A beacon fire
Malvern Hills - the warning beacons
Beacons have been lit on top of the Malverns since Norman times, and in the 19th century fires were regularly lit on the hills as the 'Beaconmania' took hold of the country.
Malvern Hills facts
Everyone knows the story of how when the Spanish Armada sailed up the English channel a network of beacons were lit across the country to warn of the threat of invasion.
The Worcestershire Beacon - the highest point on the Malverns - was an obvious place to have a warning beacon, as the fire would be seen on a clear night for scores of miles.
Lord Macaulay, the 19th century poet, gives the Malverns a central role in this warning chain of fires in his famous poem The Armada.
"And on, and on, without a pause, untired they bounded still
Calling the militia
A system of organised warning beacons on high points across the country, including the Malverns, has been in place since Norman times.
A call to arms sent by beacon would travel far faster than a messenger struggling along difficult and dangerous tracks on horseback.
All counties were required to have a militia force that could be called into action at times of national emergency.
Worcestershire's army of labourers and farmworkers, often armed with nothing more than a scythe or an axe, was required to march all the way to Seaford if invasion threatened.
The system was not foolproof though: In 1545 rumours spread of a French landing on the coast, the beacons were lit, and the Worcestershire militia tramped all the way to Swindon before they were told it was a false alarm.
The 19th century was the golden age for beacon lighting, with the flimsiest excuse being used to light fires on top of the hills.
In 1856 a beacon was lit to settle a bet between two men about how far away it would be seen. Perhaps they'd read Macaulay's poem?
These fires were often very substantial, with tons of wood being manhandled up the hills.
Sometimes local construction companies were brought in to do the building of the beacon fire, and the more elaborate ones could be made with railway sleepers and incorporated a chimney up the centre to ensure a good blaze.
Royal birthdays, jubilees, anniversaries and military victories were all suitable reasons for lighting a fire and holding a party.
More recently beacons were lit on the Malverns to celebrate the millennium and the Queen's Golden Jubilee.
last updated: 18/03/2008 at 15:11
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