The Great Fire of 1681


A time of disaster
Presteigne may be said to have experienced more than its fair share of misfortune in the course of its eventful history. As if the terrible privations of the recurring outbreaks of the plague, which ravaged the town on several occasions, were not enough for one small market town, it also suffered a disastrous fire.

The fire broke out on the night of September 12th, 1681, and it is believed that over sixty houses in the High Street and in St David's Street were completely destroyed. As far as is known only one of the inhabitants, a blind woman, died in the fire. 

 The fire of 1681 is believed to have affected the area shown on this 1830s map
of the town.

The ever present danger
Towns were always Map of extent of fireat some risk from fire in these times because most houses were built of wattle and daub around timber frames, often with thatched roofs. They were also grouped very tightly together, so fires could spread rapidly from house to house.

The end of the summer would have been a time of even greater risk from fire, when roofs and walls  would be tinder dry and households would be lighting the first fires with the onset of the colder weather of the autumn.


As well as destroying so many houses, the 1681 fire also wiped out the "schoole and schoolehouse" which was the free grammar school founded by John Beddoes in 1565. The school, which lives on in the John Beddoes High School of today, was then situated in St David's Street, opposite the church.

An entry in the Burials Register for the parish of Topsham in Devon dated March 18th,1682, noted "Collected towards the Inhabitants of Presteigne in Wales who suffred by ffire. 11s. 5 1/2d".