Sweet Briar Hall escaped the fire
The Crown Hotel in High
DECEMBER sees the anniversary of the great Fire of
Nantwich – a disaster that brought help from Royalty in restoring the town.
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.
fire made around 900 people – half the population – homeless, but
fortunately, only two people perished.
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
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
This deed is marked in a plaque on a
building in Nantwich Square, now called “The Queen’s Aid House” (right).
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
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
nowe it is” – if he had not been born,
the town would not be as it is now.
the queen’s generosity, May 1 in both 1584 and 1585 was known as
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.