Today U.S. citizens are celebrating July 4th and the independence of our nation from Great Britain. Grand firework displays will play a pivotal role in our national revelry tonight, culminating a day long celebration. Fireworks were not unknown during the Georgian Era, and were used for grand effect in public celebrations. I will point out only a few instances in London.
The picture above is of the firework display held by the Duke of Richmond at Richmond House near the Thames in Whitehall, London [May 1749] and shows both the whole effect of all the fireworks and also, very interestingly, gives individual details [on the side] of the individual fireworks which made up the whole display. – Austenonly
Green Park was readied for a grand fireworks display in 1763 to celebrate the Treaty of Paris, which ended the French and Indian War in North America. The park had attracted firework displays before:
The Green Park was used for a national party in 1746 to celebrate the end of the War of Hanoverian Succession. The royal family arranged a great firework display and commissioned the composer, Handel, to write his Music for the Royal Fireworks. A vast Temple of Peace was built in the park to store the fireworks. But early on a stray rocket hit the temple. Three people died and 10,000 fireworks were destroyed in the fire that followed. - The Green Park
The Treaty of Paris granted Great Britain control of all land to the east of the Mississippi River, a cause for a grand celebration and a good reason for building a ceremonial temple. (View a print of the scene here.)
Another cause for creating massive firework displays was the long reign of George III. The details of the Golden Jubilee celebrations are beautifully described at Austenonly.
Fireworks were quite dangerous, and so were gas lit fires. In 1814, another grand celebration was planned in St. James Park (which lies close to Green Park) to commemorate 100 years of the Hanoverian royal family. A seven-story pagoda was erected on a Chinese-style bridge spanning the canal in St. James’s Park.
The splendid gala was organized for the joint August first celebration of the Hanoverian Centenary and the anniversary of the Battle of the Nile. The brilliant and daring tactics of Lord Nelson at the Battle of the Nile were represented by rowboats upon the canal. A disaster occurred when the gas lit pagoda caught fire and burned. Two men were killed and a number injured trying to put out the fire. A number of the Royal swans succumbed to smoke and fire. The crowd unaware that this was an accident took the occurrence to be part of the spectacle and applauded wildly. – The Georgian Index
When the Napoleonic Wars came to an end, famed rope walker, Madame Squi, could finally cross the English Channel in 1816 to perform at Vauxhall Gardens for the first time.
‘In the midst of a great burst of fireworks, Bengal lights glimmering faintly in the clouds of smoke, she (Saqui) stands on a rope, sixty feet up, and follows a narrow and difficult path to the end of her journey. Sometimes she is completely hidden from our eyes by the billowing waves, but from the way she walks, so self-assured, one would think an Immortal was walking peacefully towards her celestial home.’ [Lerouge on Madam Saqui at Vauxhall] – Rope Walkers and Equillibrists
Firework displays were no novelty at Vauxhall Gardens, or any of the major gardens where people congregated to walk along grand promenades, dance publicly to music, eat, drink, and enjoy an evening out in the open.
There were terrible accidents then as now with fireworks. Here is an account from an 1858 newspaper** about an accident in central London:
All over the U.S. we will be enjoying various kinds of firework displays. Those in Washington D.C. and the major cities will be the grandest, I am sure. I recall an intimate firework display along a small lake in Vermont one year, in which only a few fireworks were set off. Interestingly, of all the firework displays I have seen, that is the one I tend to recall. Happy Birthday, America! Stay safe.