1783: Great fire in Potton

Taken from Potton history pages from Bedfordshire County Council website

There was a great fire in Potton in 1783 in which many important documents and buildings were destroyed. Before the fire Potton was a busy, prosperous market town dealing mainly in wool. Around the market square were the large houses and stores of the wool staplers, farmers and gentlemen. On 14th August a hay stack in King Street burst into flames and the resulting sparks set fire to half the town in half an hour. Four hours later the fire was out and the best part of the town burnt down. Two great inns and the buildings all round the market place and in the road leading to it, along with the great houses and woolhouses, stables, grain stores and barns belonging to Messrs Raymond, Livelong and Butler, were destroyed. The workshop of Mr Millar and the furniture and clothing in the curate’s house were gone. Every house except one in King Street had burnt down. The town never fully recovered its former importance. 

The calamity was news much further afield than Bedfordshire. A contemporary flyer, printed at Chester for circulation in the midlands and north of England [CRT130Potton28] reads as follows.


Whereas on Thursday the 14th Day of August last, a most terrible FIRE broke out in the Market Town of POTTON, in the County of Bedford, about Two in the Afternoon; which, in the Space of Four Hours, entirely consumed more than one Half of the said Town, together with almost the Whole of the Furniture, Wearing Apparel, Stock in Trade and Effects of every Kind, belonging to the Inhabitants, to a very great Amount; and also all the Barns, Stables, and Out-houses, with the Grain, Implements of Husbandry, and every Thing contained therein, together with several Ricks of Hay. The Loss of the said Sufferers, upon a most moderate Computation, and when all Insurances are deducted, amounts to the Sum of THIRTY THOUSAND POUNDS and upwards, which has reduced them to the utmost Distress, and the greatest Part of them must have even perished for want of the Necessaries of Life, if they had not been most humanely and seasonably supplied by the neighbouring Gentlemen and Persons of every Rank.

Therefore it is most humbly requested, that all charitable and humane Christians, will take into their mature Consideration, the Distress of the aforesaid poor Sufferers, and contribute towards their Relief, without which Hundreds of them must remain miserable Objects the Remainder of their Lives.

At a Meeting of the Committee of the Gentlemen of the County of Bedford, at the Sun Inn, at Biggleswade, on Friday the 5th Day of September 1783, on Behalf of the Sufferers by the late Fire at Potton.

Ordered That Mr. JOHN TROTT be desired to go into the County of Derby, Chester, and Lancaster, or any other County he may think proper, to solicit Subscriptions on Behalf of the Sufferers by the late Fire at POTTON , to be applied only to the Relief of such Persons who are not able to sustain their Loss

Signed by

  • G. PAYNE
  • E. GORUM

N. B. Any Subscription paid into the Hands of Mr. Bayley, Market Harborough; Mr. Charles Upton, or Mr. Crompton, Banker, Derby; Mr. Lowndham, Attorney, or Mr. Mansfield, Leicester; Mr. Abel Smith, or Mr. John Wright, Nottingham, Messrs. Jones, Bankers, and J. Harrop, Printer, Manchester, will be duly transmitted for the Benefit of the aforesaid Sufferers.

It is humbly requested that the several Clergymen of Derbyshire, Cheshire, Lancashire, and other Counties, will, with their Church-wardens, solicit Subscriptions, and use their Interest in Favor of the unhappy Sufferers; and that those of Cheshire and lancs, will transmit their Collections to Mr. Speed, Deputy Register, at Chester, or to Mr. Collinson, at Lancaster, or Mr. Hogg, at Richmond.

