The Guy Fawkes Night Fire

Mourning the death of her husband James Yarrow, Mary (née Gothard) loses her thatched cottage on Guy Fawkes Night when a stray firework burns it to the ground. Just 3 months later, she too passes away.

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.

Surname Saturday: NEWMAN

The Newman family of Cambridgeshire are this week’s Geneabloggers topic for ‘Surname Saturday’ – a story of illegitimacy, windmills and dinosaur poop.

A killer windmill, illegitimacy and dinosaur poop all play a part in shaping my paternal Newman family of Cambridgeshire.

Alfred and Harriet Newman
Alfred and Harriet Newman

My earliest known ancestor (so far) was John Newman, the husband of Hannah (née Squire). They lived in and were married in Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire (as it was then in 1750). There’s no record of any earlier Newmans before this date and after parenting my ancestor Philip in 1760, there doesn’t seem to be another mention of them again.

When Philip reached 19yrs old he marries Lydia Ingle in Haddenham, Cambridgeshire in 1779 and they begin a family together. However, after their sons Thomas and Philip are born, baby Philip and Lydia die – both being buried on the same day in Somersham. This appears to leave Philip (senior) with his young son Thomas.

In September 1785, Philip re-marries, to Elizabeth Whitehead of Haddenham. The couple soon grow their family – having six children, although sadly their first (William) and fourth and fifth (Robert and James) children do not survive infancy. This leaves two daughters (Ann and Rebecca) and William.

The Windmill

In 1809 tragedy struck as Philip, working as a Miller at the mill of William and Robert Pate of Haddenham on 20th July 1809 “was caught in the works of his mill, and unfortunately killed” – as reported by the Cambridge Chronicle, dated 22nd July 1809. Philip was promptly buried the following day at Haddenham parish church where the register notes him as being both a miller and a baker. He was 49 years old.

The mill (known most recently as ‘Neville’s Mill’) no longer stands, although the windmill (The Great Mill) opposite the site is still standing and is being lovingly restored – well worth a visit to see what working in a mill may have been like.

Elias Dann

Having lost her father to the horrific sounding windmill accident at the age of about 5yrs, Rebecca Newman gave birth to a son Charles Newman in Somersham at only about 16 years of age. Whilst she was not married, parish records name an ‘Elias Dann’ as the father.

Rebecca does not go on to marry Elias, as it would seem that Elias may have already been living with his wife in nearby Wilburton. Being a fatherless teenage single mother must have been excruciatingly difficult for Rebecca in the 1820s. However, by 1826 she had married  John Seymore of Haddenham and bore him two daughters.

It appears that illegitimate Charles Newman was fully aware of who his father was, as he names him when he marries Emma Levitt at Swaffham Bulbeck, Cambridgeshire in 1847. The couple also name their youngest son ‘Elias Newman’. The couple remain in the village, with Charles becoming a blacksmith, and have six children.

Coprolites

Coprolites (fossilised animal dung) were found to be excellent sources of fertilizer in the 1840s. Digging them soon became big business in the fens during the mid 19th century, although it began to decrease by the 1880s. Massive manual labour forces were needed to trace and dig out the seams of dung (you can even buy them today on ebay!) and my Newman relatives briefly became part of the workforce.

The 1871 census lists Alfred Newman (the son of blacksmith Charles Newman and Emma Levitt), along with his brother Charles as a ‘Coprolite Digger’. By the time of the next census though, the industry has downsized and neither are digging for dung.

In 1877, Alfred Newman marries Harriet Cooper in Ely, Cambridgeshire. It is here where the Newman family has reached today – with many descendants of their large family still in the city and surrounding villages.

The Newman family faced terrible tragedies, but they have survived.