The Great Fire Walk organised for this year’s Heritage Open Days on September 11th was a great success – with each of the three walks sold out.
Guests followed the route of the Great Fire of Warwick that devastated the centre of town on a windy September day in 1694. It broke out opposite the Lord Leycester Hospital near the Westgate. The ‘pot boy’ from the Anchor Inn had gone across the road to get a light from the bakery and on his way back a spark blew into the thatch. The fire roared down the High Street consuming the wood-framed and thatched buildings on both sides of the road, which was narrower than it is today.
Guides Sue Rigby and Paula Fletcher told how residents grabbed what belongings they could and fled to the supposed safety of St. Mary’s Church. But at the crossroads, the fire changed direction as the wind veered and the flames consumed Church Street. Some of the possessions piled up in the church were still smouldering and the nave caught fire. The tower collapsed and only the chancel and the famous Beauchamp Chapel were saved.
The walkers heard about the rebuilding of Warwick according to strict rules, creating the elegant streets of brick and stone Georgian terraces we see today. The walks ended at the Council Chamber in the Court House where documents from the County Record Office describing the fire and subsequent national appeal for funds were on display.
The project began 9 months ago with volunteers and staff from Heritage and Culture Warwickshire, Unlocking Warwick, Lord Leycester Hospital and St Mary’s Church collaborating. A huge thank you to Sue Rigby who volunteers with HCW and Unlocking Warwick and who took on the organisation, Steven Wallsgrove of the CRO who identified suitable documents and explained them on the day, Alice Pethick and Tim Clarke of St Mary’s, and Brother John at The Lord Leycester.