Thunderbolts & Fire

As part of the Wells Carnival week we had two special events to commemorate the famous fire of 1879:

  • During Carnival week 2019: Exhibition of the history of St Nicholas Church and the Great Fire that devastated it 140 years ago. The information boards can still be viewed in the tower room.
  • August 4th, 2019 On the 140th Anniversary of the fire we had a wonderful celebration of the Fire & Rescue Service, official Launch of the Restoration Appeal, BBQ, music, light display & Norfolk Wildlife Trust marquee.

Crossfire: The early part of 2020 has seen a hive of activity as we began rehearsing our community play based on the history of Wells up to the date of the fire but because of the current situation it has had to be postponed and will now take place on the weekend of May 6th-9th, 2021. Meanwhile there are plans afoot to record a couple of scenes like a radio play to keep the cast busy and we now have no excuse for not knowing our lines!

Local archivist Christine Hiskey wrote the following to set the scene for our exhibition: 

“Lightning struck the tower during a ferocious storm early on 3rd August, which, poignantly, this year is Carnival Day. Watching the television footage of the fire that raged through Notre Dame in Paris a few weeks ago drove home what it was like in 1879 for the people of Wells to watch as fire took hold in the roof and rapidly burnt out of control, fanned by a strong wind and fuelled by the mass of wood inside the church. The bells melted and fell, interior walls collapsed, all traces of centuries-old carving and decoration were lost. A few treasures were dragged out from the flames. After so much loss, however, there was relief, as in the case of Notre Dame, that the main walls, even the tower, remained standing.

Wells was a poverty-stricken town at the time but a massive fund-raising effort enabled re-building to start within ten months, and the church to re-open three years later.

The story will be told through an exhibition, open each day from 10 am to 5 pm in St Nicholas Church from Saturday 27th July to Sunday 11th August. There will be historic photographs and documents illustrating the disaster and the rebuilding; original parish records dating back to 1547, which were rescued from the fire, will return from the Norfolk Record Office specially for this event to reveal fascinating stories of Wells people; there will be children’s art work and writing inspired by the story of the fire, and a display of fire brigade memorabilia. On Sunday 4th August, a special evening of commemoration and celebration will feature a barbecue, music, braziers and light show.

The church is important in many different ways to the town and its visitors: everyone will be most welcome. Come to see the exhibition, linger to discover nooks and crannies in the church, then explore nature and heritage in the churchyard, and come back for the evening of 4thAugust.”

(from an article by Christine Hiskey)

140 years on the church is in desperate need of major renovations to ensure that it is still here to serve the community in another 140 years. To find out more about our restoration appeal please click here.