This afternoon BBC Radio 4’s PM Programme featured an interview in which Evan Davis spoke to me about the history and folklore of beacons. The segment was recorded on 1 June at Castor in Cambridgeshire, where we witnessed the lighting of the village’s new gas-fed beacon for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
Although the tradition of lighting beacons for royal jubilees dates back only to Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, the lighting of fires has long been a symbol of great national events. Beacons that served as warnings, and as a primitive system of telegraphy, are now a symbol of national unity as well as a powerful emblem of continuity with the ancient past; the high places in the landscape where beacons are lit today may well be the same places where beacons have been lit for as long as humans have sought to communicate over long distances.
You can listen to the interview here from time signature 31:00.