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.
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
All night from tower to tower they sprang; they sprang
from hill to hill
Till the proud Peak unfurled the flag o’er Darwin’s rocky
Till like volcanoes flared to heaven the stormy hills
Till twelve fair counties saw the blaze on Malvern’s lonely
Till streamed in crimson on the wind the Wrekin’s crest
Macaulay: The Armada
The claim that a beacon on top of the Malverns can be seen
from 12 counties may be a bit ambitious!
Calling the militia
A system of organised warning beacons on high points across
the country, including the Malverns, has been in place since
A call to arms sent by beacon would travel far faster than
a messenger struggling along difficult and dangerous tracks
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
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
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
More recently beacons were lit on the Malverns to celebrate
the millennium and the Queen's Golden Jubilee.
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