1893 text

Scar-fire or scarefire. An alarm of fire. One of the little pieces in Herrick’s “Hesperides” is entitled “The Scar-fire,” but the word sometimes was used, as in the text, for the fire itself. Fuller, in his “Worthies,” speaks of quenching scare-fires.

This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.

5 Annotations

First Reading

Terry F  •  Link

by Robert Herrick

WATER, water I desire,
Here's a house of flesh on fire ;
Ope the fountains and the springs,
And come all to bucketings :
What ye cannot quench pull down ;
Spoil a house to save a town :
Better 'tis that one should fall,
Than by one to hazard all.


Pauline  •  Link

Companion's Large Glossary:
sudden conflagration

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

I've never heard of scare-fires before ... always as beacons, leading to towns being called names like Beaconsfield.

In a report about the development of the port of Faversham, Isle of Sheppey ... close to both London and France ... there's lots about old beacon sites. Here's a sample of what it has to say, which makes me wonder what better system Cromwell, Charles II, James II, William and Mary, Anne and George I thought they had:

"Fifty-two beacon sites are shown on Lambarde’s “carte” or map and in clear weather any warning of approaching danger by sea would be very rapidly flashed from one end of the country to the other; and London would soon be aware of any threat of landing on any part of the Kent coast.

"North and south Kent seem to be divided into two areas, with a crossover at Rochester. On the Isle of Thanet five beacons are shown connecting to beacons at Chislet and Wye; these in turn connect to Whitstable and Herne on the coast and Boughton inland.

"Boughton Hill connects to all seven beacons on the Isle of Sheppey, including the important beacon on Harty. This beacon is of possible Roman date; the pre-1976 O.S. map annotates “Roman Remains found” on the site of Harty beacon. This has been removed on the latest O.S. maps to deter “treasure hunters”. Apart from a line of sight to the Roman shore fort at Reculver, Harty Beacon connects to the beacon at Stone just west of Faversham, adjacent to Watling Street and close to the possible site of the lost Roman town of Duroleveum. Field-walking at Stone indicates possible Roman occupation of the site, with ragstone, Roman tile, and brick fragments. The name is indicative of ancient structures.

"Stone Beacon connects to all of the Sheppey beacons and also the beacon on Grain. Allhallows, Hoo and Chatham beacons draw together all the north Kent beacons and send them up a single line of beacons - Findsbury, Gravesend, Barrowehill, Stone, Purfleet, Shooters Hill to London.

"The first real test of the Kent beacon system came in July 1588 when the Spanish Armada came up Channel. No record appears to exist of the lighting of the Kentish beacons apart from Macaulay’s poem of the event:
“Far on the deep the Spaniard saw,
Along each southern shire,
Cape beyond cape in endless range,
Those twinkling points of fire."

"The East and West Swale, although used as a waterway to London, led also to the great naval dockyard at Chatham and, in 1596, steps were taken to protect Chatham from enemy ships passing through the Swale.

"Up to 1640 the beacon system was kept in good repair but after that was allowed to decay, although reinstatement occurred in 1745 and 1804."

The Historical Development of the Port of Faversham, Kent 1580-1780
The Kent Archaeological Field School
Director; Paul Wilkinson, PhD, MIfA, FRSA.

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Reading this over, a scare-fire and a warning beacon are not the same thing.

Sorry for misleading you!

It does seem strange Pepys never tells us about the beacon system given the possibility of a Dutch invasion so often during Charles II's reign, and the two invasions in James II's reign. They must have had some way of knowing what was going on if they let the beacon system decay.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.


  • Jan