Regis has suffered badly from fires on several occasions, the
worst ones being in 1633, 1717 and 1788. Until the beginning of
this century almost all the cottages in the village were thatched,
and as they were closely grouped, particularly in West Street,
the fire risk was high in the summer when the most serious fires
seem to have occurred. These fires, together with many more minor
and unrecorded ones have had a lasting effect on the appearance
of the village, and account for the lack of any really old buildings,
apart from the church, and for the gaps which are still apparent
between the cottages in West Street.
can read about each fire from the drop down menu below, or scroll
down the page...
wonderful and spectacular roof in Bere church was a replacement
after a terrible fire in 1486. When the church was restored in
1874/5 the architects found "calcined" remains at the
top of various walls where a severe fire had taken place. Cardinal
Morton, originally from the parish, is reputed to have funded
the new roof and other repairs.
is a report of a fire at Bere on 29th August 1633, when the village
"burned to the ground" and it was said that "£20,000
of corn was lost". Both those statements seem to have been
enormous exaggerations as when converted to today’s money
the £20,000 would now be £14m. The Fire was recorded
in the diary of William Whiteway of Dorchester. "1633,
Aug 29. This day the town of Bere Regis was burnt, the most part
of it to the ground, with great quantity of corn. The loss is
valued at 20,000 pounds. The country sent them about £500
speedily to relieve their present want. Dorchester sent them in
summer-time fire at Bere apparently began at the bakery and burned
"both sides of the street", although the precise extent
of the damage was not recorded for posterity. An
order of sessions passed that the town of Bere Regis, "Lately
consumed by fire," should receive £50 from the
county stock, the loss due to the fire being assessed at £7,000.
A contemporary report also stated that, "there was a
fier in Bere Regis in 1634, that distressed the inhabitants so
that they sent a petishen to the King."
the height of the Civil Wars locally, parliamentary forces set
fire to John Turberville's Manor House at Court Green on 18 January
1644. It remained in a damaged state for some time, but the rebuilding
was completed in 1648 with a carved stone, now lost, commemorating
record of a fire that destroyed "14 houses" exists for
the year of 1717, probably in the summer months as was usual for
to the Gould Family Note Book, kept by family members living on
Woodbury Hill, there was a fire which "burned ten houses
on Woodbury Hill" in that year.
is a brief record of a fire at Bere on 21st June, which was described
became known as "the Great Fire of Bere" began at about
1230am on 4th June 1788 at a pub called The Crown situated between
what is now No.88 and No.89 West Street. The prevailing westerly
breeze carried the destruction to the vicarage and right into
the "heart of the village". Forty houses plus barns
and outbuildings were lost and huge efforts were made to prevent
the church going up too. The parish registers were not so fortunate,
being at the time in the Vicarage.
You can see a Map of the area of destruction below -
spite of the severity of the fire, only one death resulted from
it, that of a blind man. His name was James Pitney. His story
is an interesting one as his family seems to have been affected
by fires on several occassions. Thanks to Denise Thain (he was
her great, great, great, great, great, great Uncle) we can explain
is in the Bere Regis Burial Register for 5th June 1788 and annotated
beside his name it states that he was the ‘sole fatality
of the fire’. He was a widower as his wife Elizabeth
Pitney, nee Hurdell, had died in Bere Regis and was buried there
on the 31st August 1777. James Pitney was born in Yeovil and was
christened there on the 22nd June 1712 and Elizabeth was possibly
born in Bere Regis.
Pitney was apprenticed to his brother John Pitney of Poole at
the age of 12 in about 1724, and trained as a Barber. James married
Elizabeth Hurdell on 17th July 1738 at Canford Magna. The couple
tried to settle in Bere Regis in 1740 but were removed back to
St James, Poole. By 1752 they were living in Wareham. By 1776
they were living in Bere Regis, although the settlement certificate
is no longer in existence. James Pitney was the witness on a marriage
licence as a bondsman for the wedding of Leonard Martin age 22
of Bere Regis and Sussanah Martin age ? of Wimborne, on 6 April
1776, James’ occupation is stated as a Yeoman of Bere Regis.
and Elizabeth Pitney had no children.
the Pitney family lost everything they had in the Great Fire of
Blandford Forum in 1731. James’ father Thomas Pitney claimed
£10 5s from the Fire fund. In another irony, Thomas Pitney’s
father John Pitney moved to Blandford Forum after the Great Fire
of Yeovil in 1640, although the family moved back and forth between
Yeovil and Blandford thereafter. I am sure that linking all these
fires to the Pitney family is a matter of bad luck though and
is not suspect!
of the houses were not insured, and appeals were made on behalf
of those whose property had been destroyed, including a newspaper
appeal by the vicar and churchwardens. A contemporary periodical
described the aftermath:
scene of distress occasioned by this terrible conflagration is
far beyond description. Many of the unhappy sufferers, who could
not otherwise accommodate themselves, retired almost naked to
the buildings erected for the fair on Woodbury Hill, where they
found temporary shelter, and were very humanely and liberally
supplied with every article necessary for their immediate relief,
by the inhabitants of Blandford, Wareham, and other neighbouring
following account shows how the appeal fund monies were apportioned:
by voluntary subscription of the county ... £1,279 19s.
to 39 sufferers by fire in the said town of BereRegis, in three
classes, viz. to the first class, who were most distressed, and
had lost their whole property, 14s. (70p) in the pound; to the
second class, lls. 6d. (571p); and to the third class, 7s. 6d.
