Grimston Hall on fire

Over the last thousand years or so, there have been many owners of Grimston Hall and even more occupiers. Sometimes people have remained there for ten or so years, some have remained somewhat longer. In the 19th century, there were seven owners: George Nassau, William, Earl of Rochford, Alexander, the 10th Duke of Hamilton[1], William Douglas, 11th Duke of Hamilton[2], William, 12th Duke of Hamilton, George Tomline[3] and Captain Ernest George Pretyman[4]. It was Captain Pretyman who was the last Lord of the Manor of Grimston With Morston as ‘The Law of Property Act (1922)’ [5] effectively demolished the Manorial system which pre-dated the Norman Conquest. Although there were seven Lords of the Manor between 1800 and 1922 there were only four tenant occupiers of Grimston Hall between 1785 to 1911, namely: Samuel Ralph; William Last; Ann Last; John Last, son of the two previous tenants.

After the death of Samuel Ralph in 1833, the Lasts, father, wife and son, were to remain tenants until at least 1911. They were to experience two fires which threatened Grimston Hall and there may have been similar conflagrations but to date I have not located any others.  William Last, was from Hintlesham and his wife Ann Everett was from Falkenham. They married in 1833 and by 1841 were occupying Grimston Hall. There was an eleven or twelve year age gap between them, William having been born in about 1795 and Ann in about 1806. Their marriage was successful and resulted in at least six children, including John Arthur Last who was born in 1847. It was he rather than one of his older brothers who inherited Grimston Hall in about in 1890, following the death of Ann at the age of 84.


In 1871 William had been at Grimston Hall for at least thirty years and would have been familiar with everything in and around the farm. At this time, the land comprised four hundred acres and he was a significant employer of fifteen men and four boys. The Household included his wife Ann, his daughters, Mary Anne, Sarah, Maria and two of his sons, Albert and Stephen. In addition, there were three servants to help with the many domestic duties. A substantial household, in other words and a busy and thriving farm run by an experienced farmer, William Last.

On 28th February 1874, the Ipswich Journal[6]  reported that on Saturday 21st  February  a  fire had broken out at Grimston Hall, threatening the safety of the wheat stacks on the farm and other buildings.  The fire had been started by a spark from a steam-engine, which had been recently repaired, was being handled by a worker from Ransome and Rapier’s Orwell Works, located in Duke Street, Ipswich. He had repaired the machine and had put it to the test before he left. As he was about to start experimenting on some chaff, he noticed a spark came from the funnel and landed on a wheat stack.  It is not difficult to imagine the panic this caused and according to the newspaper, the fire could have been put out if there had been a ladder to hand. As it happened, there were three ladders close to hand but fear had made those in the vicinity forget where they were for about fifteen minutes. By this time the fire had firmly caught hold and a substantial number of farm labourers ran to assist William Last, using blankets to suppress the fire.

At the same time, a messenger went post-haste to Walton Post Office in order to utilise the latest telegraphic technology. His task was to contact Ipswich Fire Brigade. Unfortunately, an error was made and the telegraph was sent to Ipswich Police Station rather than to the Fire Brigade, causing some slight delay to the despatch of the Fire Machine. Nevertheless, this compares favourably with the fire at Morston Hall in 1861 when the message was probably delivered in person. The use of the Telegraph represented a significant saving of time and was thanks to the recent introduction of the Telegraph Act in 1868[7], which had facilitated the swift transmission of messages via the Post Office. As The Times newspaper[8] explained on the 27th August 1868, until then many areas of the United Kingdom had been inadequately supplied with an effective means of communication. The passing of this Act profoundly altered the situation, as it enabled the Postmaster-General to work the telegraph system in connection with the Post Office, thereby opening up the nineteenth century equivalent of the Internet Super Highway. And for William Last, it proved indispensable.

