The Wig-Maker’s Tale

An account of the fire, extracted from The Gentleman’s Magazine, September 1743

Dear Friend

These lines present you with the melancholy account of our condition. Last Sabbath day about 11 o'clock in the forenoon a fire broke out in Mr Robert Francis's house and the wind blowing hard it soon got into Mr Shute's house and while I was helping them there was a cry that Mr Theo Padder's house was on fire and so it was for his fore house was in flames before Mr Shute's. I had spent all my strength to help them and there came one and told me that I had best go home and secure my own house for it was in danger. At last I got home thinking it would not come at my house, but while we were considering what to do there was a cry made that Ann Underhill's house was on fire, in less than a quarter of an hour it came to mine. I had no-one to help me but Hannah and two more but my strength was gone before. I threw down two bedsteads and what bedding I could and the best bed was burnt in the orchard being put near the linney. I threw one bedstead out of the window but that was burnt, my looms, boards and hanging presses and all my wigs, wig making tools and all my hair on pipes. I could get nothing out but my razors, cistern, batons and some of my linen, which I had no sooner delivered and gone backwards with it but the houses fell down in the court, so they could not come to me nor I to them. Samuel Kingwell in the same condition and Mrs Tennent all forced into the open streets, surrounded with flames on every side and could not get out. Mr Bradford and Debora Anstis was with us. We all ran to and fro as far as Mr Strong's and back again, crying out that we should perish in the street with the scorching heat and smoke. At last Mr Bradford broke through and run so far as up to the Cock at the house of Elias Bishop and dropt down and died. We made several attempts but could not (). Then I saw a half hogshead with its head out; I laid it along and crept into it and threw something over my legs and thighs to keep me from the scorching heat and so did Mr Kingwell and Mrs Tennent under some lumber for a little while lay amidst the street at Mr Dyer's door and Samuel Kingwell amidst the street before our door. I thought on nothing but that I should be destroyed in that place hearing nothing but the roaring of the flames and the terrible cracks of falling down of houses at last I got out and stood on my legs and looked around and no-one to be seen but us three. I tried but could not find any place to escape forced to return to the vessel again almost suffocated with heat and smoke. After a little while there was no-one standing on their feet but Mrs Tennent and I. At last came Mr Christopher Saunders crying what shall we do, where shall we go? He ran to make his escape at the ruins of Mr Francis's house, the flames being somewhat abated, and I and Mrs Tennent followed but to no purpose, but at last he came back and run to Mrs Rackett's door leading up to Geo Northcott's and ran through. Mrs Tennent was before me, I asked her if he could go through, she said he was coming back again then said we shall all perish in the street. She went from me no further than Mr Labdon's amidst the street and there dropt down dead. I stood at the door waiting to see if Mr Saunders did come back but he did not. I made my way through the mercy and goodness of God and got out of the heat and smoke. Samuel Kingwell did not once come out of the vessel but died there.

A most melancholy scene as ever was seen in England! The West Town is all burnt from Mr Philip Dicker's to Mr Butler's and back again to the cross.