The Fire raging uncontrolled

Description of the fire by Crediton’s Presbyterian minister

Micaiah Towgood, Crediton’s Presbyterian Minister in 1743, published A Short Account of the Great Fire of Crediton. The following extract is his description of the fire. It provides many details not known from any other source:

About the middle part of this Street, on the Southern Side, the Fire broke forth, on Sunday August 14th, about eleven in the Forenoon. The Town has no supply of Water, but from Pumps. A Drought of several Weeks had both much lessened that Supply, and prepared the Houses to receive and propagate the Flame. The Wind setting strong, at first from the North-east, and increasing with the Fire, the Desolation was carried from House to House, with amazing Rapidity, all in Flames. A little past Noon, the Wind veered towards the South, by-which the Fire was soon communicated to North side of the street: So that all Westward from the Place of its first breaking out fell, in a few hours, a Prey to the raging Element, and was turned to Ashes.

Eastward, against the Wind, it advanced with a slower Pace, but neither Engines, nor blowing up, nor any other Means, could stop its dreadful Progress, but it continued raging uncontrolled, till about Eight in the Evening, when it pleased God, at length, to stop its furious Course.

The whole Western Town, with its Market-house and public Buildings, a small Part only excepted, now lies in deepest Ruins. The Flames ran with such Violence, flying over five or six Houses at once, and kindling those beyond, that great Quantities of Goods, Houses, Apparel, Looms with Serges in them etc were quickly destroyed. Besides many who were in the utmost Danger, and were plucked as Brands out of the Burning, sixteen are already found to have perished in the Desolation. Several others are missing, and supposed to be involved in the same Fate.

In the widest part of the great Street, which is nineteen Yards in Breadth, five Persons were unawares hemmed in by the Flames. They ran Eastwards and Westwards, but found themselves beat back by the Fire raging beyond them, and no way to escape. In this horrible Distress, they continued for some time, deploring to each other their miserable Fate. At length finding their case desperate, and unable any longer to bear the scorching Heat, one of them broke through the burning Ruins of a House, whose Flames were nigh spent, and happily escaped. Another seeing him not return and hoping he might possibly have found a Passage through, attempted the same and was also preserved: the remaining three fell a Sacrifice and perished in the Street.

At the Western end of the Town is a large and open Field called the Green, above an hundred yards in Length, and in Breadth above forty-three, surrounded thick with Houses; thither the Inhabitants brought and lodged their Goods, not doubting that there they would be safe from the spreading Flame. But even these also were quickly seized, neither Persons nor Goods could stand before the sweeping Deluge, the Men were glad to escape with their lives as a Prey, and the Goods almost entirely consumed.

By this terrible Calamity above four-hundred and fifty Families are turned out of their Dwellings, a considerable part of which had, for some Time, no Lodging but the open Field, nor any Roof but the Heavens.