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Destructive Fire at Higham Ferrers

Wellingborough News, 25th March 1882, transcribed by Kay Collins

The most destructive fire that has occurred in this county for many years took place on Tuesday last at Higham Ferrers. As is the case in most old towns, many of the houses in Higham are roofed with thatch, and to this circumstance must be attributed the rapid spread and ultimate extent of the fire. The town chiefly consists of one long street, and on both sides are numerous old houses. In the neighbourhood of the Swan Inn, where the fire first broke out, the whole of the houses were of this description, and hence, no doubt, the entire destruction of a considerable length of the street. From the reports which have reached us it appears that during the dinner hour on Tuesday, at about 20 minutes past one o'clock, when most of the men employed in the various factories in the neighbourhood were at home, that a man named Mason, who works at Rushden, about a mile distant, was returning home to Higham, when he observed the signs of fire proceeding from the Swan Inn, a hostelry near the old toll-gate at the entrance to the town. He at once acquainted the inmates with what he had noticed and it appears that some old wood work in the chimney had by some means become ignited, and the flames were leaping upwards and scattering sparks over the highly inflammable roofs in the neighbourhood of the house. With a high wind blowing from the south-west, the result may be easily imagined. In a quarter of an hour the conflagration had spread over fourteen dwellings in a row with the Swan, on the west side of the street. Fortunately, as has been said, the heads of the families were in most cases on the spot, and they took prompt measures for the removal of their household goods. In this work they were assisted by the residents from the opposite side of the road, who seemed to have quite lost sight of the possibility of their own tenements being involved in ruin. The wind blew the flames and smoke towards the front of the burning buildings, and left the back premises clear, thus greatly facilitating the carriage of furniture, &c., to a place of safety. The street was filled with smoke, rendering it impossible for persons on one side to see what was happening to the houses on the other. At some point, probably near the limit of the fire, the thatched roofs to the east of the street were ignited, and by two o'clock, the number of cottages in flames had reached twenty-five, including the Swan Inn. The attention of the occupants of the last mentioned dwellings having been attracted to the misfortunes of their neighbours whose property they were actively helping to save, they did not perceive that the fire was so rapidly spreading, and being at a disadvantage in regard to the wind, which carried the smoke right across the premises, they had but little opportunity of removing their property, and the loss they sustained was consequently much heavier on the average than that which befell those who were first affected by the disaster. It should be said that the fifteenth house on the west side of the street had a thatched root but it was saved from destruction, probably, by the draught occasioned by cross-lanes at that point, combined with the protection afforded by the loftier slate-roofed brick house adjoining, in the occupation of Mr. Charles Darby, grocer. There was a slate-roofed house opposite also, and those two barriers, no doubt, prevented the conflagration from spreading all over the town, as it would have met with but little impediment had it gone farther. As soon as the alarm was given the Higham fire brigade was summoned, and it made its appearance, under the command of Mr. Philip Shelton, at a quarter to two. Five or six minutes later the Rushden engine came up, in charge of Mr. W. Foskett, and the fire brigade from Wellingborough, with their appliances, followed, under the command of Mr. Pendered, at half-past two. Mr. Superintendent Bailie and a small detachment of police also arrived, and, with the firemen, whose efforts were effectually seconded by a number of local assistants with water carts and buckets, used every possible means for getting the fire under control. In this they succeeded, thanks in a great measure to the abundant supply of water, from the wells in the vicinity and the old Castle moat, and by four o'clock there was little remaining of the conflagration but occasional bursts of flames from the woodwork and portions of roofs still undestroyed. Still, such was the inflammable character of the material the flames had to work upon, that the conflagration was by no means extinguished. The engines continued for some time playing on the smouldering ruins. Shortly after dusk, however, the Wellingborough and Rushden brigades, after doing service which did them credit, left the town, it being generally believed that what may be termed the remnants of the fire could safely be left to the efforts of the local brigade. The latter, we should add, were most watchful and unsparing in their exertions, members of the brigade being on duty all night for the purpose of extinguishing the flames which in one cottage after another, fitfully made their appearance for many hours. Fortunately, by these admirable precautions the possibility of a renewed outbreak was prevented. It is gratifying to mention, in connection with an event which has rendered so many families temporarily homeless, that practical sympathy and help was shown by all classes, from the highest to the lowest, for the unfortunate sufferers by the fire. Not only did those who possessed them lend their horses and carts for the removal of furniture and the conveyance of water to the engines, but the clergy and principal inhabitants of the town and immediate neighbourhood were present at the fire, aiding, to the best of their ability, in the work of suppressing it. Nor were they lacking, when the immediate danger was passed, in extending their assistance to the distressed. The houses of many inhabitants were freely thrown open to afford accommodation. Fortunately, however, it was not found necessary to trespass on their good nature to a very great extent, as it so happened that near the destroyed cottages were a number of newly-built dwellings, erected by Mr. Thomas Sanders, which that gentleman kindly placed at the disposal of those who needed shelter, and to those many transferred what furniture they had been able to save, and made themselves as comfortable as their altered circumstances would allow. The Rev. E. Templeman allowed the Bede-house to be used for the purpose of storing furniture, while the Mayor (Mr. J. Higgins) lent the Town Hall, and Mr. T. Sanders, his malt-house, for the same object. The Vicar, the Mayor, and other of the better class of inhabitants, were most liberal in their offers of assistance, while Mr. W. Simpson made it his duty to go round in the evening and satisfy himself, on behalf of these kindly disposed persons, that no distress went unrelieved. It was also decided to hold a meeting on Wednesday morning of the magistrates and other benevolently-disposed people for the purpose of forming a distress fund. In addition to those gentlemen mentioned, the Hon. T. W. Fitzwilliam, Mr. F. U. Sartoris, Mr. C. Simpson, Mr. E. B. Randall, Mr. W. J. Lamb, and many others were present at the fire, and offered valuable assistance. The property destroyed, we may add, belonged to the following owners:—The Swan Inn, to Mr. Campbell Praed; the two adjoining houses, to Mr. T. Sanders; and the remainder to the executors of the Hon. G. Fitzwilliam. The property, we believe, was not insured, nor was any of the cottagers' furniture.

