Pub manager Jamie Clark didn’t believe in ghosts – until the day he moved into the historic King’s Arms Hotel at Blandford in January last year.
By the following morning he not only believed but had accepted the town’s most famous spook ‘into the family’, as he puts it.
‘I’d been telling the builders that I didn’t mind ghosts – that they didn’t bother me,’ said Jamie.
‘That night the wind was howling, the bedroom window burst open and I couldn’t get it to close.
‘It was a bit windy outside but not overly so. This was completely different to wind. It was like a vortex in the room.’
The disturbance continued throughout the night and the ghost even strayed into Jamie’s dreams.
‘I think she has some sort of power where she can enter your dreams,’ he said.
‘There are definitely some eerie things around the pub. I’ve never again said that ghosts don’t bother me. I don’t want to upset her.’
The King’s Arms stands at the corner of Bryanston Street and Whitecliff Mill Street on the site of the tallow chandler’s shop where the Great Fire of Blandford began in 1731.
The present pub was built in 1790 and from 1874 was run by John Lewis Marsh, who took over from relative John Lewis and developed a brewery next door that flourished until 1938.
The ghost is said to be that of Amelia – known as Emily – who died in the 1731 fire.
‘Nobody knows exactly where she died but the ghost lives in room 9,’ said Jamie.
‘It doesn’t put off our guests. The previous landlord told me that many actually asked to stay in room 9.
‘One of my customers, who worked here for many years, said she saw the figure of a young girl in the middle of the room.’
The Great Fire of June 4, 1731, was vividly described by the Rev Malachi Blake, a dissenting minister, who lost his home and his church’s meeting house in a disaster that destroyed most of pre-Georgian Blandford.
‘About two of the clock in the afternoon a dismal cry of fire was heard in our streets,’ he wrote.
‘The inhabitants of the place were all soon alarmed; some were called from their business; some, possibly, from their pleasures; some, perhaps, from their cups.
‘The fire first kindled on the outside of a soap-boiler’s house, occasioned (as he conjectures) by sparks that fell from a chimney upon the thatch.
‘Some think differently, but all agree [that] it was entirely accidental.’
Blandford’s fire appliances went to work but proved hopelessly inadequate and within half-an-hour were themselves ‘all burnt or rendered unfit for service’.
The changeable north-westerly wind carried the flames in all directions and soon all the adjoining streets were ablaze.
‘The fire spread itself with such speed and fury that everything was soon devoured before it,’ wrote Blake.
‘Not a piece of timber but what was burnt to a coal. The pewter in many houses was not only melted but reduced to ashes by the fervent heat.’
Blandford’s parish registers were lost in the fire but the replacement register lists 12 people as having been ‘burnt and interred’ on June 4.
A later memorial puts the number who perished at 14 but there may have been many more who died as an indirect result of the fire.
Another 37 burials are listed between June 5 and July 13, significantly more than usual for this length of time.
Some may have died of smallpox, which was also raging at the time.
Public buildings lost in the fire included the parish church, the town hall, the schoolhouse, the fire engine house and market house, and the old church almshouses.
All but a dozen of Blandford’s houses and businesses were also engulfed along with parts of nearby Bryanston and Blandford St Mary.
Damage was estimated at £90,000. More than 520 financial ‘sufferers’ are listed with losses ranging from 1 guinea for Mary Flewell to £4,000 for the church.
Donations towards the rebuilding costs flooded in including £1,000 from King George II, £200 from Queen Caroline and £100 from the Prince of Wales.
The rebuild was planned and largely carried out by the Bastard family, already a reputable firm of architects, builders and joiners and themselves the greatest private losers to the fire.
The work included 60 temporary homes at the top of Damory Street to accommodate the homeless.
But the main rebuild created the model Georgian twon centre that we know today.
In 1760 John Bastard erected a monument and water pump in the Market Place to commemorate the fire and the raising of the town ‘like the Phoenix from its ashes to its present beautiful and flourishing state’.
Jamie Clark manages the King’s Arms for his brother, Matt, who also runs the White Hart at Sturminster Newton.
They plan to reopen after the latest lockdown on April 12, initially serving drinks in the beer garden.