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Maurice Evans, Firework Collector

February 12, 2011
by the gentle author

Maurice Evans has been collecting fireworks since childhood and now at eighty-two years old he has the most comprehensive collection in the country – so you can imagine both my excitement and my trepidation upon stepping through the threshold of his house in Shoreham. My concern about potential explosion was relieved when Maurice confirmed that he has removed the gunpowder from his fireworks, only to be reawakened when his wife Kit helpfully revealed that Catherine Wheels and Bangers were excepted because you cannot extract the gunpowder without ruining  them.

This statement prompted Maurice to remember with visible pleasure that he still had a collection of World War II shells in the cellar and, of course, the reinforced steel shed in the garden full of live fireworks. “Let’s just say, if there’s a big bang in the neighbourhood, the police always come here first to see if it’s me,” admitted Maurice with a playful smirk. “Which it often isn’t,” added Kit, backing Maurice up with a complicit demonstration of knowing innocence.

“It all started with my father who was in munitions in the First World War,” explained Maurice proudly, “He had a big trunk with little drawers, and in those drawers I found diagrams explaining how to work with explosives and it intrigued me. Then came World War II and the South Downs were used as a training ground and, as boys, we went where we shouldn’t and there were loads of shells lying around, so we used to let them off.”

Maurice’s radiant smile revealed to me the unassailable joy of his teenage years, running around the downs at Shoreham playing with  bombs. “We used to set off detonators outside each other’s houses to announce we’d arrived!” he bragged, waving his left hand to reveal the missing index finger, blown off when the explosive in a slow fuse unexpectedly fired upon lighting. “That’s the worst thing that happened,” Maurice declared with a grimace of alacrity, “We were worldly wise with explosives!”

Even before his teens, the love of pyrotechnics had taken grip upon Maurice’s psyche. It was a passion born of denial. “I used to suffer from bronchitis and asthma as a child, so when November 5th came round, I had to stay indoors.” he confided with a frown, “Every shop had a club and you put your pennies and ha’pennies in to save for fireworks and that’s what I did, but then my father let them off and I had to watch through the window.”

After the war, Maurice teamed up with a pyrotechnician from London and they travelled the country giving displays which Maurice devised, achieving delights that transcended his childhood hunger for explosions. “In my mind, I could envisage the sequence of fireworks and colours, and that was what I used to enjoy. You’ve got all the colours to start with, smoke, smoke colours, ground explosions, aerial explosions – it’s endless the amount of different things you can do. The art of it is knowing how to choose.” explained Maurice, his face illuminated by the images flickering in his mind. Adding, “I used to be quite big in fireworks at one time.” with calculated understatement.

Yet all this personal history was the mere pre-amble before Maurice led me through his house, immaculately clean, lined with patterned carpets and papers and witty curios of every description. Then in the kitchen, overlooking the garden where old trees stood among snowdrops, he opened an unexpected cupboard door to reveal a narrow red staircase going down. We descended to enter the burrow where Maurice has his rifle range, his collections, model aeroplanes, bombs and fireworks – all sharing the properties of flight and explosiveness. Once they were within reach, Maurice could not restrain his delight in picking up the shells and mortars of his childhood, explaining their explosive qualities and functions.

But my eyes were drawn by all the fireworks that lined the walls and glass cases, and the deep blues, lemon yellows and scarlets of their wrappers and casings. Such evocative colours and intricate designs which in their distinctive style of type and motif, draw upon the excitement and anticipation of magic we all share as children, feelings that compose into a lifelong love of fireworks. Rockets, Roman Candles, Catherine Wheels, Bangers, and Sparklers – amounting to thousands in boxes and crates, Maurice’s extraordinary collection is the history of fireworks in this country.

“I wouldn’t say its made my life, but its certainly livened it up,” confided Maurice, seeing my wonder at his overwhelming display. Because no-one (except Maurice) keeps fireworks, there is something extraordinary in seeing so many old ones and it sets your imagination racing to envisage the potential spectacle that these small cardboard parcels propose.

Maurice outgrew the bronchitis and asthma to have a beautiful life filled with fireworks, to visit firework factories around Britain, in China, Australia, New Zealand and all over Europe, and to scour Britain for collections of old fireworks, accumulating his priceless collection. Now like an old dragon in a cave, surrounded by gold, Maurice guards his cellar hoard protectively and is concerned about the future. “It needs to be seen,” he said, contemplating it all and speaking his thoughts out loud, “I would like to put this whole collection into a museum. I don’t want any money. I want everyone to see what happened from pre-war times up until the present day in the progression of fireworks.”

