The towering structure, nineteen feet tall and weighing half a tonne was commissioned and funded by Durham City’s Freemen. It has been designed and created by Brian Russell, one of the country’s top artistic blacksmiths at his 200-year-old Teesdale forge.
The freemen’s gift is the centrepiece of a wider county council supported project of improved footpaths and public access to the immediate area around the site of the beacon on Jubilee Hill, adjacent to the DLI Museum.
Tonight’s ceremony, attended by the city’s mayor, vice chair of the council and dozens of invited guests, will be led by the Lord Lieutenant, Mrs Sue Snowdon, who will perform the firing ceremony.
John Booth, Chairman of the Wardens of the freemen’s centuries old eight craft guilds, said the project had been inspired last year to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
“We hope our gift will be seen as a fitting and lasting tribute to Her Majesty, a legacy of the freemen and the outstanding skill of a local man. We hope too it will be accepted as a reflection of the quality and value of so many thousands of the craftsmen whose lives and work played such a key role in the shaping the city’s history and development across more than 600 years,” he added.
Councillor Joan Nicholson, vice chair of the council, said: “I am delighted to attend the hand-over ceremony of the beacon to mark the freemen’s gift and commemorate Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11. It is fitting the beacon was designed and created by a local blacksmith, showcasing the craftsmanship and talent we have across the county and the rich heritage of County Durham.
“We were pleased to support the installation of the beacon which I am sure will be enjoyed by many in the years to come.”
Future decisions on firing up the beacon to mark national events falls to the City of Durham Parish Council. The parish council already plans to light up the sky after the King’s Coronation on May 6 th and are actively considering a repeat for the 80th anniversary of the D-Day Landings in June next year.
Durham City-born Mr Russell, now 70 and recently sworn-in as a freeman of the city, was awarded a fine arts degree by Sunderland College of Art before moving into his forge in Little Newsham near Staindrop in 1974. Twenty years later the excellence of his work earned him a silver medal from London’s Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths and he is currently the only working blacksmith in the country to hold their gold medal. He has demonstrated his skills across Europe, the United States and Canada.