H. D. (Hardwicke Drummond) Rawnsley.

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the Cornell University Library.

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The Book 0*/ the Coronation Bonfires


His Majesty King* Georg-e V.

Photo Ijy AV. & D. Do^viiey


Whitehaven Bonfire, the tallest in the Kingdom,



Coronation Bonfires







L >

^-Pv ~-i> — a- 7 ^

The whole Bonfire movement was the outcome of loyalty to the Throne, and
it is a source of satisfaction to know that His Gracious Majesty the King, to whose
notice this record of the Coronation Bonfires had been brought, allows it to be
stated that he is interested in the intended publication. The Committee thank
the Times and the Spectator for allowing reprints of articles to appear, and
acknowledge their indebtedness to the local Bonfire Secretaries, who by sending
facts and photographs have made this publication possible. My own thanks are
due to all my co-secretaries, W. R. Campion, Esq., M.P., H. M. Cadell, Esq.,
J. M. Mc.Calmont, Esq. M.P., T. H. W. Idris, Esq., F. W. S. McLaren, Esq., M.P.,
G. H. Mil ward, Esq., and to other helpers, R. W. Greensmith, Esq., Major
Herbert Neve, Charles E. Baker, Sir John Barran, M.R, Major E. W. Morrison
Bell, M.P., John Ainsworth Esq., M.P. ; in this connection I should wish specially
to mention the great help given me by Colonel Cadell, who organized the Bonfires
throughout Scotland, and by his Bonfire Ballad for the Scouts enlisted their
sympathy in the movement. Thanks are also due to my friend Dr. J. G. Bartholomew
for his gift of a map, specially adapted for the chronicling of the Bonfires. Last, but
not least, I wish to put on record the indefatigable help and constant care given to the
work by my Secretary, Miss Broatch. It has not been an easy matter to cope
with all the correspondence involved, and for the errors that have unavoidably crept
in T must ask the indulgence of my readers. We have been unable to locate three
Bonfires, because names were not sent with the photographs. In some cases the
illustrations are not very clear, as the photographs showed lack of definition, owing,
no doubt, to the bad weather and diflSculties under which they were taken. Our
record cannot pretend to be exhaustive. We have only been able to chronicle those
Bonfires that were notified to us, or were mentioned in the press. Any errors in
the record should be signified to me.


Crosthwaite Vicarage,


cC, I


The Coronation Bonfires,

I^^^ HE meaning of the word "bonfire" is something of a puzzle.
^j What is certain is that Dr. Johnson's definition of it in 1756,
from the French word " bon," is incorrect. Up till 1760 It
^^^^^^ was generally written " bonefire," and Skeat tells us that it
owes its origin to the word '^bane" or "bone," and meant a
fire of bones — a martyr fire. The earliest derivation we find of it is in the
" Catholicum Anglicum," under date 1483, where the word " banefire "
is explained as " Ignis Ossium." That this word " bonefire " is the origin
of the word " bonfire " is corroborated by the fact that up to the year
1800, in Hawick, old bones were collected throughout the tow^n for the
midsummer bonfire. Whether originally the bonfire got its name from
its use as a pyre at funeral times and afterwards connoted the martyr's
fire we cannot certainly tell ; but it is not impossible that, in the first
instance, the bonfire was, as the fires of Tophet and Hinnom at Jerusalem
were, the fire for the destruction of all refuse outside the city gates.

There are those who believe that the word " bain " or " baen " or
" ban " fires meant in the early Celtic tongue simply the hill fires
connected with sun-worship, and that the Beltane fires were the latest
survivals of British sun-worship on the heights. It is quite certain that
in Roman times fires were lit not only in honour of the sun, but in honour
of the shepherds' goddess, Pales. The Palilia of Ovid's " Fasti " remind
us of this fact, and as part of the ceremony in those old days, shepherds
leapt through the bonfires. We find the Church in the seventh and eighth
centuries doing what it could to suppress these bonfire festivals. Thus the
third Council of Constantinople commanded fires that were lit before shops
or houses, "through which people leapt ridiculously," to cease; and the
Synodus Francica of Pope Zachary, in the year 742, forbade the sacri-
legious fires called " Kedfri."* These ** need-fires " have continued in the
North of England within living memory. The writer has spoken with

* It is asserted that Nedfri or Nodfru fires meant originally fires obtained by the friction of
rubbing of wood against wood.



farmers in Cumberland and Westmorland who in a time of cattle plague
have not only seen the " need-fire '' carried from farm to farm, but cattle
driven through the smoke to stop the murrain.

