St Martin’s church is perhaps best known as the home of the Fenny Poppers; six small ceremonial cannon which are fired annually on St Martin’s Day (11th November.)
The tradition was initiated by Browne Willis in order to perpetuate his own memory. He arranged for a sermon to be preached at the church on each St. Martin’s Day and during his lifetime he also celebrated the occasion with a dinner attended by local clergy and gentry. The poppers date from this time, but there is no record of their first use.
Following his death in 1760, the traditions were carried on and later documented.
All six poppers were re-cast in 1859, after one of them burst. These are still in use today and were recently tested to ensure there are no cracks.
Nowadays the poppers are fired every St Martin’s Day in the Leon Recreation Ground, central Bletchley. Firings take place at noon, 2pm and 4pm.
The poppers each weigh about 19 pounds (8.5 kilos). The bore is 6 inches by 1.75 inches and they are charged with Pyrodex (a modern alternative to black powder), which is then plugged with well-rammed newspaper. They are ignited by means of a long poker, the tip of which has been heated red hot in a brazier.
Click on the link below to see a short video of the Fenny Poppers being fired on St Martin’s Day 2011.
Notable Firings of the Poppers
In 1901 they were fired to mourn the death of Queen Victoria. It was reported that the 81 salutes were heard as far away as Olney.
On the 1st January 2000 at 11.00am the Poppers were fired to mark the beginning of the Second Millennium.
At 2.00pm on the 4th August 2000, a salute of Six Poppers was fired to celebrate the 100th Birthday of the Queen’s Mother.
Most recently, the poppers were fired in 2012 to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.