The following is a list of the occupiers of the houses that were burnt, beginning with the Swan, where the fire originated, and following the course which it is supposed to have taken:—1, Swan Inn, George Kilsby, wife and six children—lost nearly everything. 2, Henry Wright, wife and two children. 3, Charles Flawn and wife. 4, Mary Miller, an infirm widow, who was removed in safety, but whose furniture was entirely sacrificed. 5, Alfred Blackwell, wife and seven children. 6, Elizabeth Blackwell, a widow, and four children. In this case none of the clothing belonging to the family and but little of the furniture, was saved. 7, Charles Groom, wife and two daughters. 8, Wm. Mason, wife recently confined and seven children. 9, Mrs Pack, a widow, with whom lived her grandson and his wife. 10, Thomas Pack, wife and son. 11, Thomas Denton, who has been ill for the last twelvemonths, wife and three children—lost nearly everything. 12, Elizabeth and Eliza Parker, and their nephew and niece. 13, William Pack, wife and three children. 14, William Wagstaff, wife and one child. Wagstaff is said to have lost a considerable sum of money, his savings, which he kept in the house. This was the last cottage on the west side which was affected by fire. For the reason already adverted to the damage to furniture was much greater in the following houses on the east side. 15, William Risely, wife and two daughters. Risely has been ill for some years; all his furniture was destroyed. 16, William Linnet, wife and eight children. 17, James Draper, wife and four children. 18, William Warner, wife and four children. In this case also the family saved nothing from the fire. 19, Eli Bailey, wife and seven children, one of whom, about four or five years old, was very seriously ill. Bailey, too, has been ill for some time, and his wife is near her confinement. Very little of the family goods was rescued. Charlotte, the eldest daughter was severely burnt in the eye while endeavouring to remove some articles of furniture. 20, Edward Scholes, niece and two lodgers. One of the latter, named Morgan, was across the street helping others, while his own clothes, &c., were being destroyed. All the contents of this house were burnt. 21, George Parker, his daughter, and her husband and two children. Parker, who is a machine closer, had on his premises a large quantity of work, the property of a London firm, only a small portion of which was saved. 22, Allen Draper, wife and three children. 23, Mrs. Perkins and brother, Mr. and Mrs. Mayes, and four children, one of whom is very ill. This family lost 17 score of pork, killed the previous day. 24, Thomas Randall, wife and four children. Randall lost everything, being another of those whose goods were burnt, unknown to him, while he was helping to save other people's. 25, Sarah Knighton, a widow, and orphan niece and nephew. Mrs. Knighton’s was the only slated house that was affected by the fire. All these 25 families suffered considerably only special items of loss being mentioned in the above. We regret to state that Mr. S. J. Joll was somewhat seriously injured while assisting during the afternoon. There were no other casualties reported.

