The Fire of Wellingborough 1738
On 28th July 1738 in Wellingborough, an oat drying kiln caught fire. Flames ignited a wood pile and then rapidly spread to many buildings. More than 200 were destroyed.
Hannah Sparke (pictured here from a painting by Francesco Bartolozzi) helped to fight the fire and, when water ran out, ordered her servants to use beer from her cellar to damp down and save another house.
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The History and Antiquities of Wellingborough
John Cole - 1837
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The following register of this calamitous fire, in the orthography of the period, states concisely, but with precision, the date, &c. of the event thus:
"On the 28th of July 1738, happened a terrible fire at 2 of ye clock in. the afternoon, and in less than 4 hours consumed the best part of the towne of Wellingborough; it was of a fryday."
This destructive fire broke out on the west side of Silver-street, within about twenty yards from the top, and is stated to have originated through the neglect of a boy, who was drying oats on a kiln. The wind being S.W. blew the flames across the street, in an oblique direction, to where Mr. Bearn at present lives, where, in the yard of Mr. Pagett, a Baker, was a fir-stack, which took fire and blazed with terrible fury, communicating rapidly with the houses in the Butchery, one of which was saved in an extraordinary manner, through the perseverance evinced by Mrs. Hannah Sparke, who, when water failed, desired her servants to resort to the cellar, and draw out all the beer, and throw it on the wood-work, which being accordingly done, by these means the house was preserved. The flames thence spread to Pebble-lane, burning so near to the Church as the White Horse; so intense was the heat that it even melted the leads of the Church, and, burning so furiously, it was feared that that fine edifice would have been fired, but, fortunately, it received no farther damage. The house which stood on the site of that now occupied by Mr. Mee was consumed, but the fire did not commit any ravages farther downthe Market-street. It afterward ran along to the then White Hart Inn, raged up to the Globe, and proceeded thence to both sides of East-end; the houses occupying the site of the Sow and Pigs and the Crispins’ Arms, however, happily escaped.
Mr. Fisher, a considerable landed proprietor of the town, whose residence was in East-end, had a good store of spirits preserved in his cellars; these, catching fire, flamed out their brilliant blue and red colours for a day or two after, and drew to gether occasional groups of spectators. The flames continued their progress, crossing over toward the present Swan and Nest. The lordship being then unenclosed, the standing corn caught fire, and it was judged necessary to mow it, in order to stop the progress of the flames.
The rapidity with which the fire communicated to the different parts of the town is clear from the circumstance that, while persons were assisting their townsmen, news came to several that their own houses were nearly consumed. There were, unfortunately, no fire engines in the town; those of the nearest place — Kettering — were sent for; but before their arrival, most of the damage by the devouring element was effected. As it happened at a hot period of the summer, when there had not been any recent rain, every thing was very dry; consequently the flames received no interruption to their violence.
The consternation which the inhabitants were so suddenly put into, can be more readily conceived than expressed. The parish church proved, for some time, an asylum for many poor destitute families; and others who were burned out erected tents in Doddington field.
It is stated that some ashes were blown so far as Stanwick pastures, five miles distant; and at Higham Ferrers, clothes in the drying-ground were covered with black spots which came from the fire at Wellingborough.
As the fir-stack in Mr. Pagett’s yard was considered so instrumental in spreading the flames, soon after the conflagration a piece of ground, about a quarter-of-a-mile out of the town, on the Harrowden road, was appropriated to the purpose of stacking fire-fagots, to be generally used by those residents whose business required such fire-wood. The ashes, &c produced by the consumed houses were carried out to the fields opposite the Swan and Nest, where researches sometimes take place in quest of spoils. The garden of Mr. Barrett, adjoining the fields, owing to this circumstance, is lower than the circumjacent soil by the depth of a yard.
On rebuilding the destroyed houses the cautionary measure was resorted to, in some erections, of inserting trap-doors in the upper floors, for the convenience of letting down furniture, &c, in the event of another fire.
From the Doddington road, a profile of the course which the fire took, may be perceived by the line of tiled houses, intermingled with those having thatched roofs.
The town of Northampton, on hearing of the calamity, contributed three hundred guineas; Kettering, one hundred; and Oundle, forty. The Earl of Halifax, twenty; and Sir J. Jerkyll, one hundred guineas.