One other derivation should be mentioned. It is held by some that
the word '' bon " was a shortened form of the word '' boon," and that a
" boon " fire was nothing more or less than a fire to which all who came
brought some contribution in the way of fuel. Last, we have the
derivation from the Danish " bann," which seems to mean a beacon — the
bonfire was a beacon-fire.

Whilst philologists are deciding the correct derivation of the word,
it sufiices us to remember that from time immemorial the beacon-fire has
been used to speed the message of war at the gates, or the tale of triumph
or disaster. It was by fire the Argive Queen learned that Troy had fallen,
it was fire that flew from Susa to Ecbatana in 24 hours and roused
the Persian kings. It was the beacon light upon the hills that told
Athens of the enemy's approach in the days of Thucydides ; and in our
own Elizabeth's time, as Macaulay has sung for us, from south to north
flew the fierce courier-flame to warn Great Britain of the Armada's

The beacon system for watch and ward was slowly developed from the
time of Henry III. In 1403 it was made statutory, while in 1455 a
complete system of signalling was enacted for Scotland to prevent surprise
by English invaders. Thus, one " bale " or faggot was used as a warning;
two '' bales " to say that the enemy were coming indeed ; and four " bales "
blazing beside each other that the foe was in force.

But these beacon-fires were not only used as a warning against the
foe, but as a friendly light to mariners. In the thirteenth year of
Elizabeth, 1565, all seaboard beacons were placed by Act of Parliament
under the control of the Masters, Wardens, and Assistants of Trinity
House. Here and there upon our coasts may still be seen the two up-
standing posts and the iron basket which did duties since taken over by
the lighthouses. And still, near the Border, a stone-built beacon, as at
Penrith, remains to us ; but since 1745 there has been no use for it.



Bonfires long before the time of Shakespeare were used as signals
of rejoicing. Five times out of the seven that Shakespeare speaks
of bonfires, he speaks of them as so used. When news of the victory
of Agincourt reached England, bonfires and dances were ordained in every
town, city, and borough, and many times since E-ichard the Plantagenet
gave ordersj

Ring bells aloud ; burn bonfires clear and bright
To entertain great England's lawful king.

our hill tops and village greens '^ have spread glad tidings with their
tongues of flame. '^

A Retrospect.

In 1887, Queen Victoria's Jubilee year, the first organized attempt
was made to signalize the day of rejoicing by beacon-fires throughout
the land. Colonel Milward, M.P., of Worcestershire, used the
Malvern heights as a starting point to send the fiery cross of rejoicing
north, south, east, and west. If Macaulay's ballad was in the mind of
Colonel Milward as he organised bonfires in the Midlands with the
Malvern Beacon for their centre, the same poem was in the ears of Canon
Eawnsley when he determined to rouse with the '' red glare of Skiddaw,
the burghers of Carlisle." Not since 1815 had a bonfire been lit upon
that ancient Cumbrian height. Then, as Southey has put on record, on
a moonlit night he accompanied James Boswell, Lord Sundelin, Dorothy
Wordsworthj William Wordsworth, and his son, and with a great
crowd of Keswick folk shouted " God save the King " round the most
furious body of fiaming tar barrels that he ever saw. It was not only
round the bonfire that Southey and his friends danced and shouted that
night in honour of Waterloo, for Wordsworth, who was wearing a red
cloak and looked like a Spanish don, had inadvertently kicked the kettle
over which was needed for the making of more punch, and the Greta Hall
contingent got round him, and, holding him a prisoner in their midst,
punished him for his carelessness by singing in chorus, " 'Twas you that
kicked the kettle down, 'twas you, sir, you."


Canon E,awnsley, taking Skiddaw as his centre, organised tke bonfires
in Cumberland, and witb the kelp of Mr. Cooper, of Monk Coniston, and
Mr. Baddeley, of Windermere, the Lake Country heights north and south
of Dunmail Raise answered one another as star to star. On June 22nd,
1887, those who climbed to Skiddaw top saw no fewer than 140 bonfires
gleaming like diamond points on mountain height and littoral plain.

