Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Great Fires of Stony Stratford

About 15 years ago, when I lived in the country, I had a neighbour (that is: in the next field) who had a house with a thatched roof. It was a large, comfortable, modernized house but either he or the previous owner had decided a decade earlier to give the house a thatched roof. Thatched roofs, which were once a cheap roof covering, have now become an expensive status symbols. Sad to report, we were wakenend one night by a blaze as the roof caught fire. Fire engines converged from several parts of Hampshire and it took them the rest of the night to quench the fire. Fortunately nobody was injured but the house was ruined.

One lesson my neighbour learned from this was that he was never going to live under a thatched roof again. Needless to add, the planning authorities did everything in their power to try to get him to replace the thatch, but my neighbour was a man of means and the bureaucrats were no match for him.

This preamble is by way of introduction to the great 18th century fires at Stony Stratford. Most roofs, even on substantial buildings were thatched, and therefore vulnerable.

In 1736 an accidental fire brought the loss of 53 houses. The precise location is not known.

Six years later there was a much bigger fire and we have a reported account from the Northampton Mercury of May 1st 1742.

The fire originated at The Bull Inn with a servant girl who was drying sheets before the fire place. One of them caught fire and instead of smothering it she panicked and stuffed the sheet up the chimney, hoping not to be found out by her mistress. This action compounded her problems. the chimney caught fire and then the roof. There was also a high wind and the fire leapt from one building to another, not simply on the one side of the High Street, but also crossing the street, hitting a thatched roof on the other side and relentlessly catching other houses in its destructive path.

The fire also destroyed the church of St Mary Magdalene, built about 1280. It was never rebuilt.

The paper also reported that the fire crossed the River Ouse and burned houses in Old Stratford. 146 buildings were destroyed and the majority of Medieval Stony Stratford with it.

If you take a look at Stony Stratford High Street today you can find surviving Medieval buildings to the south of the Bull but little to the north, with the exception of the Fox and Hounds (formerly The Lyon).


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