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Farm fires in the Nineteenth Century

by Ruth Gatenby

Ricks or Stacks

Ricks or Stacks

Insurance certificate

Insurance certificate

In Victorian times, in the late summer or early autumn, wheat and barley were cut either by people using scythes or by a mechanical reaper.  The complete crop – straw with the grain still in place – was taken to the stack yard where it was stored in stacks or “ricks”.  During the winter, the corn was threshed, separating the grain from the straw and chaff.

Fires on farms were a common problem.  Many farmers had insurance against fire.  We have the insurance policy of Yarburgh farmer Thomas Grasham.  In 1856 he paid his annual premium of ten shillings to the Midland Counties Insurance Company, Lincoln.  The reverse of the policy is interesting:

The following suggestions are offered, and it is confidently hoped that if famers will act upon them, they will go very far towards checking the progress of the lamentable, and now national, crime of incendiarism.

Place your ricks in a single line, and as far distant from each other as you conveniently can.

Play hay ricks and corn ricks alternately.  The hay rick will assist to check the progress of the fire.

In the case of a fire, get together all the rick cloths and the blankets out of your house and elsewhere; wet them thoroughly, and cover the ricks nearest to, and to leeward of that on fire.

Have a pond close to the rick yard.

Do not wait for the [fire] engines, but immediately carry out every ready means of checking the fire.

Thatched roofs are most dangerous, expensive and dirty, and they consume much of the straw which ought to be used to advantage upon the farm.  It is to be hoped that when they require repairs, they will be replaced by slates or tiles.

The Directors of the Midland Counties Insurance Company will reward liberally persons who may particularly distinguish themselves in stopping a fire, and will cheerfully pay for all blankets, rick cloths, and other similar articles, to whomsoever they may belong, which are used in suppressing a fire.