August 11th - 12th 1998

Mount Batten Breakwater, Plymouth Sound, UK

National Firework Championships

another "content over style" web page by Steve Johnson Cyberheritage...bringing the world to your home, non political, non commercially to the world! "pyros sans frontieres!!"

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Fireworks on the Hoe - a postcard of a painting

c. Liz Jones Armada Gallery, Barbican, Plymouth,UK

The Firework Co. display. Click to enlarge, much bigger scans available at base of page.

"access all areas" provided by the kind offices of Chris Hutchison of The Firework Co. of Uffculme, Devon, near me!! also thanks to them for film, Coca-Cola, orange juice, Mars bars, B-B- Q sausage rolls, laughter, humour, much pyro trivia, funny hats, and the best Tee-Shirt in town!

Plymouth Sound, that great natural harbour, overlooked by the "high place" of Plymouth Hoe has seen much pass it`s way, from the exploits of Sir Francis Drake, to the Blitz of the 1940`s, to happier times of round the world yacht races, air displays and of course that most wonderful of all words....the firework word!

The last decade or so has seen many huge, and we are talking 30,000-100,000 size huge firework displays. My first memory of one was in 1970 when as a spotty teenager I climbed the grassy slopes of Plymouth Hoe to watch the firework and son et lumiere show celebrating the Mayflower 70 anniversary. It was 350 years since the Pilgrim Fathers sailed on the Mayflower on their final leg of the voyage to the new lands in America from Plymouth.

In 1986, I believe, we had a spectacular show, for what I cannot remember, at the time I was lucky enough to be able to watch the whole event from the privileged view point of Drake`s Island. Just look at this!

1988 saw fireworks at Plymouth BIG TIME. It was Drake 400 and we were celebrating the 400th anniversary of Drake circumnavigating the globe.At dusk a small flotilla of boats began to form, then as darkness descended "fire vessels" symbolising Drake`s victory over the Spanish armada, came out of the lower reaches of the Tamar, shooting rockets (as cannons) on the parachute flares drew red lines in a black summer sky over an altar of a laser illuminated battle ship, we were treated to a firework display that was beyond imagination.

1995 saw the world giving thanks for the anniversary of the ending of World War II. On May 8th. we saw a mega firework display to celebrate and remember the 50th anniversary of VE Day in Europe. These are all fairly large scans, up to 90k, but just look at these. What a canvas. Not just fireworks, but the beauty of emotion in smoke, sound, and fire and smell played out on the history laden canvas of that natural anchorage, Plymouth Sound waters.

Rock watchers view lasers, battleships and pyro grace in the dark sky Stunning or what?!

Palm Tree shell stands among lasers and a battleship.

Liquid fire in the sky illuminates the glassy waters of Plymouth Sound

A fine bunch of Chrysanthemums

I hope you liked these, please feel free to print them out and stick `em on the wall!

Now it is 1998 and we have the second year of what is fast becoming a major player in the pyro calender...take six firework companies picked by lottery from 23 interested parties, commission a precise10 minute show, pay them 4,800 UK for materials and cover their expenses and hotels, make a limit of 600kg NET explosive weight, spread it over two days, put up a prize of 5,000 for the winner and the chance to represent Britain at the international competition in San Sebastian, include 2,500 for the runner up, sprinkle in a few rules ( no shell over 12 ins {300mm}, deduct a point for every 5sec overrun on timing, timed by stopwatch, make each display start on the third maroon, and end on third maroon) select some judges ( expert to judge rhythm, range and originality, lay to judge on overall impression, general composition and entertainment value..oooooo....aaahhh..wowwwww..ohhhohoh...factor!) and pray for fine weather!!!! Also hope that they all want to win so much they actually put a lot more into the show than what they are paid for..( this happened and most spent 13,000 to 14,000 each making it at least a 90,000 show! ).......this is the British Firework Championships, held at Plymouth, Devon, UK. My good on line pyro pal , Larry Crump of Texas has followed this competition through his site :LARRY CRUMP`S SUPER AMERICAN FIREWORK SITE which is well worth a look, no matter where in the world you are.

RESULT: 200,000 people come to Plymouth and spend their holiday lolly in our shops, cafe and hotels. A very good idea.It is the most positive thing that any council can do, so it is a "hats off" to Plymouth City Council for this.A lot of very happy people, locals and visitors.

.....just do not mention THE BOMB!!

What bomb would that be, Sir? OH...the 250kg (500lb) German World War II one that was found after lunch on a plot of land very close to the firing site. What site would that be, Sir? OH, the one with all those fireworks on!! Aagghhhhhhhhhhh. See my filed e-mail daily reports on this by clicking here. The EOD people from the Navy and Army came down, the police closed off the area....marooning us in the nicest possible way surrounded by sea on all three sides...on a pier! Plymouth was very heavily bombed in World War II, and this was did not go Bang!! ..which at the time was a blessing, but today a real pain.

