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The Great Fire of Marlborough started on 28 April 1653 in a tannerís yard located towards the south west of the High Street. At that time most of the buildings in the town had thatched roofs. The prevailing wind spread the fire across the town centre and within three or four hours the Guildhall, St Maryís Church and the County Armoury, together with 224 dwellings, inns, shops and taverns, were destroyed. Occasionally today we come across portions of timber frame that survived, or were re-used in the rebuilding, but most of the medieval town was wrecked.
In the small hours of New Yearís Day 1993 there was almost a repeat performance. The town was awoken by what sounded like party firecrackers when a major blaze took hold of a range of shops and upper premises on the north side of the High Street. Although timber frames continue in abundance most buildings are now roofed and clad in clay
tiles. Fire fighting procedures and equipment are more sophisticated today than they were in the 17th century and, crucially, the wind was still and the spread was contained essentially to four properties in a three storey terrace. A second Great Fire was averted but on the following day there were four further severely damaged listed properties to add to the Buildings-at-Risk Register.
The main contribution that the District Council made in the aftermath of the fire was to bring the various owners, tenants, insurers and statutory bodies together within a short period. The Bank Holiday did not help, nor did the full length plaster (modern glass fibre Iím afraid not traditional plaster-of-Paris) holding the Conservation Officerís leg together, but within a few days a great deal of background information had been assembled and a meeting organised. The worst possibility was that a derelict site, or partial gap, should be left in the
Conservation Area as had happened about twenty years before at the (now single storey) Polly Tea Rooms opposite. The opportunity was grasped at the meeting to emphasise what was required to restore the damaged buildings. Sufficient of the structure remained for the Council to be unequivocal in insisting these continue to be listed buildings and must be repaired. We stressed that systematic recording and salvaging of the remaining structures was the initial priority. This needed to be followed by temporary works to make the structures secure and weathertight. Then careful drying out could commence whilst a schedule of works was prepared.

ENGLISH HERITAGE AND THE
ROYAL COMMISSION
The Council was grateful that the
Historic Buildings Inspector and
Structural Engineer from English
Heritage were able to be on site at short
(1) FIRE DAMAGE AT
MARLBOROUGH HIGH STREET
Ian Lund discusses repairs
to buildings which survived their second fire in 340 years.
CONTEXT 38
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