A Letter from Nantwich

 Written December 2004 (updated July 2015).

Queen helps after a disaster hits the town

Sweet Briar Hall escaped the fire


The Crown Hotel in High Street


DECEMBER sees the anniversary of the great Fire of Nantwich – a disaster that brought help from Royalty in restoring the town.

    On December 10, 1583, an unnamed Nantwich brewer living in the Waterlode accidentally started a blaze which burned for 20 days (see below), destroying 150 houses, inns and other buildings. One account says he was brewing ale while another records that he was cooking a meal.    

    The fire made around 900 people – half the population – homeless, but fortunately, only two people perished.

    There were other effects – transporting of salt, a principal product of Nantwich, was stopped for a while and the use of the town as a military staging point was halted. This was important as it was essential to the defence of Britain against the threat of a Spanish


    The support of the town by trade and industry was a matter which concerned Queen Elizabeth I and her Privy Council. As a result, “Good Queen Bess” ordered a nationwide collection for funds to rebuild Nantwich, to which she contributed £1,000.

    This deed is marked in a plaque on a building in Nantwich Square, now called “The Queen’s Aid House” (right). 

    It reads (modern version!): "God grant our Royal Queen in England long to reign, for she has put her helping hand to build this town again”. And to help in another way, the queen granted licenses to six local people to export grain free of duty for 10  years, with the profits going to the appeal. In all, £2,700 was raised in the following three years, on top of which the owners of the ravaged buildings paid £4,500 for them to be rebuilt.

    Four local men, led by John Maisterson, had the task

of administering the funds and poor relief, and overseeing the buying of trees in Buerton, a nearby village, and Wirral, on the north west end of the county of Cheshire. It took about three years to rebuild the town, which kept to the established medieval street pattern. [It is also on record that the Queen allowed townspeople to have trees from the royal forest at Delamere in Cheshire.]

   Sadly, on the third anniversary of the outbreak of the Great Fire, John Maisterson died. His epitaph read: “Had he not bin, this Towne had bin noe Towne as

 nowe it is” – if he had not been born, the town would not be as it is now.

   Following the queen’s generosity, May 1 in both 1584 and 1585 was known as “Queen’s Day”.

   The details above are based on an article by the late Eric Garton, a modern Nantwich historian, in a souvenir brochure for the 400th anniversary commemorations of


the Great Fire and Rebuilding of Nantwich.


lTHE fire was witnessed by – among other people – a man called Alan Wright, whose account is in the Parish Register at St Mary’s Parish Church.


 Perhaps the bays were of a standard width and listing the buildings as 600 bays would give a better idea of just how much of the town had been burned. 


lAMONG the buildings which survived the devastation of the town were Sweet Briar Hall in Hospital Street (the house next to it was the last building in the street to be lost) and Churche's Mansion a little further along the street. Nantwich Parish Church also survived. But the Crown Hotel in High Street is a new – post fire – construction, built in 1585.


lDAYS OR HOURS? At the start of this letter I say the fire burned for 20 days - based on one account - but the account by Alan Wright says 600 bays of buildings were destroyed in 15 hours. Are the two incompatible? I don't think so. Obviously the initial blaze would spread like wildfire, but it could easily have smouldered on for 20 days in a town of wooden houses.    


lTHE GREAT FIRE of Nantwich, while of historic importance to the town, was not unique.The appeal launched by the Queen was one of several to restore places throughout the country.   


o Pictured left and far left is the plaque which marks the fire. It stands between the Waterlode (our inner ring road) and the River Weaver. In the far distance is Welsh Row, one of the roads to Chester from Nantwich.

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