Linton in Pictures
A History of Linton
in Photographs
Available here

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 yards away.

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 washtubs!”

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 appliance.

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 dry.

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 fire.

Henry Prior was insured and in 1911 he built the present Phoenix House, which “rose from the ashes of the two former cottages.”