Cerne Abbas

Two articles describing a devastating fire and hurricane in Cerne in 1828

Transcribed by Graham Clark of Ponsonby, Auckland, New Zealand



Dorset County Chronicle and Somersetshire Gazette, Thursday 20 Nov 1828, P.4,

and reprinted as “Dorset a Hundred Years Ago” in the Dorset County Chronicle and Somersetshire Gazette, 15 Nov 1928, P.7

Destructive Fire at Cerne. – The little town of Cerne never before exhibited such a scene of consternation and alarm as was witnessed on Tuesday last. About four o’clock on that morning the inhabitants were aroused from their slumbers by an alarm of fire. It was soon ascertained that some outbuildings on the back parts of the premises belonging to Mr. PALMER, surgeon, as well as on the adjoining premises of Mr. STRICKLAND, were on fire. The flames almost immediately obtained a force which defied the efforts made to quell them, and raged with great rapidity in two different directions. The dwelling-house of Mr. PALMER then ignited, and so quick was the approach and progress of the fire, that the whole building was speedily enveloped in flames, and it was but with the greatest difficulty that the family were enabled to escape with their lives. A few minutes after the first alarm was given, the two engines belonging to the parish of Cerne were on the spot, and worked with greatest alacrity; and, a messenger having been despatched to Sydling, the engine of that parish soon arrived, with a number of individuals ready to tender their assistance. But, notwithstanding the great eagerness to assist evinced by every one, the continued exertions used, and the plentiful supply of water obtained, the flames for a long while resisted every attempt, the buildings being principally roofed with thatch. The adjoining dwelling-houses of Mr. FOUNTAIN, Mr. CAVE, and Mr. STRANGE, were soon on fire; and the destructive element then reached a malt-house belonging to Mr. COCKERAM, which was at the time full of malt and barley. A very extensive range of minor buildings and outhouses, belonging to different individuals, then caught fire; and at this period, the conflagration was awful in the extreme, as, from the highly combustible nature of most of the buildings, the flames towered to an almost incredible height, and exhibited a mass of burning buildings covering and enclosing upwards of an acre of land. The whole of the buildings we have mentioned were totally destroyed; nothing being left but the bare walls containing a mass of ruins and ashes. The New Inn and the other houses which were opposite the fire, were in the greatest danger; but for upwards of four hours momentary apprehensions were entertained that some of the immense flakes flying about would alight on the thatched buildings in the innyard, but by the roofs being kept constantly wetted, the danger was averted. The fire coming, at last, in contact with a house covered by a tiled roof, its fury abated, and, by the unwearied exertions of the inhabitants of the town and those who came to their assistance, it was gradually subdued. Apprehensions were for a long while entertained that the greater part of the town must have been consumed, most of the houses being thatched, and the progress of the flames being at first so excessively rapid; indeed, during the whole four hours Mr. DUNNING’s mill, Mr. BEACH’s academy, and many other houses in Mill Lane were in the greatest jeopardy, as there was but a distance of a few feet between the burning matter and the thatch of the roofs. The utmost distress and alarm imaginable pervaded the town; and females were seen running through the streets, almost in a state of nudity, shrieking and supplicating aid.

Owing to the exertions made, a considerable portion of furniture was saved; but we regret that very much valuable furniture and a large quantity of plate was utterly lost. It is, however, some diminution of sorrow to know that the loss is confined to property, no lives having been lost, nor, any serious personal accident having occurred. One man met with a most miraculous escape, being in a house endeavouring to assist, at the time when the roof and floor fell in; he was on the second floor, and fell with it, but was precipitated to the ground without any injury. – We understand that the principal part of the property is insured in the West of England and Sun Fire Offices. The value of the property destroyed, it is imagined, cannot amount to much less than 3000. – Great praise is due to Mr. WILLY and many other inhabitants of Sydling, for their promptitude in forwarding the engine, and the alacrity they showed to render their assistance. It is not yet correctly ascertained in what manner the fire originated.



Dorset County Chronicle and Somersetshire Gazette, Thursday 11 Dec 1828,

partly repeated in The Bristol Mercury, 16 Dec 1828

and reprinted as “Dorset a Hundred Years Ago” in the Dorset County Chronicle and Somersetshire Gazette,  6 Dec 1928, P.7.

But the greatest devastation of which we have yet ascertained the particulars has been suffered at Cerne. A very few weeks have elapsed since we detailed the injuries which had been sustained in that town by the extensive fire which raged there; and it now falls to our melancholy duty to record an addition to that calamity, in the destruction of which that place was made the scene on Monday morning, by the visitation of an extraordinary and devastating hurricane, which passed through the town about half-past eleven. Its progress, which was from the south-west, was evident for a considerable distance before it reached Cerne, by its tearing up hedges and trees, and destroying ricks and whatever was opposed to its fury, the roof of a sheep-house belonging to Mr. DAVIS, was swept from the walls, bushes were uprooted, the cow house of the Rev. J. DAVIS was unroofed, and much other injury was sustained. On reaching the town, its first effects were visible in the total dispersion of several large ricks; after damaging many back premises, it reached the Red Lion, carrying away the thatch on the roofs of the outhouse, and in one part removing the whole of the roof; a cart which was standing in the yard was overturned and rolled to a considerable distance. Mr. CLARK’s dowlas factory was then visited by this terrible whirlwind, which possessed sufficient power to force down the roof and one of the side walls; but the fall of the roof being impeded by an apple tree, the work people, of whom about a dozen were at the time engaged in the building, were providentially saved. All the thatched walls which were in the gust were stripped of their covering; and at Mr. DUNNING’s malthouse its effects were astonishing. This was a newly erected building; the walls were low, about two feet thick; the roof, however, although weighing many tons, was swept away, and one of the walls was forced down; this occurrence is rendered still more striking, by the roof being preserved entire and kept in its position by several trees against which it was forced. The malthouse was at the time in full work, and a man who was engaged in it was thrown down, without any sensible shock, and on recovering, found the shovel with which he had been working carried several yards from him. Another malthouse belonging to Mr. GUNDRY, also in full work, was quite destroyed, and a brewhouse and cellar beneath materially injured, the roof was blown off, and the whole of the building almost razed to the ground. Mr. G ‘s dwelling-house was also seriously injured. The Antelope Inn was shaken to the foundation; and a stable belonging to it was totally uprooted, and so damaged that it was with great difficulty the horses were got out. The house of Mr. SHEPHERD was seriously injured, and an outhouse belonging to Thomas COCKERAM, jun., Esq., was destroyed, and his shrubberies much damaged. The back premises belonging to many different individuals suffered from this singular visitation; trees being blown in every direction; ricks injured; windows were forced out; doors driven from their hinges, and numberless minor accidents took place. It is supposed that the amount of the damage sustained is upwards of 2000; but it is yet impossible to ascertain this accurately. Many persons in the houses were knocked down by the shock, but no serious personal injury has been sustained; some of the escapes were however of the most providential nature. The hurricane passed over the town in the most instantaneous manner; its progress was effected in a zigzag direction, and in width it extended from one hundred to one hundred and thirty yards. The same degree of violence was visible in its track after it left Cerne. The confusion caused by this extraordinary phenomenon was immense.


Cerne Abbas Page    OPC Page