Beginning at 9:45 p.m., on farm fields and royal estates, atop castle walls and city halls, the beacons will blaze — to tap into the old ways, to honor a monarch and to party most heartily.
If Henry VIII had heard news of his chain of beacons being lighted, he would have marshaled his armies to the coast to meet the French in battle.
Before? Beacons signaled dire emergency.
Now? It’s a mega celebration.
Many of these thousands of beacons will be proper, old-fashioned bonfires — some huge, some humble. Others will be stoked in medieval-style braziers or gas-fueled burners erected on high posts.
A few will be arty — and emit less carbon dioxide, in keeping with a green agenda. At a hospital in Manchester, welders created a beacon sculpture that resembles a giant crown, made from old hospital beds, that will be illuminated by blue lasers.
But old-school fire, set by the Yeoman Warders, will illuminate the battlements of the Tower of London. And flames will light the sky at the queen’s Sandringham and Balmoral estates in Norfolk and Scotland, and at Windsor Castle, too.
Flames will be visible on the four highest peaks in the United Kingdom, as climbers with gas-fueled braziers ascend to the top of Ben Nevis in Scotland, Scafell Pike in England, Mount Snowdon in Wales and Slieve Donard in Northern Ireland.
The Platinum Jubilee is also being celebrated in the capitals of the 53 Commonwealth nations, which will light their own fires — even as some of the nations have less and less to do with the queen and Britain.
“It will be a marvelous spectacle, unprecedented, and international,” said Bruno Peek, the pageant master for the jubilee beacons.
Peek told The Washington Post the ritual is fitting: “The queen has been our beacon, unfailing in her service, and so we wish to show our appreciation.”
There will be 51 points of light along Hadrian’s Wall, the 73 miles of defensive structures stretching east to west across England, constructed 1,900 years ago on orders of the Roman emperor.
“There’s nothing like a massive bonfire to bring people out,” said Jez Light, the Hadrian Wall beacon master. “Fire is elemental — it speaks to people.”
He will be running the show at Cawfields, a Victorian-era quarry dug along Hadrian’s Wall, where three archers dressed as Roman soldiers will shoot flaming arrows at a giant pile of kindling floating on a raft in the quarry’s lake.
Too much? “It will also be quite a show,” he hoped — and righteous tribute. “This will be the last jubilee of the queen’s reign and this is a message of thanks.”
In 1897, beacons were lighted to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. In 1977, 2002 and 2012, beacons commemorated the Silver, Golden and Diamond jubilees of Queen Elizabeth II.
Stuart Brookes, a lecturer in medieval archaeology at University College London, said fire beacons were deployed for centuries in England, certainly by Anglo Saxons in the 9th century to warn the population of continued invasions by the Vikings.
“It was quite a sophisticated communications system by the late medieval time,” he said, describing the basic message as “run for the hills or muster your armies.”
The lighting of the beacons makes for a particularly dramatic scene in “The Lord of the Rings.”
Archaeological evidence of the earliest beacons is scarce. Early fire signalers might have been drawn to some of the same hilltops that people of the Bronze Age had sought out for their religious sites and settlements.
But place names tell the story, too, Brookes said, like “Beacon Hill.”
A famous street in London is called Tottenham Court Road. In Old English, “Tottenham” means “house of the beacon.”
This stuff goes way back, the archaeologist said.