Among the incidents of the fire may be mentioned the praiseworthy manner in which many ladies acquitted themselves in behalf of the sufferers. Conspicuous amongst these was Mrs. Templeman, wife of the Vicar, who worked indefatigably, being found everywhere, not only encouraging those who were actively engaged in endeavouring to extinguish the flames and save property, but lending a helping hand where necessary, and not declining the most dangerous work. Once she appealed to some bystanders to assist in handing along buckets of water, but they hesitated, asking the question ''Who's to pay," whereupon the lady herself undertook the task and performed it most effectually. It is but just, however, to the people of Higham and the vicinity to state that, as far as the action of the men addressed by Mrs. Templeman was concerned, this was quite an exceptional case. As a rule everybody evinced not only willingness but anxiety to do whatever they could to mitigate and stay the course of the disaster. The temper of the workmen of the district may be judged from the fact that so far away as Earls Barton, the employees of Messrs. Ward and Sheffield were desirous of proceeding to Higham with an engine to render assistance, and they were only prevented from going by Mr. Sheffield's assurance that, were their co-operation required, his friends at Higham would be sure to acquaint him with the fact. The street, for there is really but one in the old borough, was filled with people until late at night, many having been attracted from Wellingborough, Irthlingborough, and other surrounding places from which the conflagration could be plainly seen, while it was raging in the afternoon. The following morning the scene of the conflagration presented a most desolate aspect. On both sides of the street nothing was left of the two rows of comfortable cottages but the bare walls, and blackened, and in many cases still burning wooden beams. The chimneys remained standing, but it will no doubt be deemed advisable to take them down, lest their probable fall should be the cause of injury to passengers in the street. Numbers of the former tenants were engaged in examining their old dwellings, with a view to securing such salvage as they could recover, which however, was not of any considerable extent. The men whose families have been ejected by the fire are for the most part engaged in the shoe trade, a few being labourers, and one or two small tradesmen. They were, as a rule, extremely thrifty, well-conducted people, and were distinguished for the pride they took in improving and beautifying their houses, which they did at their own cost, the rents being very low, in fact hardly more than nominal. Therefore, the loss they have sustained is not confined to the furniture and clothing actually destroyed, but also includes an amount of capital, which to people of their rank, is a serious item. George Parker, a machine closer, as mentioned above, was exceptionally unfortunate. Besides a workshop, which he had recently erected and fitted up at a cost stated to be something like a hundred pounds, and some machinery, he has lost the labour put into a large quantity of goods to be despatched to London. James Pack and Charles Groom, too, are others who have lost what to them, is no small sum in the improvements and additions they had made to the premises they occupied.

On Wednesday morning, Dr. Crew visited the various families in their temporary quarters, and made careful inquiries with the view of supplying their immediate wants. He found several of them in a most deplorable state, being left possessed of nothing but the clothes they were actually wearing. It is needless to say that the greatest commiseration is felt throughout the town and district for the unfortunate victims, and the conduct of the inhabitants generally on the night of the fire, and the generous response which was given to the Mayor's appeal for pecuniary assistance by the gentry and principal residents of the locality, prove that there is the greatest readiness to give to that feeling a practical turn. We may here state that any contributions or parcels of clothing handed in at our office will be promptly forwarded to the relief committee.

