Newmarket Local History Society Website

Local Fire Tragedies

The Burwell Fire 1727

The tombstones in Burwell churchyard - erected as memorials to the tragic loss of life in 1727
Photos by Sandra Easom

(Extracted from NLHS History of Newmarket vol 2, Chapter 38, Theatre Section)
There is a tragic local story associated with a theatre performance held in 1727 in a barn in Burwell. A group of travelling players were holding a puppet show for some 140 local people. For some reason it was decided that the barn doors would not only be closed but also locked. This was, presumably, to keep out those who would try to get in without paying. The straw and the building caught fire and, because of the locked doors, about 80 people perished. A memorial stone for those who died may be seen in Burwell churchyard.

A sad footnote to this story is that it is said that some years later a man on his deathbed confessed to having set light to the barn, supposing to spoil the puppet show, because he had a grudge against the puppet master. It had not been his intention to kill anyone.

Burwell Barn Fire The Foxearth & District Local History Society
February 26th 1774
Cambridge - It is reported that an old man who died recently near Newmarket who just before his death confessed that he set fire to a barn at Burwell, Cambridgeshire on the 8th of September 1727 when no less than 80 persons lost their lives and that having an antipathy to the puppet showman was the cause of him committing the action.

The Newmarket Town Hall Fire Tragedy of 1907
In September 1907 a great tragedy occurred in Newmarket Town Hall, which was in use as a temporary bioscope (cinema). The hall was overcrowded and the projector, which used incandescent limstone as the illuminating medium, was knocked over resulting in a fire. Panic ensued and there were many casualties. As a result of this fire and other similar tragedies the Cinematograph Act of 1909 was passed, which laid down safety standards.
For an account of the fire select here

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