Losses in the Great Fire of Potton

[People in bold may have been employers of the Russells]

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service is lucky in having a contemporary (1784) book on the Great Fire of Potton. It is entitled:

Collections and Distributions,
Which happened at POTTON, in the County of Bedford,
On THURSDAY the 14th Day of AUGUST, 1783

The book is particularly useful, in this pre-census era, because it lists everyone in Potton who lost money and/or property on account of the fire together with an estimate of their loss. The names are as follows (asterisks indicate that the amount claimed was not considered for relief):

William Simms, butcher – £116/3/11
George Hatley, glazier – £233/1/-
John Rogers, cooper – £48/4/3
James Newport, victualler – £15/15/11
William Fitzjohn, tailor – £9/3/5
John Youd, fellmonger – £449/9/6 – would 
William Crook, victualler and tailor – £283/9/10
William Freeman, carpenter – £12/4/-
William Buckle, shoemaker – £24
Thomas Buckle, shoemaker – £13/15/6
Mary Tear, executrix of William Tear, bricklayer – £365/8/6
John Gilbert, farmer – £98/9/6
William Richardson, basket maker – £63/2/10
Rev. Mr. Whittingham – £236/15/6 [perhaps Richard Whittingham who became rector in 1806]
Jonathan Woodcock, tailor – £6/18/6
*Mr. John Kitchin, baker – £2,308/15/6
Peter Pettite, victualler – £272/2/6
William Emery, shoemaker and grocer – £106/5/6
John Emery, shoemaker and farmer – £60/16/-
Thomas Smith, tailor – £38/1/8
His Daughter – £5/2/-
John Miller, carpenter – £74
*Thomas Skegg, draper – £37/17/6
Sarah Rayment, widow – £20/17/-
*Mr. Thomas Raymond, farmer and maltster – £249/5/-
Mr. John Toller, farmer – £511/6/6
*Mr. John Raymond, woolstapler – £5,174/6/9
*Mr. Thomas Hankin, gentleman – £45/13/10
Mr. Charles Franklin, surgeon – £550/9/4 Mr.
John Butler, woolstapler – £331/12/6
Livet Frank, breeches maker – £24/8/-
Mr. John Edwards, baker – £1,554/10/-
John Samm, baker – £201/12/-
*Robert Squire, mealman – £69/16/6
William Devereux, servant – £317/16/-
Thomas Heath, waggoner – £43/11/6
William Verley, corn chandler – £41
Jane and Liddy Samm, milliners – £15/10/11
*Mr. John Long, farmer – £16/16/-
John Smith, innholder [The George] and farmer – £704/13/2
Anthony Corley, shopkeeper – £22/10/-
John Dennis, butcher – £207/2/11
Mrs. Langhorne, widow – £251/17/-
Mr. John Pedley, attorney at law – £287/10/9
*William Dobson, victualler – £29/4/6
John Hine, barber – £105/10/3
Richard Read, surgeon – £90
*Mr. James Ind, brewer – £34/2/6
Robert Musgrave, maltster – £80/11/-
Mr. Henry Winn, grocer and chandler – £629/15/7
Mr. Robert Topham, saddler and hatter – £238/15/-
Lady Hewitt, widow – £218/2/-
Richard Lunnis, farmer – £24/4/-
John and George Emery, curriers – £23/12/6
Ann Brown, widow – £18
John and William Franklin, waggoners – £32/5/-
*Mr. William Fowler, brewer – £165/5/-
Executors of Nicholas Sparks (deceased) – £51
Miss Patrick, schoolmistress – £140
Joseph Farr, farmer – £50
William Mean, innholder [The Crown] and farmer – £369/13/10
Thomas Thompson, barber – £10/8/6
John Giles, tailor – £0/12/11
Miss Mary Sheffield – £8/19/6
Thomas Meeks, carrier – £50/4/-
*John Peppercorn, farmer – £15/8/-
Catharine Edwards, widow – £111/5/10
*George Cooper, mealman – £25/12/-
