One of Wallingford’s most iconic buildings is Flint House and the adjoining Flint Cottage, which together once formed a substantial late medieval hall-house, with two wings and a central hall.

In 1980, Flint Cottage was a private residence, while Flint House (owned by the town council) housed a workshop for disabled people on the ground floor.

The upper floors were set to open on Carnival Day in June, as an exciting new volunteer-run museum for Wallingford.

On May 1, 1980, a pedestrian walking down the High Street at about 4.30pm spotted flames shooting out of the roof of Flint Cottage.

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They banged on the door to alert the occupants, who were totally unaware of the danger.

Mr Colquhoun, 96, was brought out safely in his wheelchair, together with his elderly wife.

The fire brigade arrived very swiftly. The fire had started in an airing cupboard and funnelled straight up into the common roof space of the whole building, setting the ancient medieval roof timbers ablaze.

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I received a phone call, simply saying that Flint House was on fire.

We had been working flat out for two years, preparing for the museum, and now it seemed our dreams were going up in smoke.

Horrified, I bundled my two children (both under two) into the car and rushed to meet my husband off the London train at Cholsey, where I found him, ironically, discussing floor coverings for the museum with a friend.

We could see the smoke and flames billowing up as we approached the town.

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The firemen were working incredibly hard to confine the fire to the roof and protect the rest of the building from massive potential water damage.

It was a long, hard fight and they were truly magnificent. Five fire vehicles were involved and the men worked from ladders to save many of the ancient roof tiles from the flames, stacking them along the parapets.

The roof was largely destroyed, but no one was hurt and the building was saved.

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The following morning brought a sorry sight, but once the heat had dispersed, local builders Boshers securely covered the roof with tarpaulins and the work of clearing the mess could begin.

The Colquhouns were anxious to return home and quickly moved back to live in one room downstairs for many months.

But one more crisis was to follow . . .

The tarpaulins kept out the rain until, one night, there were major storms.

Bernard Stone, a near neighbour, received a call at 1am from Mrs Colquhoun, to say that a tarpaulin had filled with water and was now suspended precariously in an upper bedroom, in danger of flooding the house if it fell.

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The fire brigade was called, but had no way of getting a pump to the water. Instead, local firemen voluntarily came along and, aided by neighbours, used buckets, saucepans and other utensils to bail out the huge pool of water, throwing it out to the street through the bedroom window – and saving the property for the second time. Wallingford Museum did open on Carnival Day 1980, for a few hours. More than 300 people came in to view notices describing the exhibitions that would eventually be on view.

Then, after nearly a year of necessary building renovations, we finally opened the museum on April 18, 1981.

Now, of course, we are temporarily shut again; but we will be back, never fear.

In the meantime, we hope you’ll keep in touch with our weekly historical quizzes and jigsaws on l With thanks to Dan Reed, of Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, and Bernard Stone