170th anniversary of the Great Fire of Needingworth


On 16 September 1847 the inhabitants of Needingworth were shocked by a fire that devastated the village. Of the 192 houses in the village about 84 were completely consumed in the flames (over 40 %), as well as 10 barns containing the grain and produce of the recent harvest. 87 families were left homeless.

We will be commemorating the 170th anniversary of the fire on the weekend of 16-17th September this year. There will be a (free) guided walk seeing where the fire started and following its dreadful route through the village to where it ended, hearing about the events of the day and its consequences. The walk is about 1 mile and is expected to take about 1 ½ hours, although there is the opportunity to do just half the walk if you prefer.

We will be repeating the walk on both days (at 2 and 4 pm) but numbers are limited for practical and safety reasons, so if you want to come on one of the guided walks you will need to register. There will be handouts including maps, and information signs along the route, so you will also be able to do your own self-guided tour at your own pace and covering any part of the route. As some parts of the walk are not very accessible, you can avoid these parts if you use the self-guided option.

[Note that more than a quarter of the places on the four walks have been allocated.]

The walks will start and end at the Village Hall (open 1.30 to 6 pm), where you will be able to pick up your handouts, browse a display, sit down for refreshments, and other activities. We gratefully acknowledge the support of Holywell-cum-Needingworth Parish Council.

This page will be updated with more details later. If you want more information, or to offer help before or on the weekend, please contact Peter at [email protected] or 07519 598189. We need volunteers to help with stewarding etc. Note that we will be doing a special walk for volunteers in the week before the 16-17th September, so if you are helping then you need not go through the registration process.

Burning thatch
Burning thatch can look like this

It is impossible to describe the scenes which this great calamity presented. Dismay and confusion at the first almost paralysed the efforts of those who were present, and the almost incredible rapidity with which the flames progressed from house to house prevented many people from saving even their furniture, let alone endeavouring to put out the fire, Persons who at the first alarm flocked to the place where the fire broke out, were told ‘ere long that their own premises, two or three hundred yards off, were in flames.

This is the fourth in our series of history walks around the parish which our Holywell-cum-Needingworth local history group have organised. They are available to be repeated should any group be interested. The list of available walks is currently:

  • Holywell
  • Needingworth west
  • Church Street
  • The Great Fire of Needingworth 1847

Please note that the weekend of 16-17th September this year is also special for our neighbouring village of Bluntisham where they are having the Spirit of Sayers Festival, celebrating the life and work of Dorothy L. Sayers and her family (her father was Rector there in 1917). Why not also plan to join in with them?