The Great Fire of Crediton

On 14 August 1743 (a Sunday morning), a great fire started, completely destroying High Street and buildings in the "West Town".

Photograph of an ancient map

Piece of map of Crediton dating from 1743

At the time it was the second largest fire in the country, second only to the Great Fire of London. At least 16 people lost their lives[1], with over 2,000 made homeless[2] when 460 houses were destroyed[3] including the New Inn[9].

Damage totalled £50,000[4] with many traders losing valuable stock. The maltsters of Crediton lost 1,000 bushels of their malt, leaving many of them in financial ruin. They later petitioned for a return on the duty they had already paid on the lost malt.[8] Their appeal continued for at least 25 years after the event[10] - I haven't been able to establish whether or not they were finally granted the tax refund!

A poem, "The Conflagration" published in the same year and written to "a friend" of the author describes the fire in some detail[7] and other accounts describe the devastation:

“There is not a house standing in all the town from ‘The Sign of the Lamb’ to the uttermost end of the Green, which is half a mile, together with all the backlets, lanes, byways, linhays, gardens and apple-trees, the apples roasting as they hung.” (The Universal Spectator [4])

In his sermon the following Sunday (21st August 1743) Micaiah Towgood, the pastor at Crediton since 1737, declared that the fire was no chance occurrence: it happened by the will of God.[5] He published a book of his sermon[6] which includes a short account of the fire.

John Wesley, visiting Crediton a few months after the fire, noted in his diary:

Before eight (a.m.) we reached Crediton (or Kirton), or rather the ruins of it; for the houses on both sides were all in ashes for several hundred yards. Lighting on a serious woman, I asked “Are the people of this place now warned to seek God?” She answered, “Although some of them perished in the flames, the rest are just as they were before, cursing, swearing, drinking, playing and making merry, without God in their thoughts.” She added, “No longer ago than Thursday last the men who were rebuilding one of the houses were bitterly cursing and swearing one at another, and two of them above the rest, when an arch they were under fell, and crushed these two, with all their bones in pieces.”[4]

A second fire consumed many of the houses rebuilt after the former fire, together with the market-house and shambles. Other large fires occurred in 1766, 1769 and 1772.[2] 


[1] Crediton map comes home. Friends of Devon's Archives

[2] Crediton, Wikipaedia

[3] W. G. Hoskins (1954). A New Survey of England: Devon. London: Collins. pp. 378–379. Republished on Crediton Community Page.

[4] Mr Wesley came this way. Crediton Methodist Church

[5] United Reformed Church History Society Journal, Volume 4, Issues 7-10. (1990) Pages 527 & 595

[6] Afflictions improved: a sermon preach'd at Crediton in Devon. Micaiah Towgood (1743). 

[7] Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History; 6 Books with Devon imprints: a handlist to 1800. 1740-1749. (22nd December 2006)

[8] Devon Quarter Sessions Records 1734-1804. Published as The Great Fire of Sheepwash, April 1742 by "The Right to Remain Silent" (

[9] 5168B-0/T/12-13  1753. Devon Record Office

[10] T 1/470/320-322. National Archives (1768)