(37 1/2P). ............................................................
£1,193 13s. 8d.
advertisements, fire engines, firemen, assistantsin removing goods
and quenching the fire, and otherincidental expenses ...............................
£ 62 5s. 8d.
in the treasurer's hands, to be applied towardsbuying a new fire-engine
for the said town, theold one having been burnt in the fire .....................
£ 24 Os. Od.
`Crown' is referred to in the churchwarden's accounts, and was
situated between numbers 88 and 89 on the north side of West Street.
Before 1788 this central part of the village was very densely
built up, and the area destroyed by the fire extended from just
north of the church to the old vicarage (now `Summerods') in a
north-south direction, and from the Royal Oak to no. 30 West Street
in an east-west direction. Most of the buildings were totally
destroyed and no traces of them now remain, but in those cases
where destruction was not so complete rebuilding was carried out
on the old foundation walling, and evidence of this may still
be seen in several buildings in this area.
23 June there was a fire at Bere Regis, and there is some evidence
to suggest that it burned down the Mill at Elders Mead, below
the church and the associated miller's house next to the Mill
House burned down on 6th April 1887 and most of the house was
destroyed although some parts remained standing but damaged. Charles
James Radclyffe was the resident at the house, but by the time
a messenger was dispatched by horse to the village for help, the
fire was completely out of control. Many villagers went to Hyde
later that day to view the smouldering ruins.
was a fire at West Mill in West Street at the Dorchester road
end of the village at some time in 1890. A parish magazine published
in 1891 referred to "the Burnt Mill".
became known as "the Old Post Office" was burnt down
in 1902. It was situated between No.88 and No.89 West Street,
ironically on the same site where the 1788 fire began, and now
where Cyril Wood Court is located. You can see a Photograph of
the Old Post Office below -
18th Century Philliols Farm House burned down in 1904. It was
rebuilt in 1906 into the splendid building now on the site using
bricks from Doddings Brick Hill works by Mr Bedford for the Drax
10th April 1907 Jenkins Farm House burned down. Shortly after
this it was rebuilt to be higher and with an extension on the
south west end.
Street saw the destruction by fire of two cottages, No.79 and
No.80, a semi-detached pair. The site remained vacant for almost
one hundred years. The two replacement houses built in 2001-02
were sympathetically designed echoing some features of the original
building. You can see a Photograph of the two original cottages
16 April 1911 Mr Marsh's Manor Farm at No.35 West Street had a
severe fire in the cattle shed about where the clinic is now situated.
Many cows were burned alive, being secured in their sheds. The
fire was so severe that helpers were unable to approach the building
to free the unfortunate animals. This loss of [animal] life resulted
in the village getting organised to establish a rudimentary fire
engine to replace the system of winching buckets from wells for
about this year No.39 West Street was struck by lightning and
burned down. It was part of the coal yard premises and a new house
was rebuilt which acted as part of the entrance area to the coal
yard for many years.
couple of joined cottages at Tower Hill burned down in 1960. They
had been derelict for some years, and despite a planning scheme
to build new housing on the site in 1961, which never materialised,
the site remained vacant. It was a popular playing site for local
children with parts of the cob walls still standing becoming quickly
overgrown. It was finally cleared away in the 1970s.
early pieces of fire-fighting equipment, thought to date from
about 1600 are preserved over the south door of the church in
the porch. They are large iron hooks with chains attached, originally
fixed to long wooden handles, and were used for stripping thatch
from the roofs of cottages to form fire breaks, in an attempt
to reduce the spread of the fire.
village fire engine, consisting of no more than a pump mounted
on a hand cart, would also have been used on these occasions,
and seems normally to have been kept in the church under the gallery
at the back.
seems that a basically similar appliance was still in use in 1911,
when "Mr. Marsh's premises" were burnt to the ground,
causing the Vicar to remark in the parish magazine - "let
us hope that some arrangement will be made by which a fire engine
can be secured more quickly than is at present possible. In these
days it is almost beyond belief that any place should exist so
far behind the times, that it relies for the extinction of fire
upon water pumped, or even wound up, from a well."
this type of fire involving a number of buildings is now an almost
unheard of occurrence, due not only to a reduction in the number
of thatched roofs, but to the existence of the telephone and a
well equipped, efficient fire brigade. During the 1939-45 war
a brigade of the auxiliary fire service was established in the
village with its headquarters at Messrs. Griffins premises in
North Street. After the war it became a national fire service
brigade and continued to operate from the same premises until
the erection of a new fire station in 1951.
Bere Regis Village Website 2014 - Site by Chola Design