Saturday 6 March 2010


Breedon Hill is south of Derby, just over the border into Leicestershire. It can be seen from miles around; including the M1, various high points in Derby and parts of my house. On top of Breedon Hill is a beacon, obviously positioned here because of its visibility.

Traditionally, beacons were used as a means of warning a populace about times of war or impending danger, but even in history, they have also been used in celebration. Breedon is part of the National Chain of Beacons which are lit to celebrate events considered to be significant to us as a nation. The next beacon to the south is atop the appropriately named Beacon Hill, while to the north it is on Crich Hill, where there is also a famous war memorial; Crich Stand. Both of these beacons can be seen from Breedon on a clear night. The last lighting of the chain was on October 21st 2005, to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.

This was a great sea battle fought off Cape Trafalgar on the southern Spanish coast. Britain and France had been at war with each other for some time. In 1802 a truce was signed. It didn't last and in 1804 Napoleon set out to invade Britain. The French-Spanish Armada comprising 33 ships was led by Vice-Admiral Villeneuve, under the authority of Napoleon Bonaparte. It was met by the English fleet of 27 ships commanded by Admiral Horatio Nelson. The outcome of the battle was a resounding victory for Britain with most of the Armada being captured or destroyed, but it came at the cost of Nelson's life, as a French marksman spotted and shot him.

Nelson's death sparked a period of national mourning (shades of Princess Diana). He was given a state funeral, buried in a tomb in St Paul's Cathedral and the famous 171' column was erected in 1843. The statue of Nelson atop that column is 18' tall, so I guess that he could still be considered to be a figure somewhat larger than life.

I'm sorry to say that I have not seen the Breedon beacon lit, but the concept of a chain of beacons has always been one to bring goose pimples; whether of fear or excitement, I am never quite sure. And so, a few literary references to close:

From Clee to heaven the beacon burns,
The shires have seen it plain,
From north and south the sign returns
And beacons burn again.

Look left, look right, the hills are bright,
The dales are light between,
Because 'tis fifty years to-night
That God has saved the Queen.

1887 A. E. Housman from A Shropshire Lad.
"What is that?" cried Pippin suddenly, clutching at Gandalf's cloak. "Look! Fire, red fire! Are there dragons in this land? Look, there is another!"
For answer Gandalf cried aloud to his horse, "On Shadowfax! We must hasten. Time is short. See! The beacons of Gondor are alight, calling for aid. War is kindled. See, there is fire on Amon Din, and flame on Eilenach; and there they go speeding west: Nardol, Erelas, Min-Rimmon, Calenhad, and the Halifirien on the borders of Rohan."

From The Lord Of the Rings: J.R.R. Tolkein Vol 3 The Return of the King - ch. Minas Tirith

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

John 1 v 5 The Bible: New Living Translation 2007


  1. I've heard of these but never seen a basket like that. How interesting. I seem to remember the beacons were lit when Prince Charles married Diana in 1981.

  2. You are absolutely correct.

    'On the 29th July 1981 by order of Buckingham Palace, a chain of beacons was lit up and down the country, to commemorate the wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer. The Royal institute of Chartered Surveyors was tasked with job of setting up the beacons and ensuring that all went well.'

    I also discover that the chain of beacons was lit for the Queens silver and golden jubilee years (1977 and 2002 respectively), the millennium and the 50th anniversary of VE day in May 1995.

    I would love to see the beacon lit as part of the chain.