Ten years later a more determined effort was made to organize the
bonfire movement. After conference with Sir Matthew White Eidley,
the Home Secretary — from whom it was ascertained that though the
Queen, from personal considerations, could not allow any signal for
lighting the fires to be made at any of the Royal seats, she wai: in
sympathy with the movement — a meeting of friends was called at the
House of Commons on April 8th, Lord Cranborne in the chair, and a repre-
sentative Committee was appointed, with Colonel Milward, M.P., Canon
Rawnsley, and Major F. C. Rasch, M.P., as Hon. Secretaries, and it
was unanimously resolved that the Lord-Lieutenants and Chairmen of
County Councils should be asked to invite their counties to co-operate
in a national scheme for bonfire illuminations on Queen's night, June
22nd, 1897. The scheme was warmly taken up, and, though many bonfires
did not report themselves, the committee in their final report were able
to enumerate 2,548, of which nearly 2,000 were in England and the
remainder in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the Channel Islands.

The largest number of fires counted from any one point was seen
from the Mendip Hills, where more than 200 were counted; 142 were
counted from Broadway, in Worcestershire, and 132 were seen from
the Malvern Beacon. How the bonfires were seen from Skiddaw was
described in the papers at the time. On that occasion a " Lucal," or oil
flare, was used upon the Coniston Old Man with great success. It is
interesting to remember that the evening was so fine that only one bonfire
was postponed, and that in the Isle of Man; and only one bonfire was
fired before the time — this at Cleeve-Cloud. The story goes that the
watchman told off to guard the great bonfire, which had been built up
with great labour and material at the cost of £70, fell asleep, but,



dreaming tliat Jubilee night had come, woke to find his bonfire unlit, and
incontinently put match to it. It is fair to say that the Cleeve-Clouders
were equal to the occasion, and in their loyalty rebuilt the pile, and so
did double honour to the Queen.

At the time of King Edward's Coronation_, in 1902, a cenltral
committee, with Lord Cranborne in the chair. Colonel Griffith Boscawen,
M.P., Mr. G. A. Milward, son of the late Colonel Milward, and Canon
Eawnsley, as co-secretaries, sent a similar circular and appeal to
county and city authorities. Owing to the King's illness, the bonfires,
which had been built in readiness for June 22nd, remained unlit till
Sunday, June 29th. On that day telegraphic communication was sent
by the Chairman from London, urging that all bonfires should be lighted
on the following night, Monday, June 30th. The time given was too
short to allow of a full response, for many bonfires had been partially
dismantled, and arrangements had been made to make others the crowning
feature of village entertainments, which could not possibly be prepared
at such short notice, but 1,722 were chronicled at headquarters.


The Coronation Bonfire Movsment, 1911.

MEETIInTG of members and friends of tlie bonfire movement,
convened unofficially in the House of Commons on March 21st this
year, elected Lord Morpeth, now Lord Carlisle, to be their Chairman. They
agreed to adopt the organisation of the previous occasions and to issue a
similar circular ; and in order to lessen the labour of the Hon. Secretaries the
United Kingdom was divided into districts, each with its own Secretary.
London and the South were apportioned to Mr. W. R. Campion, M.P.;
the Midlands to Mr. G. H. Milward; the North of England to Canon
Eawnsley; Wales to Mr. T. H. W. Idris; Scotland to Col. H. M. Cadell;
and Ireland to Colonel James M. Mc.Calmont, M.P. ; Mr. Eobert W.
Greensmith undertook to help in Derbyshire, Major Herbert Neve in the
Weald of Kent, Mr. Charles Baker in North Pembrokeshire, Mr. F. W. S.
McLaren in Lincolnshire, Sir John Barran, M.P., in the West Riding
of YorkshirCj Major E. W. Morrison Bell in Devonshire, and Mr.
John Ainsworth, M.P., in Argyllshire. The same hour of lighting as
before was adopted — viz., 10 p.m. south of the Border, 10-30 north of
the Border — and it was suggested in the circular that where possible
the boy scouts should be asked to co-operate, to which arrangement their
headquarters readily agreed.




The Central Coronation Bonfires Committee.

Chairman ... The Earl of Carlisle.

Hon. Co-Secretaries.

W. E. Campion, Esq., M.P. F. W. S. McLaren, Esq., M.P.

H. M. Cadell, Esq. G. H. Milward, Esq.

J. M. Mc.Calmont, Esq., M.P. Canon Eawnsley,
T. H. W. Idris, Esq.

Dear Sir, — A.i a meeting of members and friends of the movement,
convened unofficially in the House of Commons on March 21st, a Central
Committee was formed, of which the Earl of Carlisle (then Lord Morpeth)
was elected Chairman, to enlist the sympathies of the Counties and
Boroughs of Great Britain and Ireland and the Colonies in a Bonfire
Scheme in honour of the Coronation of King George Y, on June 22nd,
1911. The following resolutions were passed: —

