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ANCIENT BEACONS OF LANCASHIRE
BY WILLIAM HARRISON.
HE year 1897 having been made memorable by a display of beacon fires throughout the country on the Diamond Jubilee day, as part of the celebration of the sixty years' reign of the Queen, it will not be inappropriate at this time to gather together what is known of the ancient beacons in our two counties.
The word "beacon," we are told by Lord Coke,* is derived from the Saxon word beacon (or, as Camden says, Beacnian), i.e., speculum unde speculantur adventus hostium, and is often called signum speculatum, and he adds, “bechan” in the Saxon language is signum dare, and we use the word beckon to at this day.
Coke divides the speculi or signa speculatoria, or signa nautis, into three branches, viz., beacons, lighthouses, and sea marks. The two latter, which are simply aids to navigation, are beyond the scope of our present subject, though we may just stay to observe that in modern times the word "beacon" is often
*Institutes, part iv. 148.
ANCIENT BEACONS OF LANCASHIRE AND CHESHIRE. 17
used as a synonym for a lighthouse. When used by Shakspere it is always, or generally, to indicate the signal fire. Thus Falstaff tells us that the sherris "illumineth the face, which as a beacon gives warning." But Tennyson evidently refers to the lighthouse when he says in In Memoriam :
My blessing, like a line of light,
Also when, in The Princess, he speaks of "The beacontower above the waves" against which the wild birds dash themselves dead. And again, in Enoch Arden, where the same sentiment is repeated, "the beacon-blaze allures the bird of passage."
Coke tells us that no person can build or erect a lighthouse, pharos, sea marks, or beacons without lawful warrant and authority; and again, that at the common law, none but the king only could erect any of these, which ever was done by the king's commission under the great seal.* Possibly this rule of law is the origin of an idea which some people hold, but for which I find no legal warrant, that there is a public right of way to every beacon. The beacon being established only by the authority of the king, the way to it is perhaps necessarily the king's highway. In this connection it may be observed that in 1765, when the land round the Everton beacon was sold by the township, a right of road to the beacon was reserved.† On the principle just mentioned, the reservation was not necessary to be expressed, but would be implied by law. The practice of signalling the advent of the enemy by fires on the hill tops is of immemorial antiquity. It is
* Institutes, iii. 204; iv. 148.
+ Syer's Everton, 477.
referred to in Jeremiah vi. 1, "Blow the trumpet in Tekoa, and set up a sign of fire in Beth-haecerem; for evil appeareth out of the north and great destruction." And in Isaiah xxx. 17, we have the further reference, "Till ye be left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain, and as an ensign on a hill." The Greek dramatist Eschylus, in his "Agamemnon," gives a detailed and vivid picture of the transmission of the news of the fall of Troy to Argos, where the watchman is soliloquising :
Year after year, and night on night I keep,
And when at last he sees the "bright torch of night," Clytemnestra, to whom he imparts the news, rushes to announce that "Troy is ours." To the question “When did Troy fall?" she replies—
This very night it fell
This night that now is brightening to the dawn.
And when further questioned "Who brought these tidings with a herald's speed?" she answers
It is the beacon fire on Ida's crest
By flaming convoys that hath brought the news.
And there follows a spirited and poetic description of the progress of the fiery signals by Lemnos and Athos, Asopus and Ægiplanctus to Argos.
In England beacons were no doubt used from the earliest times, though their systematic and regular em