The History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset
by John Hutchins:

(3rd Edition published 1868)

Transcribed by Michael Russell OPC for Dorchester - May 2010 - Last updated May 2016



Fires in Dorchester
1613; 1622; 1725; and 1775

Pages 340-341

06 Aug 1613,(1) On Friday August 6th 1613 this town was consumed by an accidental fire, in which 300 houses, and the churches of the Holy Trinity and All Saints, were burnt. Only St. Peter's Church, and a few houses near it. escaped. The loss amounted to 200,000; but neither man nor woman perished. It began in the house of a tallow-chandler, who, having made too great a fire under his cauldron, the flame took hold of the tallow, and set fire to the house; and the wind being high carried the flame all over the town. It broke out about two o'clock in the afternoon, when many of the people were in the fields at harvest. According to Mr. Bond's and Whiteway's chronology, it happened August 1st, and the amount of the loss was £80,000 Mr. Whiteway's chronology mentions a second great fire in 1662, but gives no particulars of it.

The first of these fires was sufficiently calamitous to merit the title of the Great Fire given to it in the following supplementary notice by the Continuators of Hutchins, but the date of the next fire, 1662, seems to have been misprinted above for 1622.

The great fire happened in Dorchester the 6th day of August, 1613, being Friday, in the afternoon. It began in Trinity parish, next below the Shire Hall, at one Baker's, a chandler; the manner how it began not perfectly known, but supposed to be by setting on fire the melting pans. It burnt down these houses, viz.:
In Trinity parish 59 dwelling houses, valued in. .£13,695 : In St. Peter's parish 33 dwelling houses, valued in £18,090: In All Saints' parish 78 dwelling houses, valued in £7,599
Total 170 dwelling houses, valued in . . £39,384

The fire was so violent that men had not time to save their goods ; yea, it set part of Fordington on fire, and burnt down six dwelling-houses there to the ground.
There was one old woman burnt in the fire, called Cecily Bingham, the wife of a shoemaker.
There was a collection procured over the whole land; but the business was, by Mr. Matthew Chubb's solicitation, committed to himself and to Mr. Richard Blachford, both for collection and distribution. No one burgess besides had or could be allowed to have any hand therein. Mr. Chubb did advance and lay out £1,000 to those that had sustained losses, to be repaid by the King the next subsidy following.
Bailiffs, John Spicer. Nicholas Vauter.

30 Jan 1622,(2) The second fire in Dorchester happened the at the house of Mr. John Adyn and John Mansfield's in Trinity parish, supposed to have come by drying of malt, the straw taking fire that lay something near to the East's(3) mouth. It burnt in the same parish to the number of 35 houses, whereof some were large and spacious houses. The total loss being cast up did amount unto the value of £3,299. 17s. There was a collection procured to gather the land; and the patentees were many of the chief of those that had sustained the loss ; but the disposing and dividing of the same was committed to the trust of the bailiffs and capital burgesses, which trust hath been by them carefully discharged.

There was one man so burnt and scorched in this fire (Edmund Benbenewe) that he died in 24 hours, or thereabouts. He was a tile-layer. Bailiffs, John Gould. Bernard Toup. Affirmed by Joseph Paty, that Mr. Adyn had warning of the dangerous making of fire in his house, and did not reform it.

Memorandum. It is not unfit to be observed, that before the former great fire above mentioned, little or no money was given to any charitable uses for a long season. Men lay frozen in these dregs, until it pleased God to awake them by this fiery trial, in burning of their stubble and drosse. But when they saw by this sudden blast such great buildings turned into heaps of stones, into dust and ashes even in a moment; and being then seasonably admonished to set our hearts upon the true treasure that shall not perish, and thereby opened unto us the fading quality of all those outward things, how little they profit us in time of need; and withal beholding the great miseries of many families that were in an instant harbourless; many men's bowels began to yearn in compassion towards them, studying how to do some good work for the relief of the poor, as also to sanctify the remainder of their estate to the Lord; whereupon many of us, assisted with our faithful pastor(4), had many meetings; and, after consultation, large offers were made towards the setting up of an hospital or workhouse, and soon a house was purchased with a large plot of ground, and other buildings thereunto erected, together with a house of correction added thereunto, and at last a brewhouse set up in the said plot, the profit thereof being wholly set apart for the maintenance of the said hospital or workhouse. The names of the donors and furtherers of this work then follow, and are given hereafter under the account of the Hospital.

25 Mar 1725, On Thursday, March 25, 1725, in the afternoon, a fire broke out at a brewhouse in the high south street, which, by reason of the dry season and a tempestuous wind blowing from the southeast, afterwards communicated to the south and west back streets, and consumed in the whole fifty-seven dwelling-houses. [Link to a fuller account of the fire with the names of those affected ]

12 July 1775, (5) On Tuesday, July 12, 1775, about half an hour past one o'clock in the morning, a fire broke out at a soap-boiler's, in the Lower Street, Dorchester, nearly opposite to the gaol ; which raged with great fury for several hours, taking very irregular directions, making great havock amongst the thatched houses, and passing those which were roofed with tiles or slates. Water was so scarce for some time, that one of the engines, in a narrow lane, was obliged to be abandoned by the men who worked it, and by means of the falling thatch caught fire, and was totally destroyed. The whole town must have been burnt down, had it not been for the activity and laborious attention of the dragoons belonging to Sir John Cope's regiment, a detachment of which was there quartered; they, with their officers, were indefatigable in extinguishing the flames, which, after consuming 35 or 40 dwelling-houses (chiefly the habitations of poor people), were at length happily got under.
Genealogical Notes:-
(1). Stowes Chronicle.
(2). Regnal year 19 of James I ran from 24 March 1621 to 23 March 1622. John Gould and Bernard Toup were bailiffs then so fire was on 30 Jan 1621/22
(3). Any reference to Ost? In Kent the houses where hops are dried are called Ost-houses.
(4). Reverend John White
(5). Reference to the fire is also given in the biography of William Cuming MD who was an eye witness.

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