Another Account"A Rushden clicker" sends the following account to a contemporary:—At one o'clock everything was as usual, the weather was fine, but it was very windy. When Mr. Nicholl's men were going back to work after dinner, at half-past one, some of them noticed the roof of the Swan Inn smoking. Dr. Crew, who was also passing at the time, smelt a strong smell of burning, and went in to enquire if anything was on fire. The thatch then commenced to flare, and although it was then only about as large as a man's hand, the wind soon puffed it into a strong blaze, and in ten minutes the roofs of about fifteen houses on the one side of the street and twelve on the other were all in flames. I had finished my dinner, and was just thinking of getting ready to go back to work, when we heard there was a fire at Higham. I set out directly, and got there about twenty minutes to two, just when the fire was in its height. I never saw such a big fire in all my life. As far as one could see through the smoke, on both sides of the street, the houses were all one blaze of light. Men were halloaing, women crying, children screaming, the fire roaring, and the roofs of the houses falling in one after the other. Rushden fire engine soon put in an appearance, and in a minute or two both Rushden and Higham engines were in full swing. Everybody in Higham, and most people in Rushden and the adjoining places where the news was carried to, gave up work for the day, so there was no lack of hands to work the engines; and when the Wellingborough Brigade appeared upon the scene the place was crowded. The women who were not employed in removing their own or their neighbours' property, turned out to help the men in handing buckets of water to supplement the efforts of the firemen. Right up the street there was a double line; the men on the one side handing the buckets of water to the scene of action, and the women on the other returning them to be replenished, hand to hand. After the fire had been got under the place presented a pitiful scene in the extreme. Twenty-seven houses, which two hours before were happy homes, were now completely gutted; while the occupants, some of whom have lost their little all, were turned out into the cold March wind without a place to call their own. One man had only saved his shirt and trousers, while his wife and children had only what they stood upright in. One poor woman, who was confined the day before, had to be taken out of her bed and removed to a place of safety. At the Swan Inn there were forty bushels of potatoes, which were all really "roasted" and, immediately opposite, two pigs that had been killed in the morning met the same fate.

Aid For The Distressed—At ten o'clock on Wednesday morning a public meeting was held in the Town Hall for the purpose of starting a fund for the relief of the distressed. The Mayor (Mr. W. J. Higgins) was voted to the chair, and among those in attendance were the Rev. E. Templeman, Hon. T. W. Fitzwilliam, Mr. F. U. Sartoris, Mr. Campbell Praed, Mr. Spencer Pratt, Mr. Wetenhall (Stanwick), Mr. W. A. Pope (Stanwick), Mr. H. Packwood (Rushden), Dr. Crewe, Mr. Thompson, Mr. W. Simpson (deputy recorder), Mr. J. Saunders, Mr. C. Simpson, Mr, B. Randall, Mr. S. Whyman, Mr. W. J. Lamb, Mr. G. Shelton, Mr. H. Saunders, Mr. T. Saunders, Mr. A. Groom, Mr. W. Spong, Mr. J. Spicer, Mr. J. Sarjeant, Mr. B. Flintham, Mr. C. Parker, Mr. F. Turner, Mr. S. J. Joll, &c.—The Mayor having briefly stated the object of the meeting, the Rev. E. Templeman proposed "That the following committee be appointed a committee for collecting and administering the funds for the relief of the sufferers by the fire of Tuesday, with power to add their number;—Mr. Higgins (Mayor), Mr. Simpson (deputy recorder), Mr. E. B. Randall, Mr. G. Shelton, and Mr. T. Saunders; and that the following be appointed a ladies' committee:—Mrs. Templeman, the Mayoress, Mrs. Simpson, and Mrs. Crew.—Mr. W. J. Lamb seconded.—Some conversation ensued, in the course of which the Hon. T. W. Fitzwilliam said he was sure the Fitzwilliam trustees would, when communicated with, do what they could to help the movement which had been started. The Hon. T. W. Fitzwilliam, Mr. Campbell Praed, and the Vicar were added to the committee, which were appointed. A subscription list, the object of which is at once to give relief in those cases where it is most needed, was then handed round the room, with the very gratifying result that a sum of no less than £353 was either actually raised or promised. The chief contributors were: The Corporation, £50; Mr. Campbell Praed, £50; Mr. F. U. Sartoris, £20; the Mayor, £20; Hon. T. W. Fitzwilliam, £20; Mr. and Mrs. Pope, Stanwick £10 each; Mr. Spencer Pratt, £15; Mr. Wetenhall, of Stanwick, £10, Messrs. Ward and Sheffield, of Earl's Barton, £5, &c.—Mr. Packwood suggested that the religious denominations of villages in the neighbourhood should be asked to allow collections to be made at their services in aid of the distress fund.—The meeting concluded with votes of thanks to the subscribers and the chairman for presiding.—Subsequently the committee met, and requested the Ladies' Committee to make an investigation during the day and report the cases of pressing necessity to a meeting to be held the same evening, when steps were to be at once taken to afford substantial relief.