The next day the bomb was removed and safely demolished in a controlled underwater explosion.BANG!!

The press and TV had a field day, fireworks and bombs and thousands of people on a fine summer day...the stuff of dream headlines. The police did a terrific job in what could have been a ..err...difficult situation!! All of us setting up on the pier were kept well up to date by a very nice WPC! This is Bill Deeker of Pains Fireworks, a sort of umpire, getting the current situation from the police under the timeless gaze of Mount Batten Tower. A police launch at sea kept local shipping away from not us, the bomb, hang on, the bomb and us are in virtually the same spot!!! When we were finally allowed to leave it was in a police convoy, and as we drove out we saw the many Bomb Disposal vehicles parked close to the bomb. As some one said.." I can`t imagine any group of people being less concerned about being at almost ground zero to a real live UXB, than firework company workers!!" Here is the newstand flyers that came out of all this, the word "Bomb" features heavily. Evening Herald 1,.... Evening Herald 2.


The Evening Herald is online, so surfers may visit their site and read any archives they have on "The Bomb."

See a TV still of the explosion BOOM and BANG. This still is it being towed out to sea by local Navy EOD divers. Here is the hole where it was found, see the nose mark. {c.Westcountry T.V. 1998}. This is Mike Shute the man who found it while working on the building site in his digger. He did promise not to find anymore the next day! (I did not believe him!) Not only did it make all the local TV, radio and newspapers, but YAHOO news picked up on it too. Here is one report headline, and this is the other.

The result of all this was that the show had to be postponed to the next day, Wednesday 12th, now instead of three shows we have six. WOW, sounds good to me! This is going to be a lot of pyro power. Goodie.

For Tuesday evening, a wonderful warm and sunny summer evening all we could do was to look across to the deserted breakwater with all the pyro on it, large vans, police on sentry duty.....and a Bomb! Firework Co.friends and family had a party in Plymouth Dome, sadly with no fireworks on order, or at least, for tonight. We had to hope the weather would be as good the next evening...which happily it was.

Plan A...before the Bomb was to have displays on Day 1starting at 9.15pm with Dynamic Fireworks (Colchester, Essex), going on to Northern Lights (Trowbridge), ending with The Firework Co.(Uffculme, Devon) at 10.05pm. Day 2 was to have started with Vulcan Fireworks (Carshalton, Surrey), then Skyfires Fireworks (Over Wallop, Hampshire), and last of all, Pyrovision (Bletchingley, Surrey). Firing times would be put back by 10 mins or so if it had been a particularly bright day with a tardy sunset, the event could not be held later as it is a family event with the aim to entertain children of all ages as well as adults.

Plan B...after the Bomb, and now all displays on one night saw the firing order as:

Vulcan Fireworks (last years runner up), Dynamic Fireworks, Skyfires, Northern Lights, Pyrovision, The Firework Co. Starting was at 9.30pm, with a 5 minute break between hour of pyro heaven!

Bring on the judges....Evening Herald Editor, Rachel Campey; Westcountry TV presenter, Richard Bath, and Plymouth City Council`s Chair of Leisure, Councillor Chris Mavin: make up the lay judges. For expert judges we have....Bill Deeker of Pains Fireworks, Harry Long, Managing Director of Black Cat Fireworks of Burton-on-Trent and that renowned firework person, George Amabilino.

On Tuesday, before the slight matter of the UXB, I was lucky enough to meet Chris Hutchison of The Firework Co.during his early morning interview with local BBC Radio, Radio Devon at the Lord Mayors official residence at 3, Elliot Terrace on Plymouth Hoe.Coffee (real) and biscuits on real fine bone china was a good start to what as we now know was to become a very eventful day. Here I got my Firework Co. can see it on the photos of the rigging crew that follow. Chris is the one with the firework Tee-shirt on.The firing area and that soon to be discovered UXB is across the Cattewater, an area of harbour just behind the persons in the photo. This balcony would have been a good viewing place.

I arrived on the breakwater about 20 mins or so after my visit to the Lord Mayors residence and was amazed to see just how many sand bags the council had provided...was it 700? Certainly a lot, as this shot of a little of them shows.

Now what all you pyros really want, yes, what you really, really want.... rig set up shots, here we go. First of all its The Firework Co. Without their help none of you would be seeing any of this, they also supplied the film, drinks and food, and the T shirt, and arranged everything for me, so most of the shots are with them, and good to them too, for realising the international interest in this event. We salute you!! (not a maroon!) Some of these images were taken on DAY 1, before we were evacuated, others were taken the next day, however in the context of this web page it is irrelevant.

