TWO hundred villagers gave a rousing cheer as they watched the lighting of Hartford’s Beacon Europe on Grange Park just after midnight on New Year’s Day. And the local speakers who celebrated the firing of 1,000 beacons across the continent hoped, in the words of the honorary French consul, Mr Yvan Besnard, that it would herald an “annus mirabilis” to succeed what had been an “annus horribilis” for most people in Europe.


The beacon ceremony pledged the village’s commitment to international friendship and was also the highlight of a visit by five couples from Hartford’s twin town of Mornant in France.

The Mayor of Mornant, Mr. Paul Delorme, was one of the chief guests at the ceremony, together with the Mayor of Vale Royal, Cllr. Tony Walsh and the consul, who represents French interests in north west England.

The 16ft high metal beacon, made by Hartford resident David Ellison, was erected between two floodlights on the park. It was fired by propane gas provided by Cheshire Boats of Anderton.

The lighting was preceded by a party in the Village Hall from 10pm, when a special Beacon Europe sponge cake, iced with the event’s logo, was cut by Mr. Delorme. It was provided by Roberts Bakery. During the party, presentations of certificates and lapel badges were made to those who had helped to set up the complex event.

Entertainment was by The Boneshakers traditional folk group, sponsored by DAN.

From 9.30am until about 9pm, members of the Mid-Cheshire Amateur Radio Society ran a special event station in the Village Hall, organised by Mr. David Bevan. They made around 50 contacts including radio ‘hams’ in Ireland, Russia, Italy, Portugal and Paris.

On Grange Park, party-goers and families from the village congregated from about 11.40pm to listen to the Radio One broadcast leading up to the lighting of the first beacon in London by Prime Minister John Major.

The national organisers had scheduled different times for the lighting of the 700 UK beacons, deciding that the one in Hartford should be fired at six minutes past midnight.

Hartford Parish Council chairman, Dr. Jack Loader, introduced the event, saying it was a non-political gesture initated by the European Parliament to mark the beginning of the Single European Market and to foster friendship between communities across Europe. He stressed that it was up to individuals to promote international peace and understanding — rather than simply leaving it to their governments.

Cllr. Walsh lit the flaming torch which was used by Dr. Loader to fire the main beacon — to the accompaniment of a cheer from the spectators. Then the bells of Hartford Parish Church rang out to welcome in the New Year.

Speeches were made by the Mayor of Vale Royal, the French consul and Mr. Delorme, who pointed to the joint link between Hartford and Mornant with the Malian village of Kignan as an example of different communities working together.

After the lighting, the original party-goers went back to the Village Hall and enjoyed a “first-footing’ ceremony where the men carried little lucky bags over the threshold, containing rock salt — supplied by the Salt Union — a piece of coal and a newly-minted l0p coin. They then drank toasts to the Queen, the European Community and the success of the Mornant-Hartford twinning.

Earlier in the day, the delegation from Mornant and their hosts had bean invited to a reception at Wyvern House, Winsford, where they exchanged gifts with Cllr. Walsh. He gave Mr. and Mme. Delorme a Vale Royal BC tie and headscarf, while the French gave the borough a small pewter jug.

On New Year’s Day, the French were entertained by staff from the French department of Hartford High School at the Moulton home of deputy head teacher, Mr. Peter Solan.

The following evening the guests, their hosts and those interested in the twinning had a pub supper upstairs at the Red Lion, followed by singing of French and British traditional songs. Hartford Parish Council presented the French municipal council with a picture of Hartford by local artist Patricia Kelsall and Mr. Delorme gave the parish a large pewter jug.

On Sunday, the group walked to Vale Royal Abbey and later enjoyed lunch at The Oaklands Hotel, Gorstage, where the chef was afterwards thanked for cooking what the French mayor described as “not a lunch but a banquet”.

The Beacon Europe celebration and the subsequent events were organised by Hartford Parish Council’s twinning committee. Secretary Mrs. Anne Loader said: “I think the gods must approve of Beacon Europe! “Scores of things could have gone wrong but everything went off without a hitch. “It was a great success.”

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