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The Great Fire of Northampton

The Great Fire of Northampton occurred on 20th September 1675. Destroying three quarters of Northampton, it was one of the most disastrous events in the history of the town.

The blaze was caused by a spark from an open fire in a house on St Mary’s Street. Like many other great fires in medieval England, it spread easily due to the narrow roads and thatched, wooden houses. In Northampton, it was quickened by a strong westerly wind. Furthermore, goods packed on the Market Square, along with corn stacks, malt, oil, and tallow (animal fat used in lighting) stored in buildings fuelled the flames.

© Northamptonshire Record OfficeAccording to a witness, a country minister, the blaze was "more furious and destructive," than the Great Fire of London. Many local people trapped by the fire were forced to escape through the Welsh House, which did not catch fire. Most had lost their homes. By the end of the day, the fire had destroyed 600 homes and made 700 families homeless. The estimated damage was over £150,000 (around £12m today).

In the following days, people across Northamptonshire and beyond rallied to support those affected. Many individuals and villages sent donations and local gentry housed the homeless. King Charles II donated over 1000 tons of timber to reconstruct All Saints Church and halved the town’s taxes for seven years.

A special Act for rebuilding Northampton was rushed through Parliament in six weeks, largely due to pressure from Lord Northampton at Castle Ashby. Consequently, the main streets were widened and new houses were built with slate roofs. After the reconstruction, English writer Daniel Defoe described Northampton as

 

the handsomest and best built town in all this part of England.

The painting at the top of the page shows Northampton around the time in which Daniel Defoe visited.

To visit - Northampton Museum has a display on the Great Fire and the rebuilding of the town.
To see - Two buildings that survived the fire are still standing: Hazelrigg House on Mare Fair and Welsh House on the Market Square.

Image acknowledgements:

The South West Prospect of Northampton, coloured engraving by Samuel and Nathanial Buck, 1731 © Government Art Collection

Title page of The State of Northampton (first-hand account of the Great Fire) © Northamptonshire Archives Service

Northampton Museum and Art Gallery © Northamptonshire County Council

Hazelrigg House © Northamptonshire County Council

 

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If your question is research-related, please contact the Northamptonshire Archives.