This is a special introduction to the photobook and film Vreugdevuur Scheveningen, which is now available for pre-order.

Holland’s Prince William of Orange, also known as William the Silent, happened to fall victim to a specific record: in 1584, he was the first head of state to be assassinated by a gun. His murder left Holland in political quandry, as the heir to power, William’s brother, was a hostage in Spain. So Queen Elizabeth took it upon herself to send her beloved Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, to rule over Holland as a temporary “govenor-general.” When he arrived in Scheveningen, he was met with an extraordinary display of fireworks, including a tower that spewed fire and sparks in all directions as depicted in this etching from 1586. It would be far from the last time a bonfire tower was built on that beach.

A Vreugdevuur for the 40th jubilee of Queen Wilhelmina on Scheveningen’s beach,
August 26th, 1938. (Gompers, collection Haags Gemeentearchief)

A family and their friends celebrate New Year’s with a stolen police Jeep on Jan Steenstraat, January 1, 1968. According to local accounts, the crowd drove the new Jeep into a bonfire, where it was found by police in the morning. (G.J. ter Brugge, collection Haags Gemeentearchief)
For most of the years after World War Two, The Hague was a city of skirmishes over collections of discarded Christmas trees to burn on the night of the year's passing. There was violence on the streets leading up to every New Year's Eve, in fact, a friend of my father's died in an ensuing police chase. The police just couldn’t control it and had to play along. With their blessings, the violence slowly evolved into a bonfire rivalry between Duindorp and Scheveningen, my late grandfather’s neighborhood.

(both courtesy of Jos van Leeuwen)