General Committee.
N'o. 1. — That a General Committee be appointed, with power to add
to their number; the gentlemen above named to act as Honorary

Hour of Lighting.
ISTo. 2. — That a circular be sent to the Lord-Lieutenants, Chairmen
of County Councils, the Lord Mayors and Mayors, Lord Provosts, Provosts,
and Conveners of Counties, inviting them to urge, through their respective
bodies and the local press, or otherwise, that their Counties and Boroughs
should co-operate, by forming Bonfire Committees, to fall in with the
plan suggested of firing their bonfires simultaneously at 10 o'clock,
Greenwich time, on Coronation day. Korth of the Border the hour to be
10-30 p.m., owing to the long light in the north.



It was pointed out that tlie bonfires, if properly constructed, would
last well on towards midnight, and that the distance, especially to
mountain heights, made 10 o'clock an hour quite late enough for the
convenience of spectators, south of the Border.

Signal Eockets.
The Committee recommend that for England, Ireland, and Wales, a
detonating rocket should be sent from any principal height at 9-55 to call
attention; that at 10 o'clock a magnesium star rocket should be fired,
to be followed by other rockets, the bonfires be lighted, and the National
Anthem sung. Where possible, the hills should be specially illuminated
at the same time with red, white, and blue coloured fires, in tins of
51bs. each for all the more important heights. For Scotland the same
arrangements at 10-25 to 10-30. At 11 o'clock, when all bonfires will be
a-light, it is hoped that a , bouquet of rockets will be sent up and the
INTational Anthem be again sung. Eockets will probably be sent up at
intervals till 11 o'clock; but this must be left to the discretion of local

A Caution.
The Committee wish to caution the public against standing too near
to leeward of the bonfire mass at the time of lighting if it has been
saturated with parafiin ; the flame has been known to fly out as much as
150 feet, and the Committee are very anxious that no accident should
mar the Coronation night.

Special arrangements have been made with Messrs. James Pain & Son,
by Eoyal Warrant Pyrotechnists to His Majesty the King, Mitcham,
Surrey (Tel. address, '' Pain, Mitcham"), who offer to supply all Bonfire
Committees, hona fide members of our National Bonfire Union, at a
discount of 25 per cent, on all their rockets and coloured fires, and a further
15 per cent, reduction if the orders are sent to them on or before
June 15th; also 15 per cent, on flambeaux. The order from each Bonfire
Committee who wish to ensure this reduction in price must be accompanied
by a card of introduction from our Central Committee. All who intend



to join in tlie Bonfire Scheme, and wish for introduction to Messrs. Pain,

are asked to communicate as follows : — London, Middlesex, Kent, Surrey,

Sussex, Hants, Wilts, Dorset, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Isle of Wight,

and Channel Islands, with W. E. Campion, Esq., M.P., House of

Commons, London, S.W. Monmouth, Gloucester, Oxford, Berks, Bucks,

Herts, Essex, Suffolk, Cambridge, Bedford, Northampton, Hunts,

Warwick, Worcester, Hereford, Salop, Stafford, Leicester, Rutland,

Norfolk, Notts, with G. H. Milward, Esq., 40 Buckingham Palace

Mansions, London, S.W. Cheshire, Yorks, Lancashire, Westmorland,

Cumberland, Durham, Northumberland, and Isle of Man, with Eev. Canon

Eawnsley, Crosthwaite Yicarage, Keswick. Scotland, with H. M. Cadeil,

Esq., Grange, Linlithgow, N.B. Ireland, with Col. James M. Mc.Calmont,

House of Commons. Wales, with T. H. W. Idris, Esq., 120 Pratt Street,

Camden Town, London, N.W. The following also have kindly oft'ered

to assist: — For Derbyshire, Robt. W\ Greensmith, Esq., Dalbury Lees,

Derby; for the Weald of Kent, Major Herbert Neve, Pullington,

Benenden, Cranbrook; for North Pembrokeshire, Charles E. Baker, Esq.,

54 Parliament Street, Westminster, S.W. ; for Lincolnshire, E. W. S.

McLaren, Esq., M.P., House of Commons, Westminster; West Hiding

of Yorkshire, Sir John Barran, M.P. ; Devonshire, Major E. W. Morrison

Bell, M.P.; Argyllshire, John Ainsworth, Esq., M.P.

