During the early hours of 05 November, 1605 the authorities, who had been tipped off that a plot was underway to assassinate King James I of England, searched the storage room beneath the House of Lords and found Guy Fawkes guarding a stockpile of explosives. He was arrested and, after being tortured, confessed to being part of a plot to restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. He was set to be executed on 31 January 1606, but didn't give the crowds the satisfaction of watching him be hanged by jumping from the scaffold and breaking his neck.
November 5th has been celebrated as the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot throughout England and the English colonies ever since to celebrate the King's escape. The House of Commons passed an Act instituting the day as "a holiday for ever in thankfulness to God for our deliverance and detestation of the Papists". It is one of very few holidays which was based on something other than a seasonal celebration or a religious event.
The very next day, Londoners were encouraged to light bonfires to celebrate the deliverance of the King. In years to come, effigies of Guy Fawkes would be burnt in the bonfires.
Through the Seventeenth Century, young boys would dress in old, ratty clothes, carrying an unlit lantern in one hand and a bundle of matches in the other (the stereotyped image of Guy Fawkes), and move through the streets begging for money from passersby.