“My father used to bring me the used ones to keep,” confessed Maurice quietly with an affectionate gleam in his eye, as he revealed the emotional origin of his collection, now that we were alone together in the cellar. With touching selflessness, having derived so much joy from collecting his fireworks, Maurice wants to share them with everybody else.

Maurice with his exploding fruit.

Maurice with his barrel of gunpowder

Maurice with his grenades.

Maurice with two favourite rockets.

Firework photographs copyright © Simon Costin

Read my story about Simon Costin, The Museum of British Folklore

21 Responses leave one →
  1. jo watts permalink
    February 12, 2011

    what a simply superb collection, lovely stuff!

  2. Chris F permalink
    February 12, 2011

    I love the printing and the labels. A real nostalgia trip for me.

  3. February 13, 2011

    What beautiful things they are. My favourite is the one called WAKEY WAKEY!

  4. February 23, 2011

    Awesome collection Maurice. Well done. Regards, the epic fireworks team.

  5. February 23, 2011

    Wow! I have had a few of my oldies published in Fireworks Magazine, but now I am truly envious!

  6. February 24, 2011

    I remember Brock’s and Standard fireworks from the early 80s.

    Great collection.

  7. February 26, 2011

    Brilliant article and impressive collection of fireworks huh!?! Great big smile on my face-thanks for sharing x

  8. Jeff permalink
    March 1, 2011

    Although 50 years ago, I can see my dad coming home with many of those fireworks & my mum & sister running away from those Jumping Jacks. Burning a Guy in an old dustbin, jacket potatoes, then going upstairs to my grandparents & looking out of their back window to see the neighbours fireworks

    Thanks & well done, great collection.

  9. Alec Curtis permalink
    March 1, 2011

    Memories, memories, thank goodness for those who collect and preserve. Thanks Maurice I look forward to seeing your collection when on view.

  10. March 2, 2011

    Wow. An excellent look back at some of the most innotive fireworks of their day. You have done the industry pround and I only hope that your love of fireworks and collection lasts for many more years!

  11. March 2, 2011

    Fantastic collection, we can remembers elling many of the items. Look forward to seeing them at the museum as it’s not far from us.

  12. Ollie permalink
    March 12, 2011

    What a fantastically written article! Being Maurice’s grandson, this really made me smile and think back to being shown these personally by grandad and also to think of the fun times at the rifle shooting range in the cellar…one of the best grandparents you could ask for.

  13. k skinner permalink
    September 24, 2012

    I wonder if maurice can recall what i called as a child “bingle matches”.

  14. Philip permalink
    October 24, 2012

    Actually you can see what were called bengal matches, in one of the pictures. We called them flare matches you could get two colours red or green and they were made by Astra as I recall.

    I think its the wrappers that bring the memories flooding back thanks for sharing it made me think of my Dad and the way he used to supplement the number of fireworks on bonfire night, I am sure without my mother knowing.

  15. Adam Campbell permalink
    April 5, 2013

    Maurice taught me display management and explosives safety and worked with him on a number of displays. Amazing chap.

  16. June 27, 2013

    What an incredible collection. Takes me back to bonfire nights of the 50’s & 60’s.
    Wonderful site. Love the museum site too. Have made start on printing out old labels & constructing dummy replicas of old fireworks. Many thanks.

  17. July 2, 2013

    Have About A Doz.Cherry Bombs,1965,They Worth Anything.Live,RON

  18. jim permalink
    July 30, 2013

    i have a 1950s flying torpedo but cant find anything about it hoping you can shed some light many thanks love your collection btw

  19. November 18, 2020

    Well Maurice what an amazing collection of memorable fireworks. If it wasn’t for people like you all the original 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s fireworks would have been lost forever. It makes me want to design some of the old style label’s with a modern twist.

  20. Allister McIlwrick permalink
    October 23, 2023

    Thank you for a wonderful trip down memory lane. The story and pictures brought back the sense of expectation on the run up to the 5th. The saving pocket money, the trip to our news agents who had a great black tin trunk full with what I thought was sawdust. The delving into it and feeling about for a firework. Then there would be the collecting wood from all our gardens to build a bonfire. Rushing home to get your tea the rushing out to where the bonfire was.
    I was always scared of the jumping jacks always hoped there would be more than one. The smell was just wonderful. Catherine wheels are still my favourite . The the next morning I’d be up early to collect them and if you were lucky you’d find one or two that hadn’t gone off. I’d keep them in my dad’s shed but by spring the following year they’d have mysteriously disappeared. I’m quite envious of this wonderful collection. I wish you well.

  21. James Briglia sr permalink
    July 15, 2024

    Great stuff wish I saved all the stuff I had all the stuff now stinks

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