Wellingborough News, 25th March 1882, transcribed by Kay Collins

SIR,—I shall be obliged if you will publish this letter, as the inhabitants of Higham Ferrers ought to know that the message handed in at the Higham Telegraph Office at a quarter past one did not reach me until five minutes to two o'clock. I think when we did get the message no time was lost.

As this letter may come under the notice of many of the residents of the villages in this district, it will be a fit time to suggest that whenever the Wellingborough engine is sent for the nearest pond or brook within 300 yards of the fire should be found, a road cleared to it, and a man posted to direct the brigade to the spot. If this were done much valuable time would be saved, as the brigade would go direct to the water supply instead of having to search for it on arrival.—Yours truly,

Captain W.V.F.B.

Wellingborough News, 8th April 1882, transcribed by Kay Collins

SIR,—With reference to a letter that appeared in your last issue respecting the late Fire at Higham Ferrers, and as to the most water being used by the Wellingborough Volunteer Fire Brigade, I beg to state that it was the most used by them on the ruins of the Swan Inn, but that the most water used on the fire was used by the Rushden Fire Brigade, which arrived nearly an hour prior to the W.V.F.B. Had it not been for the early arrival of the Rushden Brigade, probably the greater portion of the town would have been destroyed. Much credit is due to the latter Brigade for the manner in which they undid their horses and drew their engine through the smoke and flames, and did their work.

April 3rd, 1882.

Wellingborough News, 8th April 1882, transcribed by Kay Collins

SIR,—What object the captain of the Wellingborough Fire Brigade had in correcting your admirable report of this fire I fail to see, unless to blow the trumpet of his brigade. To this I should offer no objection, if it were not at the same time inferentially depreciating the work done by the Rushden and Higham engines. The "proof of the pudding is in the eating" and, judging by results, you were strictly accurate in stating that an "ample" supply of water was obtained from the wells and moat, for the fire made no extension after the Rushden and Higham engines got to work. The water was "ample" to save houses that must otherwise have been burned. You failed, however, to mention specially the two streams of water poured continuously upon the burning cottages by the Wellingborough engine for several hours. Had you done so, you must, to satisfy such a "lover of accuracy," have described the two streams, owing to the distance of the pond, as barely reaching the eaves of the houses, and descending in a graceful curve a few feet only from the nozzle held by the fireman; and that for any real good done by these two "continuous" streams the brigade might as well have had a "wet practice" at Wellingborough, saying nothing, of course, of who would in that case have had to find the refreshments. Now, I have no wish to underrate the effectiveness of the Wellingborough Fire Brigade. That their lesser brethren were first at the fire, and were therefore able to render the more effective service, was no fault of theirs. Under different circumstances, the superior organisation and strength of the Wellingborough Brigade would have told a different tale. As it was, the palm for usefulness was taken by the Rushden engine and by your obedient servant,


Wellingborough News, 1st July 1882, transcribed by Kay Collins

RELIEF COMMITTEE—During the past week the above committee have had distributed among the sufferers of the late fire a supply of furniture consisting of clothes boxes, drawers, tables, chairs, dressing tables, washstands, &c. The furniture was supplied by Messrs. Phipps, Northampton, and is very good and substantial, and the recipients are very pleased with the quality.

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