*Mark Norman, mealman – £31/13/-
Sarah Dennis, widow – £5/4/-
John Waters, labourer – £6/13/8
John Underwood, labourer – £6/2/2
Widow Walsome – £7/8/-
Joseph Houten, labourer – £1/2/3
James Lovell, labourer – £7/6/3
Widow Armitage – £1/3/-
John Powell, labourer – £2/14/-
William Reynolds, labourer – £1/12/-
Widow Squires – £0/18/3
Charles Smith, labourer – £7/1/8
James Brown, labourer – £12/4/10
John Theobalds, labourer – £2/18/-
Widow Rowe – £7/7/-
Frances Theobalds, widow – £7
Ann Truelove, servant to Mr. Franklin – £2/12/-
Ann Huckle, servant to George Hatley – £1/16/-
Mary Moss, servant to Mr. Hankin – £3/18/11
Sarah Waters, servant to Lady Hewitt – £2/12/11
Hannah Carter, servant to Mr. Smith at the George – £1/2/-
Thomas Medlock, servant to Mr. Kitchin – £1/4/6
Thomas Handley, servant to Mr. Skegg – £0/8/6
John Reynolds, servant to Mr. Edwards – £1/8/-
Thomas Dust, ostler at the Crown – £5/7/10
Widow Arnold – £18/16/-
Ann Williamson, servant to William Crook – £0/17/-
James Giddings, servant to Mr. Edwards – £3/8/-
Cooley Finch, labourer – £76/3/-
Henry Rich, wool comber – £7/15/-
Ann Kirkland, servant to Mr. Pettite – £1/5/-
Robert Fuller, servant to Mr. Kitchin – £1/15/-
John Medlock, servant to Mr. John Raymond – £1/17/-
John Peele, servant to Mr. John Raymond – £1/8/6
Thomas Newberry, servant to Mr. Franklin – £18/16/-
Susanna Huckle, servant to Mr. Pedley – £1/3/10
John Barker, journeyman to Mr. Kitchin – £1/11/-
Thomas Stocker, servant to Mr. Toller – £2/12/-
George Barker, mat maker – £2/3/-
Ann Munns, servant to Mr. Edwards – £7/2/-
Elizabeth Gregory, servant to Mr. Pedley – £6/4/10
Elizabeth Stanford, servant to Mr. Topham – £2/0/10
John Peacock senior, labourer – £5/15/6
John Peacock, servant to Mr. Winn – £2/5/6
Elizabeth Rowney, servant to Mr. Smith at the George – £1/4/6
Thomas Finding, servant to Mr. Smith at the George – £1/3/-
Elizabeth Norman, servant to Mr. Winn – £4/1/-
William Knights, labourer – £1/2/6
Mary Newbrook, servant to Nicholas Sparks, £1/3/6
Mary Osborne, servant to Mr. Kitchin senior – £2/18/-
Thomas Southo, servant to Mr. Smith – £1/1/-
John Charles, a Minor – £8/12/-
John Storton, labourer – £0/16/9
Jane Richardson, servant to John Dennis – £0/14/4
William Corley, labourer – £7/8/9
Richard Daniel, labourer – £0/18/-
John Finch, servant to Mr. Edwards – £1/1/-
Sarah Thompson, servant to William Mean at the Crown – £4/17/-
Alice Boston, servant to Mr. Porteus – £4/4/2
Ann Careless, servant to Rev. Mr. Whittingham – £3/10/-
Mary Manton, servant to Rev. Mr. Whittingham – £1/9/-
Elizabeth Bimson, servant to Mr. T. R. Rayment – £1/7/6
William Lumbis, servant to Mr. T. R. Rayment – £1/11/6
Elizabeth West, servant to Mr. Coe – £2/9/6
David Thorne, barber – £10/11/6
Francis Mayes, victualler – £23/1/-
Mary Smith, servant to Mrs. Hankin senior – £2/11/6
Ann Darlow, servant to Mrs. Wingfield – £4/5/6
Mary Lincoln – a servant – £0/10/-
The Right honourable Lord Viscount Torrington – £1,700
The Right honourable Earl Spencer – £400
The Revd. Mr. Monoux and Miss Wingfield – £1,800
Mrs. Porteus – £100
Matthew Rugeley, Esq. – £290
Mr. T. R. Rayment – £1,600
Mr. John Livelong – £1,3—
Total: £25,625/19/-

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