Despite being incorrectly addressed, the message was passed on to the Fire Brigade by Head Constable Mason.  Upon receipt, two machines headed up by a Mr Pyman the Superintendent, were immediately sent to Trimley and, “no delay was occasioned thereby.”   They took with them 1,000 feet of hose, possibly made from canvas. When the Firemen arrived, they discovered William Last directing operations and directing  a significant number of men. They’d been using blankets to prevent the fire from spreading to the other stacks and had also released the animals held in the Yard. It is possible to have some idea of the number of men engaged in fire-fighting because when the two fire machines were fitted with their respective hoses, thirty men were attached to each machine, pumping with such vigour, Mr. Pyman had to rein in their efforts in case the pressure in the hose should cause it to burst. The newspaper report also mentions another two hundred persons were successful in preventing the spread of the fire and that their determination, “…did them much credit.” 

The article doesn’t mention how long the fire-fighting lasted but the Deputy Superintendent, Mr. Ratcliffe remained behind with one machine and some of the men, until daylight the following day, This cautious approach proved to be well anticipated as between 2 and 3 in the morning, smoke re-issued from the ashes and had to be eliminated. In common with John Williams of Morston Hall in 1861, William Last had the security of being insured by the Alliance Office, presumably in Ipswich, and thanks to the number of men involved in the fire-fighting, I think he escaped comparatively lightly. According to the newspaper, he showed his gratitude to the fire men with “great hospitality.”

The second and more destructive fire occurred after the deaths of William and Ann Last, when their son John Last was the farming tenant at Grimston Hall.  His household was smaller than his father’s and in 1901 it is possible to see that he, his wife Janet, three-year old daughter Mary, one year old son, John Cavendish, the Cook Gertrude Markham, Housemaid Annie Abbott and Nurse Anne Craske all lived in Grimston Hall.  If you look at the Ordnance Survey Map covering Grimston Hall in the 1881 edition, you can see the pond to the right of the hall, the barn beneath the main body of the Hall and below the barn three more rectangular buildings.  To the left of the Hall and below an orchard, a cluster of outbuildings huddle together.

img_3712 2   Trace copy taken from  Ordnance Survey 6″ to the mile, surveyed 1879, published 1881


img_4192Six months before the 1901 Census was carried out,  a distressing fire had broken out amidst the sheds and barns to the side of Grimston Hall and was reported by The Ipswich Journal[9] on 29th September 1900. The Meteorological Office report[10] for the weather in September 1900 describes the month has having been mainly fine and dry, with winds coming principally from a west and south-westerly direction. Any rainfall was light and overall, the month was sunnier than usual for the time of year. In such dry conditions, the slightest spark was likely to cause a conflagration. And so it proved to be.

The school had closed in August in order for the children to help bring in the harvest and by September, we can assume the harvest had been gathered in, the stacks neatly constructed and the wheat and other crops were waiting to be thrashed, At noon time on Monday 24th September, the thrashing operations were well underway, with the machine standing just outside one of the barns.  A rogue spark from the engine landed on the barn, quickly causing it and the surrounding area to catch fire. This particular barn was separated from another by cattle sheds containing pigs and other live stocks. Both barns were full of barley, wheat and chaff and were eminently combustible. The dry conditions enabled the fire to quickly seize control and the fire leapt from its original source, via the cattle sheds and onto the other barn. The speed with which the fire travelled, combined with tinder dry conditions, is probably why the men were unable to free the animals from the sheds. The whole farmyard was ablaze and the poor creatures, pigs, sows and other livestock were swiftly and horribly, ‘roasted alive.’ .  I can only hope they  suffocated before they died.

