VILLAGE FIRES IN 1909 AND 1910
Two fires in 1909 and 1910
changed the appearance of the village as you approached it
from Cambridge and Horseheath.
The first broke out at the corner of the Balsham Road
on Monday, May 10th 1909. Around mid-day,
one of Mrs. Creek’s ten children ran into his mother’s
kitchen and shouted, “Look mother, there’s a bonfire
on the roof”.
She ran outside and saw smoke coming from under the eaves.
She rushed next door to warn her neighbour, Mrs. Norden and
she called out the Linton fire engine. The Napoleonic engine
was housed in the old Market House, now the cobbled area opposite
North’s bakers shop.
Captain Gimson and three firemen raced to the scene, but by
the time they arrived flames were bursting through the thatch
of Mrs. Creek’s cottage. The two cottages could not
be saved. The old engine only had a hand manual pump and its
tank had to be filled with buckets.
Superintendent Stapleton and Constable Brooks arrived from
the police station in Workhouse Lane (Symonds Lane today )
and ordered the soaking of surrounding properties to stop
sparks spreading the fire. Many men were at work so “the
weaker sex” came from their washtubs and saved as much
of the furniture as they could. They organised themselves
into lines to pass water buckets from the nearest well, 100
Some men assembled and watched the women at work, but did
little else. One man is reported to have commented that, “the
women were only in the way and might as well return to their
The men and boys remained as idle spectators until a chauffeured
car drew up carrying Mrs. Brocklehurst, the formidable wife
of the wealthy vicar of Bartlow. She immediately took control
of the chaotic situation and reprimanded the lazy male onlookers.
She shouted, “ If you are too lazy to lend a hand, I
will” and seized a bucket and joined the female line.
Her comments shamed the men into action and they rushed, somewhat
late, to join the bucket line.
Water was still in short supply and the local children watched
the fire rather than returning to school for their afternoon
lessons. By 8pm the cottages were a heap of smouldering rubble,
but all the surrounding properties had been saved. Damage
amounted to £200 damage which was all covered by insurance.
The owners were the Oddfellows Friendly Society and they re-built
on the same site, the present day white brick semi-detached
houses which front the High Street. Mr. William Norden had
conducted his farrier, blacksmith and tyresmith’s business
on this site and he later moved his premises to the rear of
the “Bell” Inn.
On August 15th 1910, another serious fire
broke out, this time at the Greenhill where
the High Street meets the Cambridge Road and the Grip. This
calamity convinced the Linton Parish Council that they needed
to replace their antiquated fire engine with a more modern
At around 1.45pm Mr. Gimson was driving his cart past the
two seventeenth century thatched cottages which stood on the
Grip side of the Greenhill Public House. The cottages were
rented from the local brewer, Henry Prior who had recently
sold the Greenhill to Greene King. His two tenants were Charles
Marsh and Dennis Morley.
Mr. Gimson first spotted blue smoke coming from the chimney
of Marsh’s cottage, and then some flames. He immediately
raised the alarm and the old Napoleonic fire engine was “brought
up smartly from its home under the rooms of the Constitutional
Club” ( the Old Market Hall ).
News of the fire spread rapidly and the whole neighbourhood
turned out to fight the fire. An excited crowd of villagers
quickly assembled in the street and attempted to fill the
engine and throw buckets of water on the flames. They formed
lines to pass the buckets to keep the thirsty engine working,
but there was no real organisation and the engine soon became
Many ignored the line and just tipped their water directly
on to the fire. Part of the wall of Marsh’s cottage
collapsed and this created a fatal draught which fuelled the
flames. At this critical moment, Superintendent Stapleton
arrived on the scene and began to impose some semblance of
order and organisation. He was helped by a local clergyman
who had just arrived on the 2pm train from Cambridge.
Splendid assistance was rendered by a group of ten Cambridge
Boy Scouts who were camping at Little Linton, close to the
Cambridge Road. The scoutmaster sat on the roof of the Greenhill
Public House and directed the hoses on to the flames.
Buildings on both sides of the cottages were in danger because
of a very strong wind and sparks which flew in all directions.
Workers from the Grip brewery and the Greenhill pub hastily
sprayed water on the thatched roofs of adjacent buildings.
The large thatched barn at the Greenhill Farm was saved as
a result of their efforts (situated next to the present Clock
House and burnt down in 1945).
Whilst the fire raged a group of helpers salvaged most of
the furniture belonging to Mr. Morley, but almost all the
contents of Mr. Marsh’s cottage were lost.
The fire was under control by 4.30pm and the damage was estimated
to have cost around £200. The cause of the fire was
a mystery, just like the Balsham Road blaze the previous year.
Some attributed the fire to sparks from a passing traction
engine, some blamed a faulty boiler in Marsh’s cottage
and others speculated that a beam in the chimney had caught
Henry Prior was insured and in 1911 he built the present Phoenix
House, which “rose from the ashes of the two former