1869 - Great Fire At Huish 26 Aug 1869

Excerpt from the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette from the Archive on Microfiche for 26th August 1869

Great Fire At Huish

One of the most disastrous fires of farm produce that has occurred in Wiltshire for many years past, broke out on Monday evening last, in the homestead of Mr. Wm. Young of Huish, resulting, we regret to say, in the destruction of nearly the whole of the farm buildings, of 13 ricks of corn and hay, together with all the corn stored in the barns, and a large quantity of machinery and implements.

Huish is a small secluded village lying almost immediately under the range of hills which skirt the Pewsey vale on its northern side, and is situated about 3 miles from the town of Pewsey, adjoining the parishes of Oare and Draycot Fitzpaine. Nearly the whole of the land in the parish is occupied by Mr. Young, whose family have resided there for a great number of years; and with so large and occupation, and a homestead commensurate with it, the disastrous character of a fire breaking out in the midst of corn ricks and of buildings composed of flammable materials (for some of them were roofed with deal covered with tar) will easily be imagined.

The origin of the conflagration is at present unknown; or, if known, has not yet been divulged. It seems that about 7 o’clock in the evening, some of the labourers on the farm were engaged upon a wheat rick, which they had nearly “top’d up,” when their attention was arrested by some lighted straw upon the ground close to the rick-house (filled with wheat), only 10 yards from the rick upon which they were at work. The fire at that moment might have been covered with a pocket handkerchief; but so dry had the straw become by the heat of the weather, that before the men could get from the rick, the flame had run along the ground and reached the wheat in the rick-house, and in less time than it takes us to recount the fact, the building, with its contents, was in a blaze.

Mr. Young had only just returned from Marlborough Fair, and had gone into the house to see one of his children, who was lying dangerously ill. He was of course at once sent for; but a moment’s glance was sufficient to show that unless the greatest of exertion was used the whole place must be destroyed, for the ricks and buildings all lay so closely together that the slightest breath of air would have scattered the fire in all directions, and have consumed not merely the ricks and buildings, but a wheat crop which stood in sheaves in an adjoining field.  Fortunately there was scarcely any wind stirring at the time: but, without this auxiliary in the work of destruction, the flames from the dry wheat crop just garnered broke out in all directions, a cart house adjoining was soon in a blaze, another rick-house filled with straw followed, then the ricks caught, then the buildings, one after another – barns, granaries, engine house, stables, skillings – until the whole yard, extending over two or three acres of ground, was one huge furnace of fire, lighting up the heavens with a lurid glare which was seen miles and miles away, and presenting a scene, if we may say so, of unparalleled grandeur; for although there have been fires equally destructive, it is seldom that nearly every part of a large homestead like that of Huish has been seen burning with intensity at one and the same moment.

Immediately after he fire had broken out a messenger was despatched to Pewsey for the town engine, and in less than an hour it was on the scene, in capital working order, and as far as it was able, it did good execution. But to contend against such a conflagration might have baffled the efforts of many engines of far greater power than that of Pewsey. All that could be done was, not to attempt to extinguish what was already on fire, but to endeavour to cut off communication with extreme points which the flames had not yet reached; and in this respect the exertions of the hundreds of willing hearts and hands that were present were partially successful.

As the fire extended from the north-east end of the yard (where it commenced), fears began to be entertained for the safety of the dwelling-house, which lies on the south-west side; and in anticipation of its falling a prey to the flames, a portion of the furniture had been removed, and Mr. Young’s little child had been carried from his sick bed to the Vicarage. By the demolition of a building contiguous, the house was however fortunately saved, as were a nag stable and one or two minor buildings on the west side, with two hay ricks standing at the northernmost part of the yard. With these exceptions, all was destroyed; and fed by 15 tons of coal, which had just been got in, and which lay in one of the cart houses almost in the midst of the burning mass, the fire roared for two to three hours with a violence fearful to behold.

We have said that hundreds of willing hearts and hands were present; and never did men, and women too, exert themselves more strenuously. Persons were attracted to the spot from all parts. There was scarcely a farmer in the neighbourhood who was not there; with magistrates, tradesmen from Pewsey – in short, persons of every class- who throwing all distinction aside, worked with a will which could hardly have been exceeded had their lives depended upon the result.

It was not until 11 o’clock that the fire could be said to have been got under, and the dwelling house considered safe; but the yard all night was one burning mass, and when we saw it on the following evening, portions of it – such as the immense heaps of coals and several of the ricks – were still burning fiercely.

At present it is almost impossible to assess the amount of damage that has been sustained. All we know is that nearly every building around the house, with its contents, has been destroyed. A steam engine and thrashing machine were wheeled out early, and all the livestock was saved; but a great number of valuable implements were burnt. To sum up the chief of the loss, the result of the fire, so far as could be ascertained, was the total destruction of 5 large wheat ricks, the contents of the rick-houses, containing about 4 more wheat ricks- in fact, the entire produce of 55 acres, which had been just carried in; three large hay ricks, one peas rick, 51 sacks of old wheat on the barn, a mow of old beans in barn, with grittling mills, chaff cutters, scarifiers, and all kinds of implements; and, with the one or two exceptions we have mentioned above, every building in the place. In fact, Mr. Young had hardly a roof left under which to shelter his horses or his cattle; the natural shelter of the yard on the north side – viz, a fine row of elm and other trees- being also destroyed.

The whole, we are glad to know, was fully insured:- the farm stock in the Norwich Union, the building (which belong to the Trustees of Froxfield Almshouses), in the Sun Office.

Whether any light will hereafter be thrown upon the origin of the fire, it is impossible to say. The general opinion appears to be that it was caused by some live ashes from a pipe; but it has not yet been clearly shown that either of the men was smoking at the time. It is, however, a well-known fact that men, when unseen by their masters, are in the constant habit of smoking in farm yards and on farm premises, where a single spark from a pipe may be attended with the most serious consequences. What with lucifer matches in the hands of children, and the habit of smoking amongst farm labourers, the wonder is that, in weather like this, more fires do not occur. Whether the fire in the present case was caused in either of these ways, is at present unknown. One thing is quite certain, that it did not arise from spontaneous combustion. The result, under any circumstances, is what all must deplore. A fire of this kind, where so great a destruction of human food takes place, can only be viewed as a calamity; and on public grounds therefore it is much to be lamented. To Mr. Young, although he will be reimbursed the actual amount of his loss by the Insurance Office, the inconvenience he will suffer will be such as will not be repaired for the next twelvemonths; and happening at a time of severe domestic trial, he has the entire sympathy of every one.


The text here was typed up from a photocopy in 2015 obtained by me (Dawn Wilson of Huish) so an electronic record could be stored for the Parish and so not lost. So any errors are mine. No author was annotated.