For now the people began to come swarming up from the plains beneath, and from tower and town and hamlet, till in truth the night “was busy as the day.” And it was worthwhile to have witnessed that sunset. A light veil of cloud was over the sea to the west, and the sun shone upon the veil, and made it as though it had been a tissue of fleecy gold. Then suddenly the great gold-red ball disappeared, but still its light fell in patches upon the waving, heaving, filmy carpet of lilac vapour above the silent sea. But there, dark against the sky, stood the great dusky-brown stack,—motionless, and dull, and meaningless. At 9.30 p.m., the master architect called upon the stalwart son of the fire-god to broach the second barrel of paraffin and besprinkle the top of the pile. A great wind arose, and the air was heard to sing through the flues.
The parson who seemed to be a leading spirit was now called on to give an account of that 19th July in 1588, and this he did; and as his words died away, a cheer broke the temporary silence. Then a detachment was told off to go to the point of Skiddaw, in view of Keswick Town; and at 10 p.m. sharp red light seemed to break from underground at that far point, and in a moment the rosy glow was seen to irradiate the crowd by the beacon on the summit, and make the place a very mountain-height of phantasy or demon glory, as dreamed of in some wizard’s tale. Rockets whizzed up to heaven, and fell in stars and golden rain. Another moment, and a lady was seen to touch the summit of the pyre with a long wand of fire,—a peat, saturated with paraffin, at the end of a long pole. And in a second the whole mass, with a roar, leapt into flame, and flung a banner of glorious golden light far off to the westward over the vale, in the direction of Bassenthwaite and the Wythop Woods,—a flame with at least three hundred square feet of fire in it, as I heard. Then “Rule, Britannia!” and cheers for Drake and Frobisher, Hawkins and Raleigh and Howard, were heard, and the Bonfire Committee must needs have been glad. “The red glare of Skiddaw” had indeed “roused the burghers of Carlisle.”
Rockets went upward from either point. At about 10.45 silence was called for, and Macaulay’s “Ballad of the Armada” was given by a schoolmaster, as I learned afterwards, of the neighbouring parish of Brigham. Three cheers were called for and given. The Chairman of the Bonfire Committee was lifted and carried enthusiastically round the beacon-fire on the shoulders of his fire-making comrades. At 11, red lights were again displayed, and bouquets of rockers sailed up and broke in beauty. The National Anthem was sung, and leaving the Armada beacon to burn to its heart content for another two days or more, the crowd gradually began to disperse, and “down the hill, down the hill,” the hundreds of spectators went with shout and song, or with silence and in thought of the Spanish Armada, and the eventful beacon-night three hundred years ago.
(Spectator, 61 (28 July 1888), 1028-9)