Thursday 22 May 2014

The Great Fire of Chudleigh

The weather has certainly taken a turn for the better but not so far, one hopes, that we revisit the unhappy events that befell a drought-hit Devonshire on 22nd May 1807. On that memorable day the town of Chudleigh was almost razed to the ground by a fire that started small but grew to enormous proportions.

The people of Chudleigh were, on that fateful day, going about their business just like any other. The streets bustled with life and noise and a hot sun blazed down, as it had for so many days. Within the confines of a Culver Street bakery s spark leapt from the ovens and caught a a small heap of Furze, that began to smoulder. It would appear that the reaction of the bakery staff to this occurrence was somewhat casual and before long the dry conditions and a brisk breeze conspired to fan the flames until there was no hope that they could be extinguished.

An image of Chudleigh

The conflagration spread across the largely-thatched Chudleigh with alarming speed and the townsfolk began to pull down buildings with the hope of slowing its progress and denying it the fuel it needed. Barrels of gunpowder exploded, the fire engine sent to combat the blaze burst into flames and still the fire raged on. It was late afternoon by the time the flames began to die, the ring of demolished buildings created by the townsfolk doing much to quell its ferocity.

As the smoke rose above what was left of Chudleigh, the shocked townsfolk began to count the cost of those few, apparently unimportant, sparks. Over half of the houses were gone and yet, miraculously, it claimed no human lives though a pig and a horse died in the flames. The townsfolk rallied to help those who had lost everything and houses opened their doors to take in the displaced, whilst still others found refuge in the church and in specially-erected tents on local parkland. Food, clothing and help poured into Chudleigh from miles around and slowly yet surely, the town began to rebuild.


Sarah said...

I remember the ferocity of the heath fires in 1976, it caught furze and they did nothing? they should have been prosecuted for that....terrifying. Sorry about the flippant comment on FB

Catherine Curzon said...

It must have been utterly terrifying indeed; and no need to apologise - it made me smile!