Wednesday, 9 May 2012

When trousers threatened democracy

Recently I've been interested in "twin years": years which have identical dates. For example, you could use a calendar for 2012 in 1804, 1832 and 1860 (and others). I've been looking at 1792 recently, since it's the first twin year for 2012 after the launch of the Times newspaper so between The Times and The Annual Register, I have plenty of sources about that year.

On the 9th May 1792 someone broke a hole in the ceiling of a toilet under the House of Commons, and stuffed the gap between the joists full of combustible material including some trousers. But the smell of burning was discovered before the fire could really take hold and a disaster was averted. The mistake the arsonist made was to use trousers made of wool, which did not burn well.

Compared to the Gunpowder Plot (with its background of religious intrigue, explosive nature of the attack and the huge loss of life that would've occurred had the attack been a success) this attack is little more than attempted arson, and the perpetrator was never caught, so with no evil wrong-doer for the media to write about and vilify, the event quickly slipped into obscurity.

I suppose that's why we celebrate Guy Fawkes Night and not "That guy who might have been anyone" night.

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