It was critical the fire was brought under control and a message was sent to the Orwell Park, then owned by Captain Ernest Pretyman. On this occasion the time it took for the machine to arrive was forty minutes and it arrived under the direction of the appropriately named Mr. W. Ash. The natural pond adjacent to Grimston Hall was more than equal to supplying enough water to fight the fire. Three jets of water came into play and doused the burning and smouldering buildings, thereby containing and extinguishing the fire. However, the attrition rate was high and in addition to the stock losses, John Last lost nine carts, two wagons, a corn drill and other implements.  Also lost in the fire was the Dressing Machine accompanying the Thrashing Machine and which belonged to a Mr W. Everett. The Threshing Machine, the progenitor of the fire, was saved.  The cost of a Dressing Machine was enormous. I have been unable to find the cost of one in 1900 but in 1862[11] a combined Thrashing and Dressing Machine cost between £80 to £120; in 2019[12] terms this is about £9,247.3 and £13, 870.97 and I think an additional 10% might be added to this figure to represent the value in 1900. This combined with all the other losses made up a sizeable sum of money and it was fortunate John Last was insured. Once again the trusty Sun Fire Office covered the buildings and a separate insurance covered the farm equipment and livestock.  From John Last’s perspective and our own in 2019, it was fortunate Grimston Hall and the surviving Barn behind the Hall did not go up in smoke.

The 1900 fire is the only one I have looked at for both Morston and Grimston Halls, where the Orwell Park machine proved to be of use. On both occasions in 1874 and 1900, the easy accessibility to water was the saving grace, unlike the difficulty experienced by those fighting the Morston Hall fires. Nineteenth century fire-fighting until 1868 had been hampered by communication difficulties, the remoteness of the fire machines and of course, the necessity of individuals to take out their own fire and buildings insurance., something we now consider essential. Farmers and others were dependent on local, piecemeal fire-fighting provision. This is not to detract in any way from the bravery of those who served as fire-fighters but simply to point out the unevenness of any form of provision. County wide provision, informed by national guidelines is comparatively modern. It was the Second World War which helped to bring about the organisation of a service, previously supplied by a miscellany of District, Boroughs or parishes bodies.  As part of the preparations for the anticipated Second World War, The Fire Brigades Act of 1938 placed the responsibility on all local authorities outside London to provide a Fire Brigade.  In 1941 the National Fire Service was established to help respond to Air Raid Damage. The vexatious question of water provision was placed on the same local authorities in the Fire Services Act of 1947[13] which came into being on 1st April 1948 and it was at this point the Suffolk and Ipswich County Fire Brigade were created. It had thirty five fire stations, covering an area of 1,071 square. miles[14]. The modern service we call upon today was created as part of the Local Government Act of 1974[15] and is now the responsibility of Suffolk County Council.  It is an indispensable part of our modern lives.

I have only skated the surface of recent history  of fire in St. Martin’s. You may have other information of other nineteenth century occurences and I am always interested in discovering more. .If you would like to read more about  the history of the Fire Service, you may read far, far more in A History of the British Fire Service by C.V. Blackstone[16], although be aware it doesn’t focus specifically on Suffolk.

If you have any comments or would like to be part of this Trimley St. Martin project, please contact me at:

LR  11/01/2019


[1]  This potted biography has one or two interesting items attached to it.



[4]An image of Ernest George Pretyman may be viewed at:

Short extract from Colonel Tomline’s Will:


[6] Available at:  [Accessed 10 Jan. 2019].

[7] (2019). Telegraph Act 1868. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 8 Jan. 2019].

[8] “The Telegraph Act .-The statute passed on.” Times, 27 Aug. 1868, p. 5. The Times Digital Archive, . Accessed 8 Jan. 2019.

[9]  [Accessed 10 Jan. 2019].

[10] (2019). [online] Available at:  [Accessed 10 Jan. 2019].

[11] (2019). 1862 London Exhibition: Catalogue: Class IX.: Richard Garrett and Son. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 10 Jan. 2019].

[12] calculator, I. (2019). Inflation calculator. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 10 Jan. 2019].

[13] (2019). [online] Available at:  [Accessed 10 Jan. 2019].

[14] Mardon, R. (2019). Roger Mardon – fire service historian and author. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 10 Jan. 2019].

[15] (2019). Local Government Act 1974. [online] Available at:   [Accessed 10 Jan. 2019].

[16] Blackstone, G. (1957). A history of the British Fire Service. 1st ed. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.


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