Titchmarsh Beacon

You will have seen the beacon at the top of Drydens Close, but do you know why it’s there?

Had the celebrations of VE gone ahead as normal, one feature would likely to have been a repeat of the lighting of hundreds of beacons on the 70th anniversary of VE Day.

Sylvia and Terry have been looking into the long history of beacon-lighting and composed this summary of their findings.

In 1988 East Northants Council supplied the beacon, so that Titchmarsh, being a high point in the locality,could be one of the locations in a chain of 461 beacons that participated in the ‘Fire over England’ event, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the sighting of the Spanish Armada off the coast of England

Titchmarsh beacon

Back in 1588, following years of hostilities between Spain and England, King Philip II of Spain assembled a flotilla in the hope of removing Protestant Queen Elizabeth I from the throne and restoring the Roman Catholic faith in England.  

Queen Elizabeth, being aware of the invasion plan, instructed Sir Francis Drake to launch a surprise attack on the Armada’s fleet of 130 ships, in Cadiz.  He destroyed several dozen of the Armada’s ships, delaying the launch of the Armada on its journey to take England.   In the meantime Elizabeth’s forces back home  built trenches and earthworks on the most likely invasion beaches; strung a giant metal chain across the Thames estuary and raised an army of militiamen. They also readied an early warning system consisting of dozens of coastal beacons that would light fires to signal the approach of the Spanish fleet.

Away from the coast, other beacons were lit. According to Helen Belgion in her book Titchmarsh Past and Present, the Lord Lieutenant of Northamptonshire, Sir Christopher Hatton of Kirby Hall was commissioned to muster the militia and see to its beacons. An order was made that‘Tychemershe beacon be sett upon Tychemershe church steeple’ and four substantial honest persons were chosen to watch the same. The duty was laid upon William Dudley, Mr Lenton, Gilbert Pickering (II) and John Pickering (II). Whether they contributed towards expenses as ‘esquiers’ (5/-), gentlemen (3/ 4) or other substantial honest yeomen is not recorded. For the muster of militia, all landed proprietors rated at more than £10 had to provide arms ‒ one pike, one bow, one haquebutte; at £5 a bow and a bill. Each parish had to provide harness and weapons ‘as settled by chiefest inhabitants’.

That the church was used is no surprise. The church stands on a ridge over the Nene valley and as its tower can be seen for miles around, it would have been an ideal link in the chain of cross country warning beacons.

Spain’s “Invincible Armada” set sail that May, their mission being to escort an army from Flanders to invade England.    Following many naval skirmishes in the channel, including the Battle of Gravelines at Calais, the Royal Navy’s fleet of some 40 warships led by Sir Francis Drake and Lord Charles Howard defeated the Armada.  The success was thanks to Drake’s fleet being heavily armed with long range naval guns, whereas the Armada’s battle tactics were primarily close-quarters fighting and boarding enemy ships.In disarray, the defeated Armada were driven north by strong winds and storms, they limped back to Spain via Scotland and Ireland. The defeat of the Spanish Armada led to a surge of national pride in England and was one of the most significant chapters of the Anglo-Spanish War.

Kettering Evening Telegraph’s report on July 20th 1988, details the celebrations held in recognition of the 400th anniversary of the sighting of the Spanish Armada.

The lighting of the beacon July 28th 1988

To mark the opening of the celebrations, the first beacon, on the Lizard in Cornwall, was lit by the Spanish Ambassador to the court of St James, triggering the spontaneous lighting of the chain of beacons throughout the UK.  

In Northamptonshire thousands of people turned out at half a dozen sites to celebrate the historic day.

Around 300 people from all parts of East Northants district gathered at Titchmarsh to watch the ceremonial lighting of the beacon.  The task was performed after a few hiccups (when the torch would not catch light) by vice chairman of East Northants Council Philip Chantrell of Raunds.

In Earls Barton the fire brigade, on standby for the event, sprang into action when a box of fireworks accidentally caught light.

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