Workington's Duffield Beacon was erected in Vulcan Park in 1992 and first lit to mark the Beacon Europe celebrations on New Year's Eve at the end of the same year. It has been lit several times since then to mark significant civic events, including VE day and the Queen’s 90th birthday.
Built and donated by local British Steel apprentices, to the town of Workington as a memorial to its rich industrial history, it was named after the the 19th century Mayor, James Duffield.
James Duffield has been accredited to being one of the most influential individuals in Workington's history, as it was he who was instrumental in moving the Dronfield steelworks from Derbyshire to West Cumbria in 1882.
Recently, the 'independent' councillors that run Workington Town Council are on record as having made the decision to chop the rail supporting the beacon down to 3m in height, and place a new wooden sculpture, to commemorate VE and VJ day, on top of the shortened column. They are also on record as wanting to move what's left of the beacon to the Slag Banks, which are inaccessible to many residents.
They cite health and safety reasons for not being able to light the beacon so close to the hospital - despite not being able to produce a health and safety report; despite the beacon having been lit on numerous occasions since the hospital was built; and despite the hospital trust not having the beacon, or the lighting of the beacon, on their radar. The Slag Banks are also not in the town council's ownership and a planning application would be required to erect it on that site. Alternatively, if health and safety concerns are really the issue, the council could move the Beacon elsewhere in Vulcan Park, which is 14 acres of land in their ownership and would not require a planning application.
I am fully supportive of the proposal to erect a VE/VJ Day Memorial Statue, possibly of a solider with his head bowed towards the cenotaph as a sign of respect. This is an excellent idea. However, this should be kept separate from the plans for the Duffield Beacon.
The Beacon was made by local British Steel apprentices from locally-produced rails - rails that haven't been made in Workington since 2006. It is a monument to our steelworks industry. The monument, including the basket, represents a single work. Any division into its constituent parts – unless this is temporary and necessary for the purposes of restoration – violates the integrity of the beacon. I am particularly horrified by proposal to reduce the height of the column itself.
This is a piece of the fabric of our industrial heritage and, while not formally listed, nevertheless merits our protection. It was famously said of rails forged in Workington, of which the beacon itself is constructed, that they “held the world together”. What message does it send out if we can’t even keep our public monuments in one piece? The plans, in their present form, are an insult to our history, to former steelworkers, to British Steel and to the apprentices who built this monument.
The town council has launched a particularly biased consultation, which is framed only as whether residents would like the beacon lit next year for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee, or not. We all wish to see the beacon lit to commemorate this momentous occasion - but they will use an affirmative answer to vandalise this piece of Workington's history - and in doing so will take an axe to the memory of Workington's proud steelmaking history.
Please sign my petition below to keep the beacon in the park, where it can be enjoyed by the residents to whom it was gifted. You can also read my letter below, sent to every member of the Town Council.