Steve Johnson is not associated with any particular company but can be easily bought if fireworks are on offer!

The Firework Co. of Uffculme, Devon

The Firework a smallish company based in rural Devon. Even so they are the fourth biggest supplier of DIY packs in the UK, or so I was told anyway. Being close to me in Plymouth it is natural that a pyrofile such as me would do his level best to befriend them. That seems to be fine with them as they are a very friendly company and that is good for fireworks as a whole.

Without their M.D. Chris Hutchison this web page would not exist, so if you are reading this and downloading the rig and set up photos, spare a thought for those at The Firework Co. who made it happen.

Start of everything....unload the van, racks and racks of mortar tubes, and more and more, planks, wood, more tubes, and still more. Then more still, and then wooden planks to brace the jigsaw puzzle of tubes etc. The firing site had already been chalked out so the rigging crew knew were to place everything. Everybody worked from a master set up plan, which for ease of convenience was printed on the back of the T- shirts...there was also a proper printed plan if this amazes you! A rather cool idea though `! I wondered why so many were "reading" my back!

As the whole thing grew like a machine, it was necessary to ballast the spaces between the woodwork with sand, as well as to use the many sandbags as a form of physical stabilisation and protection.

Several marine red parachute distress flare rockets were used ( with notice to coastguard ) as well as a lot of 10in and 12in shells. Just how many smaller shells is anyone's guess. I like shells, let`s look at some....some had tails, two tails, ..three tails, ...coloured lifting charge bags, this is a shell relaxing in the sun!!! The whole rig took hours to arrange in the correct position on the ground. This was the turn of the fusing crew, to actually place the live fireworks in the mortars, and/or fuse the multitude of other items. Any error or skimping at this stage could spell failure at display time, with a vital item either not firing or firing too late or early.All ignition was electrical. Electrical wires weave like a spaghetti meal! It is a task that requires the utmost concentration. Here it seems to be quiche on the menu! the whole scene was "Pyroville." Firework rigs and set ups went from the end of the breakwater to the carpark and picnic area, several hundred yards.

Signal rockets, shell burst rockets, aqua, or water fireworks, ( special shells or mines fired across to the waters surface to function from the water) large cakes, large volleys of big calibre roman candles, individual large roman candles,large cakes, crown wheels ( a sort of flying, hovering and diving catherine wheel type thingy!) rockets, candles and shells all fused as one unit, and even fireworks lifted aloft on helium balloons were all being calmly and with much intricacy set up by skilled operators who have done this " a few times before" a few hundred! Soon the whole rig grew into a sort of Rubik's Cube of tubes, wood, and electric wire, Shells, shells and more shells, many to 12in, they are really heavy, they feel really nice and are quite tactile...sorry, I am what is known as a closet firework fondler! When all was finished some items would be shielded in tin foil in order to prevent their accidental ignition by fireworks positioned close by. As we were evacuated from the site in police convoy all the fireworks were left under wraps of plastic sheet to weather the night out on that lonely pier with all seagulls for company accompanied by the sounds of soft waves. The next morning with the bomb all clear, it was JUST??!! a matter of removing the plastic sheeting and checking everything. Sad to blue touchpaper.

There must have been a total of 12 people who worked on the whole project at some time, some for all the time. Indeed it could be said that it was a small army, well if so an army marches on it`s stomach and The Firework Co. had laid good BBQ type food on and endless cold drinks...thanks to Claire. It was HOT! Everybody wore SUNHATS!

Here are some photos of The Firework Co. display. Print them out. It was superb display, as were all the displays. There are no photos of the other companies displays as to get a few good shots, you have to take a lot....and anyway, they bought the film! I had retired to join the masses on the Hoe underneath the brewing shadow of Plymouth`s 17th. centuty Citadel, as I was aiming to take some decent photos. Before I left the firing site I was able to see the lances being prepared for their helium balloon airlift. Just before the display the crowds really packed in as a large merchant vessel felt her way seaward through a myriad of small vessels all looking for a water borne vantage point and anyone with binoculars would have spotted the helium balloons all lined up and ready to go with their pyrotechnic cargo.

Then the display, if you like these print them out and stick `em on your wall:

Golden shells burst and cast a glow over the sea.

A LOT!! of rockets burst in the night sky, as water (aqua) shells and mines burst on the sea surface.

Shells burst, red parachute flares descend, helium balloons ascend.

Red glare crossed by rising balloons and falling red flares illuminates smoke under the umbrella of bursting shells (sounds like a name of a Chinese firework cake!)

These other ones defeat me, so I shall use Plymouth terminology:



This really says it all. Next day the newspaper flyers had a good story and I was able to look back at a selection of newspaper headlines, most of which are not normally associated with firework displays...thankfully.

