and most times cold evenings in winter and was shear luxury to be able to work
in shirtsleeves, during the day (we still used protective equipment for firing
the display). This display was to be all arial with no static pieces and
comprised mainly of Shells, Mines with a selection of various types of Roman
Candles with the final shell being our biggest to date – an 8” diameter Golden
Rain shell. The display went without a hitch but not without apprehension from
the firers when it was time to let off the 8” shell. There were however no
worries as the shell behaved itself, launching itself up to a height of 800ft,
taking approx. 9 seconds to do so and exploding in a vast ball of falling golden
It was a magnificent sight from beneath the shell and many reports after the
display said it was the best ‘firework’ ever seen.
2001 – Thunderbirds are Go
As subjects go this years did not celebrate any anniversary, but highlighted a
popular TV series currently enjoying a re-run and gaining even more viewers than
the original series.
The display this year was started with a rocket traversing a guide wire, which
ignited into a ball of flame as it entered the bonfire, setting off a mine and a
shell at the same time, whilst lighting the bonfire – quite spectacular!
The display consisted of the Thunderbirds craft depicted in lancework, with
Thunderbirds 1 & 2 to the left of the display with Thunderbirds 3 as the main
centre display (the pod),. During the display the pod was raised vertically to
show the smaller Thunderbirds 4 (underwater) craft emerging and moving to the
right of the display. We thought long and hard if there was any possibility to
have an image of the Thunderbirds Space station but decided that we did not have
the time or money to ask NASA for help!
This segment of the display was fired to the theme from the TV series and went
according to plan. The remainder of the display consisted of various elements
including cakes, roman candles, mines and shells. To finish we had another
spectacular 8” shell which proved as popular as the last, bringing gasps from
the crowd (we enjoyed it too, as this was the last firework in the display, we
were able to watch it as well!!!
Program for 2002
The Queens Jubilee – June 3rd
A celebration of the Queens Golden Jubilee in the recreation ground along with a
mixture of events to be set out during the day. We expect to fire the display
between 10:30 – 11:00 – do not miss it!!
Bonfire Night – Saturday 2nd November
Make a note in your diary for this event – although no ideas have been
finalized, we are hoping to improve on last years display and make it even more
A word of thanks is appropriate and the firing team would like to thank all the
people who help behind the scenes including various clubs that provide marshals
for the event, those that help with the food and drinks etc and those that
distribute the leaflets and generally help out. Of course thanks goes to Charlie
Wood for supplying the Music and PA and the St John’s team for always being
there should anything go wrong. Finally a thank you to our local Council for
their support over the years, without which the displays would not have been
able to take place.
There will be an article to follow shortly on the safety of our firework
displays and that of crowd safety too. We will try to publish some photographs
of the equipment we use during the displays which we hope you will find
If you have read the above, enjoyed it or discovered a mistake please let us
know through the web-site forum. If you have any comments regarding the overall
events we would like to hear them- we do, after all put on the displays for the
benefit of Steeple Claydon, and it is only by feed back over the years, we have
been able to improve our displays to the present level. Your point of view is
important to us.
Link: Firework safety
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