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The maintenance of a chain of beacons as a warning signal was one of the means of national defence against a possible Spanish invasion in late 16th-century England. From this, beacon came to mean a conspicuous hill suitable for the site of a signal fire (frequently occurring in place-names, as Brecon Beacons, Dunkery Beacon).

Recorded from Old English (in form bēacn) meaning ‘sign, portent’, the word is of West Germanic origin and is related to beckon.

Subjects: History.

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