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The history of Laredo Western Town in Fawkham after devastating fire


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Morgan Truder's grandad lived as an 1800s cowboy... in a village near Sevenoaks in 1971.

John Truder founded American wild west re-enactment site Laredo Western Town in Fawkham and as he grew up Morgan would visit.

Founder of the town John Truder and grandson Morgan. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
Founder of the town John Truder and grandson Morgan. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder

Now 24, Morgan said: "I remember when I was a kid I did not appreciate it.

"People always talk about walking in for the first time and being like 'wow' but I never had that because I would just go to my grandad's.

"When I was really little I would go up there in the week and just spend time with my grandad."

Laredo Western Town was the vision of John and his friends - a group of like-minded history enthusiasts. It was founded in 1971 after John, who was a pig farmer, bought the plot of land next to his house.

Morgan explained: "Now kids love super heroes but back then it was western films.

Owner Jolene and daughter Scarlet Truder in 2013. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
Owner Jolene and daughter Scarlet Truder in 2013. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
Scarlet and Jolene Truder. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
Scarlet and Jolene Truder. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder

"They wanted to live how they saw on the films but found it was not as accurate as they would have hoped, so they got into the historical side of things."

The group banded together and decided to build their own historically accurate town to represent the American Wild West from 1865 to 1889.

Laredo had 24 buildings, including a two-storey hotel, saloon, working blacksmiths and a bank, all lit by oil lamps, and candles.

When he was about seven, Morgan started to get involved in the western way of life and when he was 13 got really in to the fashion side of things going to the extent of making sure everything including his underwear and button holes were correct.

But he did experience bullying at school "because kids are cruel".

The town is happy to invite new members and guests but does have strict rules on technology and other elements.

The buildings that were lost in the fire. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
The buildings that were lost in the fire. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
The mining camp before the fire. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
The mining camp before the fire. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
Some buildings that were lost by the fire. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
Some buildings that were lost by the fire. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder

People have member and guest passes and usually visit every other weekend.

Some people are allocated buildings to maintain, which they sleep in and use to store their belongings. There are also cabins and hotel rooms.

Morgan, who left the town when he was 16 to study, said there is a huge, talented community at Laredo.

He added: "We see it as a home and an escape. [John] did it for a laugh."

But all that went up in smoke last month when a devastating fire tore through the camp in the middle of the night.

Members cleared the site over one weekend. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
Members cleared the site over one weekend. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
Members of Laredo Western Town clearing the site. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
Members of Laredo Western Town clearing the site. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
Seven fire engines were called. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
Seven fire engines were called. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder

On November 18, seven fire engines were called to the site in Fawkham, near Dartford, just before 10pm.

The blaze destroyed a third of the town, including the mining camp and livery.

When entering the town and re-enacting visitors cannot wear every-day clothes but after the fire many were seen in their jeans and t-shirts as the flames had ripped through their belongings.

The site's centrepiece hotel, which Morgan recalls being finished, was thankfully untouched by the blaze.

Morgan, who now lives in south London, recalls how his 16-year-old sister Scarlet rang him in the middle of the night.

"I remember being distraught. It is another level really," he said.

Three of the buildings that burned down. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
Three of the buildings that burned down. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
Members clearing the site. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
Members clearing the site. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder

"It has been a dark few weeks but all the donations and all of the people within the community, and not just the re-enactment community, have been incredible."

When the fire hit, members were gathering for the annual Thanksgiving weekend event.

Over the weekend, the whole area was cleared.

Members Ben and Joshua clearing the site. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
Members Ben and Joshua clearing the site. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
The space left behind. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
The space left behind. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder

When Morgan's mum Jolene got married in the town, her dad passed it on to her as a wedding gift.

Jolene now runs Laredo and is planning the rebuild, incorporating extra safety procedures while staying authentic.

Morgan continued: "To rebuild to that kind of level is going to be a challenge. It is the first fire in the 70 years the town has existed."

The scraps left behind after the blaze hit. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
The scraps left behind after the blaze hit. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
Wood donations to help rebuild. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder
Wood donations to help rebuild. Picture supplied by: Morgan Truder

Members of the surrounding community have set up a fundraising page to help pay for some of the rebuilding and others have donated building materials such as wood and telegraph poles.

You can donate via the GoFundMe page to help. It has raised nearly £15,000.

The town has also been used as a film set to help pay for maintenance costs, featuring in Blood Moon, Finding Neverland, Red Dwarf and Gunmen of the Apocalypse.

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