The Great Fire of Meppershall
On the 30th September 1899, the Bedfordshire Express reported the news of a "Great Fire at Meppershall" which left thirty people without homes:
"On the afternoon of Friday week a fire broke out at Meppershall and assumed dimensions which are happily of rare occurrence in this part of the county, and which resulted in the total destruction of a farm and homestead, 23 stacks, six cottages, a horse and other live stock – representing a total loss of over three thousand pounds."
The fire began at Bury Farm (also known as Top Farm), where a portable engine was placed in a windy barn, surrounded by ricks and thatched buildings, to power a threshing machine to thresh oats (only eight weeks before, Shefford Fire Brigade had been required to extinguish a fire in the stack next to where this engine was placed). Only one sack of oats had been threshed when the farm workers noticed that the barn's thatched roof was in flames. The Express vividly described the fire and its aftermath for its readers:
"The scene at the height of the fire was a remarkable one; from the farm itself there burst up a huge column on flame and smaller columns were rising from the two groups of cottages, the whole lighting up the village with an intense light. The high wind fanned the flames enormously, and pieces of burning thatch and portions of the stacks were blown long distances; some, indeed, fell burning at Henlow station, two miles away".
"The scene which is now presented to the visitors gaze is a melancholy one. The peaceful village has as it were, been turned topsy-turvy. Here and there has been seen a man or woman gazing woefully at the ruins of what perchance was a household idol – a treasured gift. Nothing now remains but what was unburnable: the twisted lathes and frames of beds, and so on… The remains of the unfortunate horse and of some pigs and fowls which shared a like fate are visible"
Those who lost their homes included elderly widows, and newborn children. They appear to have been put up by other members of the community in the immediate aftermath of the fire, and a relief fund was arranged. The article does observe a positive side to the disaster: "From a sanitary reformers point of view, the destruction of the six cottages is not to be regretted. They were specimens of a type which is now becoming obsolete… Probably, and indeed this is to be hoped, they will be replaced by cottage homes more worthy of the name."