Hints fou the Building of Bonfires.
The following hints as to the construction of bonfires may be useful :
— Experience has shown that the taking of railway sleepers, tar, wood, and
other materials to the tops of the greater heights for fuel is very costly,
and that furze, whin bushes, thorns and faggots make a bright blaze but
burn out too quickly, and are disappointing. It is suggested that,
wherever possible by leave of the owner, peats should be dug at the nearest
point to the summit. These, if cut thin and set up to dry without loss of
time, in ordinary weather, should be ready for fuel by the 22nd June.
They can be sledged up by a horse and gear a day or two before the
l)uilding of the bonfire without much cost, and, if built with good air
passages at the base communicating with a central chimney and saturated
with a barrel uf paraffin or petroleum or creosote (use a water-can sprinkler



or long-liandled ladle), will burn with a steady fire for three or four hours.
The diameter of the base must, of course, be determined by the amount
of peat ready to hand. It has been found with a diameter of 12 feet and
a height of 10 feet a very considerable body of fire is obtainable. The
only caution needed is, that the peats should not be built solid^ but like
open brickwork with interstices to allow air passage. If occasional layers
of dried larch-cuttings or faggots can be interposed to give lightness to the
mass, so much the better. Light from the top, and from time to time rake
out the bottom flues with a larch pole to keep the air-ways clear. The
cost of two bonfires thus constructed on Skiddaw was £20.

To ensure the success of ordinary bonfires, all that is necessary is to
keep a good air draught through the centre of the pile; to effect this, let
short vertical posts be placed in the ground in a circle round a central
pole, which may be 10ft. to 20ft. high, with which they must be connected
by horizontal bars like the spokes of a wheel. The bonfire materials may
be piled on to and round this staging. For the construction of larger
bonfires up to 50ft. in height, full instructions, with illustrations, will
be found in a pamphlet in verse, " A Bonfire Ballad for Boy Scouts,"
price 2d., published at the Boy Scouts' Scottish Headquarters, 1 South
Charlotte Street, Edinburgh.

Alternative Light.
On the most inaccessible heights it has been suggested that, instead of
a bonfire, what is known as a " Flare " could be arranged for. The flare
light on Coniston Old Man at the Diamond Jubilee was a great success;
it shone out like a star. Mr. J. M. Mc.Murtrie, 212 West Eegent Street,
Glasgow, will supply on hire '' Lucal'' lamps (weighing about 1 cwt.),
fitted for one, two, or three flares from 10,000 to 20,000 candle power, at a
cost of £7 per light, plus carriage each way. These flares will burn two
hours. For fuller particulars as to amount of oil and water needed,
address Mr. Mc.Murtrie, as above.

Coloured lights, if used as at the Diamond Jubilee, on any church,
cathedral, and town hall towers, should be burnt in iron buckets, to prevent
all possibility of fire; so burned, safety is assured. N.B. — When used
on mountain tops, burn them a little below the summit.



The Committee are extremely anxious that it should be known that
they do not undertake to advise as to the cost of rockets, paraffin, or bonfire
material ; nor have they any central fund from which to subsidise local
subscriptions to cost of bonfires.

We shall be very glad to hear as early as possible of any Bonfire
Committees in your County or Borough who intend to join us, in order
that an official record may be kept. Matters would be simplified if seme
one person would act as local secretary for his County or Borough.

We sincerely hope that the boy scouts may lend a hand not only
in collecting material for the bonfires, but, when built, to prevent mis-
chievous firing. The suggestion is approved by Headquarters, and has
been inserted in their official giazette. We suggest that landowners and
farmers, instead of allowing their workmen to burn fallen wood, tree and
hedge clippings, should keep them for use on Coronation day.

It will much facilitate the keeping of a record if correspondents who
send us the sites of bonfires would state the county in which the bonfire
is situate. .

We have the honour to remain, yours very faithfully,

W. E. Campion,

H. M. Cadell,

J. M. Mc.Caxmont,

T. H. W. Idris,

F. W. S. McLaren,


H. D. Eawnsley,

Hon. Co- Secretaries.

]>^OTE. — The question of sending up rockets at intervals of one, ^yq,
fifteen, or thirty minutes, or one hour after lighting the bonfires,
must be left to each local Committee to decide according to the
funds at their disposal ; the more continuous the display the better.



The Firing of the Beacons.

^HE atmospheric conditions of June 22nd were not propitious for tlie
^[1^ Coronation bonfire display. Though the rain held off in the Mid-
lands and the South-west, and does not appear to have interfered with the
lighting of the bonfires in some parts of Scotland, it prevented many from

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Online LibraryH. D. (Hardwicke Drummond) RawnsleyThe book of the coronation bonfires .. → online text (page 1 of 7)