Exactly 300 years ago on Thursday the Great Fire of Spalding destroyed dozens of homes, shops and warehouses.
Started in a blacksmith’s shop in Abbey Yard on April 2, 1715, high winds meant the flames spread quickly to surrounding thatched roofs and soon houses in the Market Place and beyond were ablaze.
Within the space of four hours, 84 houses and other buildings and all their contents were destroyed and around 120 tradesmen and residents lost their homes and businesses.
Papers relating to the 1715 fire are contained in Spalding Gentlemen’s Society Museum, which also has the original charter by King George I. The charter grants a licence to collect donations from all over England, Wales and Berwick-upon-Tweed “for the support of the said poor sufferers and their families” .
Curator Tom Grimes said: “The charter is permanently displayed. I don’t know when we got it but it was before 1940 so it’s been in the museum for some considerable time and it’s one of our local history treasures.
“I think it’s fair to say that although we have lots of visitors during the year, people would generally walk past it without realising its significance, but the society is very proud to be the repository of something which is so historic.”
The museum also has a copy of E H Gooch’s A History of Spalding published by the Spalding Free Press in 1940.
That book contains a report of the fire as well as a transcript of the King’s charter, and actually names the poor young blacksmith responsible for the fire.
It was William Reeve, busy casting some works in brass or copper, who started the “terrible conflagration” – estimated to have cost more than £20,560 in total.
Buildings burned included the town hall and its cupola containing the town bell.
The report says almost all the household goods and the wares and merchandise in the town’s warehouses were destroyed, “the fire spreading in so terrible a manner”.
This was despite a large Water Engine being “continually plyed with great numbers of buckets and long iron crows wherewith some of the roofs were pull’d down”.
The fire was only contained when one of the houses opposite the Old White Hart was blown up with gunpowder by a former sailor. Sadly, he perished in the explosion, the only life lost.
As for the blacksmith, he was “so sensibly afflicted with and affected by the misery he had brought upon his native town” that he disappeared quickly, and was never seen again.