Plymouth had had not tens, but hundreds of thousands of happy people, citizens and visitors alike. What other mass event other than fireworks can do this for such a low cost per head, may this long continue.

Northern Lights

This is a new small company headed by two pleasant young men, Steve Allision and Paul Gerencser. Based in Trowbridge they had a lot of brand new equipment. Obviously this was going to be an important show to was an important show to all companies, but it was easy to see that this was their "Everest." It made me think that a lot of the kit had been specially bought for the show. All items were well spaced out. They did not offer me any Hot Dogs or Mars bars, so they get less photos!! Joke! But they were really nice guys and were helpful in my photo taking. Well, they had a lot of rockets, shell burst and flight types, all well laid out in racks. Here is Steve holding a nice shell. Like many they had water fireworks, here the tubes gaze over the Cattewater. When it comes to roman candles, Northern Lights had just a few...look at these, a lot....more,...ready to go. Doesn't it look good, really pretty. When time came to evacuate the site for the EOD teams to do their work, all kit was well wrapped against whatever the night weather may bring...reminds me of my cooking efforts at Christmas!

Vulcan Fireworks

I really liked Vulcans set up. Why? Easy, you see I am a rocketofile...I LIKE ROCKETS! Especially big ones on huge bamboo sticks 8 feet or so long. These were Spanish "Festoon" rockets that produce wonderful dual parachute suspended lance chains...some have just one chute and the chain hangs vertically down....beautiful. They had many large flights of flight rockets fired from metal firing cones and must have bought up the entire UK collection of tinfoil...but then it is a wise precaution against the weather and sparks from nearby fireworks unwittingly setting of yours! Thanks to Judith Hay-Bircham and her helpful team from Carshalton, Surrey.

Pyrovision from Bletchingley, Surrey

Thanks are due to the hospitality of Keith Webb of Pyrovision. However I got around to his set up late in the afternoon when much was under weather protection...which made interesting photographs rather tricky to get. This also explains the shortage of photos from some other folks too. These two photos show a little "tension relief" as show time fast approaches and it was time for a big smile for the photographer.

Skyfires Fireworks

Again I arrived at their set up a little late. Thanks are due to Rainer Davis and his friendly team from Over Wallop, Hampshire. This shot shows the Skyfires team at work...notice the other set ups trailing into the distance at top right. Then there are these nice rockets and cakes, and a busy overall scene among lots of roman candles.

Dynamic Fireworks of Colchester, Essex

Bob Claydon and his son Nigel Claydon make a good father and son firework team. Many thanks are due to them for their amazing hospitality and help they extended to me to get these photos. This wee, or rather big beastie is a water firework, soon to be placed into it`s mortar firing tube to be shot across the water. Lots of rockets were arranged in flights, it may look a little haphazard, but really is a product of many hours of backroom work. In this shot, they almost look like bunches of flowers from a florist. Boxes, firework boxes, yummy, I wonder what secrets and goodies they hold? Lots and lots of tubes make for an interesting pattern, each with a shell or mine nestling in the bottom of it...or soon will be. At the start of it all was some carpentry and heavy work arranging this little lot. A fair bit of wood was needed to hold these set-pieces up, this windmill was on a metal stand though. Dynamic Fireworks have a nice van..and "we all knows whose it is!" It was quite a set up and looks ready for the oven wrapped in tinfoil. These "Dinosaur" candles look fun.


After the final show, members of the different teams were ferried across the water by water taxi to the presentation ceremony at The Royal Corinthian Yacht Club on the waterfront of Plymouth Hoe.

Winners were Northern Lights.Runners up were The Firework Co.

Steve Allision of Northern Lights was speechless! I tried speaking to him and all I had was "err, uumm." A new company had scored well and won. Hats off to them! The Firework Co. were sporting runners up. Hats off to them too!

Steve Allision, of the winning company Northern Lights gets a TV, radio and press reception. Click to enlarge any of them.

Well folks thats it for this year, hope you enjoyed this page and hopefully it will be you on it next year!

NEXT YEAR 1999 IS THE PLYMOUTH TOTAL ECLIPSE: A TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE SUN ON THE SAME DAY AS THE FIREWORKS August 11th. !!! unbelievable...but true! SEE MY ECLIPSE PAGE ON THIS LINK - Plymouth Total Solar Eclipse August 11 1999-

Did you like all this, like fireworks, like old or foreign firework collectibles, dummies, or posters etc.? on......

This firework competition web page is an outpost of Firework Heritage Virtual Museum Web Page run by Maurice Evans and Steve Johnson,as featured recently by Microsoft, yes, THE Microsoft! as in my pal Bill Gates !! Please visit it for over 700 photos and downloadable pyro and firework goodies. To whet your appetite, here is a taster of what we have on offer.





The Coronation of George V saw many firework displays, here are some of the posters associated with them.


























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