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Fire, Fire !

Alec Moretti

One of the tasks of the Manorial Court Baron was to produce a set of rules or By-laws for the running of the village and its land. These were produced for Wymeswold on several occasions and copies exist for 1633, 1657, 1728 and 1742. Most of these were concerned with the numbers of animals that a man could graze upon the common land and when these could be turned out onto the open fields, but one rule, which was not concerned with the land, was included a number of times. For example in 1742 -- "?That no person shall carry any fire in the town street within this town on a pain (penalty) of 6 pence to the Lord and 6 pence to the informer." There are a few records of people being fined for this offence; for example in 1723 Mr.Moises was fined !/- "for carrying a candle uncovered in the street."? Mr.Moises was the Vicar !

In 1657 the fine was 3s. 4d.,a much heavier penalty than in the next century. Perhaps this was because a particular event was fresh in the villagers' minds. In the Okeover Papers in Derbyshire Record Office there is a document headed :-

"Account of all the buildings that were burnt to the ground in Wymeswold May the 8th. day 1655."

There is no indication of who this was sent to, but as it is in the Okeover Papers we can assume that it was sent to the Lord of the Manor who in 1655 was William Leake. His daughter married into the Okeover family and the lordship passed to them along with the papers.

The document (see the transcription) contains a list of 18 names and the amount of buildings that each lost in the fire and an estimated cost of the loss. Each building was described by the number of bays-- a bay being the space between each main vertical timber or cruck and the next in a timber framed building. This distance was usually about 12 to 15 feet and each cruck spanned about the same; so a bay would be about 12 to 15 feet square. The space between these main timbers would be filled with smaller timbers and "wattle and daub" and so, with a thatched roof, these buildings would be highly inflammable. The account shows that 140 bays were burnt, almost certainly including barns and out-houses as well as houses. The estimated total cost of them was 1046-17-0 which makes it sound a significant loss to the village. Unfortunately we have no exact idea of how many houses there were in the village in 1655, but in 1664 when the Hearth Tax was collected there were 74 houses. Seven of the people who lost buildings in the fire were also in the Hearth Tax list, and in addition there were descendants of some of the others. We can see from these two lists that among the people who lost buildings, were some of the better-off because they had houses with two hearths on which they had to pay tax. The members of the Blunte family lost most heavily losing 47 bays and two cottages worth 388. William Burrows lost 13 bays worth 160 whilst Richard Fisher, who was a field reeve and thirdborough (deputy constable) as well as being a member of the jury at the court baron, lost 10 bays. The Lord of the Manor, William Leak, also suffered loss as one of his tenants, Eliza Coxe, had eleven bays burnt.

No indication was given for the cause of the fire, but I think it would be fair to assume that the buildings affected were in a compact area of the village, so that the fire would spread quickly from one timber framed thatched building to another creating "a disaster area "of a significant part of the village. I don't suppose that Wymeswold had a "fire engine" but there may have been a thatch-hook used for pulling thatch off rooves to prevent the spread of fire. No doubt the villagers were expected to turn out with buckets to help control the blaze.

The craftsmen who undertook the valuation of the damage seem not to have been Wymeswold men. No account of rebuilding has been found but this may have been an opportunity to rebuild in brick (for those that could afford it) as opposed to the much more inflammable timber and thatch. Whilst the burning down of a house made of timber and thatch was probably not uncommon in those days, this particular event was no doubt a more extensive fire and remained in peoples minds a lot longer.

Fire at Wimeswold, 1655

Transcription of a document in Derbyshire Record Office.

Account of all the buildings that were burnt down to the ground in Wym.
May the eighth day 1655
as follows:-

Richard Fisher ten bays of buildings 90--0--0

Edward Blunte his cottage seven bays of building 28--0--0

Henry Lasser six bays of buildings 60--0--0

Will Right thirteen bays of buildings 70--0--0

Widow Fox five bays of buildings 40--0--0

Will Francke twelve bays of buildings 60--0--0

John Hollande 1--10-0

Eliza Coxe tenant to Mr. Leake eleven bays of buildings 70--0--0

Edw. Weate five bays of buildings 20--0--0

Will. Burrowes thirteen bays of buildings 160--0--0

John Blunte ten bays of buildings 100--0--0

Edw. Blunte twenty five bays of buildings 245--0--0

Edw. Blunte his cottage five bays of buildings 15--0--0

Will Hickling his two cottages twelve bays 60--0--0

Richd. Dawson a hovel ?00--12-0

Richd. Hands six bays of buildings 20--5--0

Edw. Willmet two bays of buildings 5--0--0

E..? Bales one bay 1--10-0

The whole sum is 1046--17--0

The bays that were burnt down are in all 140, and four bays beside hovel 'cought'? houses.

A valuation of all the bays of buildings that were violent [?] burnt down to the ground on the 8th of May aforesaid the valuation taken by two carpenters, two masons, and brickmaker on the fifteenth day of May by them whose names are here under written

John Dawson
William Hutchinson
Nicholas Cunningam N (his mark?)
Adexyn Broughton A (his mark?)
Edward Streete T (his mark?).

Derbyshire Record Office D231 M/E 643. From the Okeover Papers deposited in Derbyshire Record Office and reproduced by permission of the owners.

Originally published in WHO Newsletter 1995.

Copyright the author and Derbyshire Record Office.

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