The Guy Fawkes Night Fire


Whilst Guy Fawkes Night is marked this weekend with bonfires and fireworks, the night was one far from celebration in the small village of Little Thetford, near Ely, Cambridgeshire.

On about the 28th October 1930, my Great Great Great Grandfather, James Yarrow died aged 84yrs. He was buried in Little Thetford on 30th. His widow, Mary (née Gothard), aged about 83-84yrs survived him.

James Yarrow and his wife Mary (née Gothard)

James and Mary Yarrow outside their house in Little Thetford, pre-late October 1930.

With the memory of her husband’s death still fresh in her mind, Mary went to stay with her middle son (my Great Great Grandfather) James Yarrow at nearby Wilburton Station.

However, six days after James’ funeral, and on Guy Fawkes Night (5th November), a stray firework landed on the thatched roof of her home. The building was razed to the ground.

The Cambridgeshire Times reported the story as follows:

“… The cottage was the property of Mrs. Lister, and had been in the occupation of the Yarrow family for many years. It was the one in which Mr James Yarrow, whose death was recorded in our last issue, died only a week and two days previously, and the advanced age of 84 years.

The outbreak of fire was first noticed about 8:30pm, but the Ely Fire Brigade was not summoned until 9:35. They responded to the call in their usual speedy manner, and were on the scene of the fire by 9:50. Meanwhile, Mr. H. E. Kisby and a number of willing helpers had been working heroically in an endeavour to keep the fire subdued. They experienced some difficulty in preventing the flames from spreading to a house standing opposite in the occupation of Mr. F. O. Yarrow. Fortunately they were able to save all the furniture inside the burning cottage, which was not occupied at the time. The widow of the late Mr. James Yarrow was living with her son at Wilburton Station.

When the Brigade arrived under the charge of Lieut-Col. G. L. Archer, they endeavoured to get water from a nearby pond, but this was found to be unsuitable and they had to move the engine to a drain some 500 or 600 yards from the scene of the fire. The supply of water from this was not very good, and the brigade had to use several lengths of hose. They were unable to put out the flames and the old cottage gradually burnt itself out”.

It was fortunate that Mary was away, and extremely fortunate that her neighbours had rallied around to rescue as many of her possessions as they could.

Mary Gothard (1847-1931)

Mary outside her house before the fire.

The effects of this double tragedy are recounted in Mary’s obituary on page 15 of The Cambridgeshire Times of the 27th February 1931 – just 3 months after the fire.

“Death of Mrs Yarrow – The death took place on Saturday week of Mrs. Mary Yarrow at the age of 84 years. Mrs Yarrow, who was most highly respected in the village, was the widow of the late Mr Jas. Yarrow, whose death was reported a short time ago. She had just moved into a small cottage, her old home being destroyed by fire a few days after her husband’s death, while she was staying with her son Mr Jas. Yarrow  at Wilburton, and undoubtedly these two events hastened her end.”

I’m very fortunate to have located 2, possibly 3 photos of James and Mary – which may have even survived only because of the bravery of those villagers who entered her burning property and retrieved her belongings.

So, whatever you do this Guy Fawkes Night, please stay safe and act responsibly when near to bonfires and fireworks. Here’s some safety tips from BBC’s Newsround.

About Andrew Martin

+Andrew Martin is owner and lead writer for History Repeating and Family Tree UK. Genealogist, historian, writer, photographer and would-be archaeologist. He'd love a time machine, but worries that it might take all the fun out of it.
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2 Responses to The Guy Fawkes Night Fire

  1. Sean K says:

    Great blog post, very interesting! Thanks for telling me about it – I presume the heroic Kisby was Mr Herbert Edward Kisby, whose neice married into the Yarrow family in Thetford. Mr Kisby would’ve been 58 years old, so probably the senior ‘helper’ and therefore worthy of a personal mention.

  2. Pingback: Privacy and the Genealogist | History Repeating

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