170th anniversary commemorative walks


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 commemorated the 170th anniversary of the fire on the weekend of 16-17th September 2017. There were (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 was about 1 mile and took about 1 ½ hours, although there is the opportunity to do just half the walk if you prefer.

We repeated the walk on both days (at 2 and 4 pm) but numbers were limited to 25 for practical and safety reasons, and they were fully booked. To register or put their names on the waiting list for one of the guided walks people could select the date and click on Register. Even when the guided walks were full, there were handouts including maps and flames along the route, so they were also able to do their own self-guided tour at their 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.]

[All four walks were full so two extra walks were arranged for Saturday October 7th.]

The walks started and ended at the Village Hall (open 1.30 to 6 pm), where people were able to pick up handouts, browse a display, sit down for refreshments, and other activities. The event was organised jointly with Holywell-cum-Needingworth Parish Council.

Lots of effort went into the event, and many volunteers helped. (More details and pictures will be added later.)

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 was also special for our neighbouring village of Bluntisham where they had the Spirit of Sayers Festival, celebrating the life and work of Dorothy L. Sayers and her family (her father was Rector there in 1917). We encouraged people to join in with them as well.

There had been a 150th anniversary commemoration in 1997, when copies of the fire map were made and sold.