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 organized bonfires in the Midlands with the Malvern Beacon for their centre, the same poem was in the ears of Canon Rawnsley 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 Wordsworth, William Wordsworth, and his son, and with a great crowd of Keswick folk shouted “God save the King” round the most furious body of flaming 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, 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.” (p. 7)

Canon Rawnsley, taking Skiddaw as his centre, organised the bonfire in Cumberland, and with the help 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 up Skiddaw top saw no fewer than 140 bonfires gleaming like diamond points on mountain height and littoral height. (p. 8)

Ten years later a more determined effort was made to organise the bonfire movement.  After conference with Sir Matthew White Ridley, 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 was 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 representative 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. (p. 8)

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 that 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. (pp. 8-9)

At the time of King Edward’s Coronation, in 1902, a central committee, with Lord Cranborne in the chair, Colonel Griffith Boscawen, M.P., Mr. G. A. Milward, son of the late Colonel Milward, and Canon Rawnsley, 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. (p. 9)

(The Book of the Coronation Bonfires, 1911, pp. 7-9)