Wednesday 26 October 2016

26th October 1816:Duke of Rutland's Belvoir Castle largely destroyed by fire - rumours of Luddite involvement

At around 2.00 a.m. on Saturday 26th October, a fire broke out at Belvoir Castle, the home of the Duke of Rutland (an occasional correspondent with the Home Office about the Luddites). The fire affected the older part of the castle and was devastating, not least to all the staff who were rendered homeless. But whilst many reports in the regional newspapers gave descriptive & sober reports about the fire and the damage caused, others rumours about the origins of the fire arose from the Morning Post newspaper in London, who gave a report on Monday 4th November which is worth quoting in full:
The statement which has appeared in the newspapers, attributing the cause of the fire at Belvoir Castle to the carelessness of the carpenters, is incorrect. A strict investigation has been made at the Castle by Mr. BEAUMONT, of the County Fire office, and from the depositions taken on oath it appears, that the room used by the carpenters had been entered, and found to be safe some time after the fire had broke out. In this inquiry it was also discovered, that the fire was seen to burst from two different places, which had not practicable communication, nearly at one time. It was further given in evidence, that when the alarm was raised, the nearest inhabitants found as many as nine or ten strange men already in the Castle, and an outer gate open, which the domestics declare they had previously locked and had not opened. There is now no doubt that the fire was occasioned by a wilful act, and the prevailing opinion is that it has been done by the Luddites. These miscreants are now more than ever the terror of this part of the country. Threatening letters are daily received from them. This morning four men were detected in setting fire to some hay stacks belonging to Sir WILLIAM MANNERS; the fire was extinguished, but the incendiaries escaped. Now, just as I am sending this off, there is an alarm of another fire, which has broke out in the town.
Needless to say, there was no Luddite involvement, and the Morning Post does not seem to have made any more of the 'rumours' afterwards. but we shall see that the rumours had a life beyond the newspaper.

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