The Great Fire of 1792
Over two hundred years ago, at about mid-day on the 8th May 1792 , a spark flew out of Mr Moody’s blacksmiths shop located between Chalk Dell and Bullington Lane, most probably in the “Rams field” – and started a train of events that shapes Barton Stacey today.
Read below about:
- how it was reported in the press at the time
- the aftermath of the fire
- rebuilding the village
- houses that survived
“the most awful conflagration ever beheld by human eyes”
Luckily for posterity and amateur historians, twenty years earlier, the Hampshire Chronicle had started in Winchester and its vivid report gives a story of the event which would be hard to improve on.
In five brief paragraphs the unknown author not only chronicles the horror of the fire, but also gives a fascinating glimpse of the village life at the time and adds a touch of (unintentional) humour with the moral story of Farmer Friend.
Hampshire Chronicle – Monday 14 May 1792
Unfortunately the village does not seem to have stood a chance. By the time a rider could have reached the fire services in Winchester or Whitchurch and the engines returned to Barton Stacey, it would have been all over.
Whilst the homeless sheltered in the church, John Courtney who had lost the most the day before, appealed to the public through the columns of the Chronicle and other local papers not to respond to any requests to charity until the total loss had been calculated and certified by the minister and officers of the parish.
A week later a formal committee, under the chairmanship of William Powlett, MP, was formed at the first of many meetings at the Coach and Horses in Sutton Scotney. They resolved to forward thanks to those who had provided immediate help to the sufferers and to send five hundred circular letters to gentlemen in Winchester and other towns in the county “to beg them to apply for and promote the contributions desired on behalf of the sufferers”.
At a meeting two days later it was resolved that the total loss was in the region of £2000 and recommended “the wretched state of the sufferers to the humanity and charitable aid of the public”. They also decided to print the names of all subscribers in the county papers. All bankers in the county were asked to receive donations and forward a weekly statement to the committee chairman, furthermore Hampshire gentlemen resident in London were also to be solicited for contributions.
By the end of the month a full account of the damage was printed thus.
The response was dramatic and from all of the county! In the first week a Mrs Wright of Fulham sent £100 (probably the same Mrs Elizabeth Wright who had contributed £1400 to two separate Barton Stacey charities in 1784 and 1791), the gentry of Wherwell six guineas and the rest four pounds and nine shillings, Mr Smith and Mr Roe one guinea each. And so on for column after column of the chronicle. For comparison, in 1792 a single fare to London by stage-coach from Winchester was half a guinea (52p) inside, seven shillings (35p) outside! Each week a new list of subscribers was published between columns describing the horse race meetings on Worthy Down and at Danebury, Stockbridge as well as long and horrifying advertisements for patent medicines for the most gruesome diseases and skin conditions!
Throughout June, July and August, the contributions kept coming, each individually acknowledged in print when it was possible to do so by the committee, now firmly based at the Coach and Horses. By August 22nd a total of £2098-6-6 had been collected of which £603-8-2½ had been distributed. The committee in what seems to have been a winding up meeting recommended the farmers, tradesmen and others insure their buildings in future. The treasurer, Mr Twyman, was also thanked for his punctuality and the accuracy of his accounts. This seems to have marked the end of the major fund-raising exercise, although further meetings of the committee were recorded on September 3rd and 17th and October 8th.
The rebuilding of the village would have taken place over several years, however as all the guidebooks point out, it has resulted in a collection of very attractive Georgian houses built to a similar pattern with a central staircase rising from the front door, originally two up-two down with a rear kitchen/dairy covered by a “catslide” or “linhay”. Naturally thatch was not a favoured roofing material mot houses would have a well near the back door given the level of the water table and easy chalk digging. Whether the famous detached privies were rebuilt at the ends of the gardens is not known. We certainly seem to have lost most of the walls that were covered in thatch.
Yew Tree Cottage we know was built soon after the fire as all its documents survive intact. It was built on the site of two “tenement buildings” destroyed in the fire.
There is a story that the fire is the reason why there is no thatch in the Village. That is incorrect there were thatched houses in Barton Stacey Village right up to the 1940/50’s Some people even remember fighting a fire in one.
Eight to ten houses survived the fire and it would be interesting to know how many are still standing in some form or other. According to the account the parsonage was spared as was Mr Courtney’s farmhouse. One of these would be today’s Church Farm. A Mr John Courtney owned Barton Cottage in 1819 when he willed it to his wife May, whether this is the house mentioned, is guesswork.
The pub was destroyed by the fire as we can see in a document in the Hampshire Records Office for the sale of the site of the Swan Ale House which was lately destroyed by fire although we suspect the cellar may have survived.
Three interesting old maps of Barton Stacey exist. Two of these are before the fire from 1756 and 1769 produced as a land record rather than a catalogue of homes.
The other map from 1841 shows the village in great detail and depicts many of the houses in the village today.
Looking at the 1841 map it is interesting to see what has survived. The field pattern is virtually unchanged. Gravel Lane seems to have been straighter than it is in real life but most of the plots line the main street as they do today. It is not known when the village pond disappeared or when the church crossroads were realigned.