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.