THE GREAT FIRE 1583
Leaving the brine pit, returning to the crossroads and then
crossing over, we can keep alongside the river. In a few yards
there is a place to stand, or sit, and look at the river more
closely. There may be a fisherman or boy, with a huge umbrella
against the rain or wind.
Here is a plinth with a large plaque attached. In brief
it summarises the events of the night of December 1583 and
after. The wording reads “near this spot...” So we must start
by imagining that the road(Water Lode), the traffic and the
people nearby, do not exist. Instead we are looking back towards
the crossroads and can see the righthand traffic light. This,
roughly, is where the fire began. In place of the tall buildings
we must imagine a row of single storey cottages, timber-framed
Since there exist first hand accounts of what happened we
can find them: “Nicholas Brown was brewing ale” (the common
drink then) and somehow set his kitchen on fire. With so much
wood in the building: furniture, kindling, utensils, beams,
walls and roof, plus thatch, the fire soon spread. It was
pushed by a strong westerly wind, taking the flames up High
Street, through Oat and Swine Markets to Beam Street and along
Pepper Street. The other way, it travelled along all of High
Street, into Pillory Street, a bit, and along Hospital Street
until it reached fields near to Sweet Briar Hall. The parish
“...fire consumed in 15 hours, 600 bays of buildings” A
bay was the common width of one house among its neighbours.
The people were helpless in trying to put the fire out.
Women fetched pitiful quantities of water from the river in
little leather buckets, until they heard that the landlord
of the Bear Inn, nearby, had released the four bears which
he kept for bear-baiting. The women were obviously afraid
and refused to get any more water unless they were protected
from the bears. Bear baiting was a form of entertainment in
which huge brown or black bears, on a chain, were either teased
by dogs or otherwise made to stand up on their hind legs.
The Wilbraham diary account says 150 buildings were destroyed,
30 shops, 2 barns,etc. Seven inns disappeared.
The riverside plaque says “almost all buildings were destroyed”
This is an exaggeration. Nobody or building on the other side
of the river was harmed. Others in Hospital Street and Beam
Street were also unaffected.
To see impressions of the fire, go into the post office
in Pepper Street and at the far end is a fine mural of many
of the major buildings in the town. You will find the four
bears, the women and their buckets and their protectors with
Upstairs in the Museum is a fine woven tapestry. This tells
some of the history in symbolic form. The central feature
is the Great Fire. In the Library and in the Museum can be
found a full description in J.J.Lake`s Great Fire 1583 (1983)
or in James Hall`s History of Nantwich (1883).
In 1983 a week`s events took place to mark, as does the
plaque by the river, the 400th anniversary of the Great Fire
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