The fire in New Street (The Square) 1926

The local paper reports it a bit differently from the National Press (their reports may be found by clicking here)  and gives more reliable personal details.

Click here to see pictures of this fire  A    B    C    D 

1926, Mid-Devon and Newton Times, March 27th

Moretonhampstead was visited on Tuesday morning by a devastating fire, which swept the whole length of New Street destroying, in its fury, three shops, the bank and one dwelling house, besides doing much damage to other business premises, the extent of which is difficult to estimate at present, but without doubt it will range somewhere in the region of from £15,000 to £20,000.  The row of shops and houses, now a mass of ruins, formed part of what is known as the Square, facing the White Horse Hotel, Great House and the White Hart Hotel.  Situated in the very centre of the town, the Square forms Moreton's principal parking place for hundreds of cars and chars-a-banc during the summer season, and its old-world charm is known to thousands of visitors.

The property totally destroyed comprises the premises of the well-known and old established firm of Neck and Sons, a commodious establishment dealing in general stores and drapery, coal, oil, grain, etc.  Here the whole of the extensive stock has been totally destroyed, all that was saved being a quantity of flour at the rear.  In the drapery department a new consignment of hats was lost, as well as many advanced dressmaking orders, which were being prepared for Easter.  The horses in the stables at the rear were fortunately saved but a motor lorry was damaged.  The bank premises adjoining, occupied by the National Provincial and Union Bank, Ltd, were completely gutted, the safe and books however being saved. 

Adjoining the Bank was the 'Bidder Tea Rooms' (an historical house), the home of the famous lightning calculator, George Bidder.  The premises were in the occupation of Mr. and Mrs W. Morgan, who were removing to other premises in a week's time, and whose furniture has now unfortunately been wholly destroyed.  These premises were used as a refreshment house, where a brisk trade was done in the summer.  Here everything was completely destroyed, not a stick of furniture being saved,  Mr Morgan himself escaping with the bare suit he stood up in, whilst his wife rushed into the street in her night attire, having to borrow a skirt, everything else being destroyed.

Next door was a tobacconist, fancy and stationery shop, carried on by Mrs E.A. Davy, who lived on the premises, This was also completely razed to the ground, all shop goods and furniture being lost.  Mrs Davy only recently had the stairs laid with new linoleum and carpets, and had in a new stock of china ready for the summer visitors.  Linked with this shop was a toy business carried on by Mrs Tourle, an aged lady, the mother of Mrs Davy, who at the time of the fire was lying ill in bed.  Mrs Tourle, who is 80 years of age, was naturally greatly attached to her old house, and it was with difficulty that she was persuaded to allow herself to be carried to a place of safety at the house of friends.  She now lies seriously ill.  Here again

UTTER AND COMPLETE DISASTER

befell everything, nothing being saved.  The next shop, towards the corner of Forder Street, is held by Mr Harold Dymond, who carries on trade as an ironmonger and saddler, but happily he was able to get the whole of his stock into the street, in safety.  The building escaped the fate of the others, though it is greatly damaged, the roof being stripped of slates, as is also the confectionery shop in Forder Street belonging to Mrs Harding, who has also suffered considerable damage to her furniture in consequence of water being poured through the ripped slate roof.

The back of Mrs Cann's house, and the hardware shop of Mr T. Gilbert, in Forder Street, escaped, but furniture was shifted from Mrs. Cann's premises as a precautionary measure, and luckily the flames were kept back.

Adjoining Messrs Neck's property is situated the Co-operative Society's Stores, which were partially damaged, but the flames were checked apparently by a brick wall just as the corner of the roof was beginning to burn.  Notwithstanding, the Society has sustained several hundreds of pounds worth of damage, but are able to carry on business.  The Co-operative Society's Stores were partially damaged, but the flames were checked apparently by a brick wall just as the corner of the roof was beginning to burn.  The bakehouse was partly damaged, large quantities of flour being destroyed.   Luckily someone had the presence of mind to destroy a

200 GALLON TANK OF PETROL

adjoining, which would otherwise have caused an explosion.  The total frontage involved was roughly 100 feet, extending to a depth of 80 ft.  It is understood that the property, which belongs to three different owners, is covered by insurance.  Messrs. Neck's and the Bank premises are occupied by the owners; the tea rooms, tobacconist and toy shop belonged to Mr Perkins, Elmfield, and Mr Dymond's saddlery shop to Mr Edwin J. Coming, Linscott.

The loss of stores at Messrs. Neck and sons is stated to be £4000, and the Morgan, Davy and Tourle families have been rendered homeless by the calamity.

GROTESQUE EXAGGERATIONS

The accounts of the fire which have appeared in the London Press have, in many instances, been grotesquely exaggerated.  At no time was the whole village threatened with extinction, and the statements as to the destruction of twenty houses were wholly untrue.  As with most fires, it is difficult to trace the precise origin, but it is thought that in this instance it had its inception in the wall or chimney dividing the Bank premises from that occupied by Mr & Mrs Morgan.  The first indication of anything untoward occurring was noticed shortly after 3 o'clock by Mrs Morgan, who fancied she heard a cracking or rustling sound in the wall.  She accordingly aroused her husband, but he took very little notice, thinking it  to be rats, which had been causing a little trouble for some time.  Mrs Morgan, however, was not satisfied, and made Mr Morgan investigate the noise, which seemed particularly strange and uncanny to her.  On rising he discovered clouds of smoke issuing from the walls.  He immediately scrambled into his clothes and rushed off to call the local Fire Brigade, who smartly answered the summons, under Capt. W. Gay.  On returning, he found flames were shooting through the roof and were being fanned by a bitterly sharp, cold north-east wind.  The flames soon spread to the left, through the Bank, and thence to Messrs. Neck and Sons premises, which were alight when the Moreton Brigade arrived on the scene.

Mr F Clampitt, living opposite, at Great House, was promptly on the scene and soon realised that the local Brigade, although working like Trojans, could not possibly deal with the fire with their limited appliances, which consisted of an old manual engine.  He immediately telephoned for the Newton Abbot Brigade, and later for the Exeter Brigade, who answered very smartly, and were  on the scene in well under an hour.  The Newton Abbot Brigade, however, had a slight mishap after leaving Bovey Tracey, but arrived almost immediately afterwards, under Chief Officer Mills.

The water available on the spot was completely inadequate, but thanks to the initiative of Mr F. Clampitt (a Parish Councillor) a party of young fellows set off to Millbook, a quarter of a mile distant, and dammed a good stream of water so that when the Brigades arrived the Newton engine went to the spot and pumped water to the Exeter Brigade on a hundred foot higher ground level at the rate of

180 GALLONS A  MINUTE

Shortly six jets were in play on the flaming buildings, but even this seemed to have little effect on the fire, which being fanned by a strong wind were a roaring furnace, and gradually creeping towards the other shops.

Attacks were made from both ends and fortunately the wind veered round otherwise far greater damage would have been caused, and the central block of the Square, which partly consists of thatched houses, would inevitably have taken fire.  Happily, however, this catastrophe did not eventuate, but even so, the thatched roofs of the butcher's shop of Mr Dommett, situated in Court Street, took fire in several places but, being promptly observed, these minor outbreaks were quickly subdued, thanks to the assistance given by members of the local troops of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, who worked untiringly throughout the early hours of the morning in the biting wind, the coldness of which can be realised from the fact that the water froze as they handled it in a long chain from the rear of Mr E. Endacott's premises in Court Street, to the scene of the fire, where a youngster named Lewis Endacott, sat on the thatch and calmly extinguished the flames as they arose.  He was heartily cheered for the part he took, and which helped to prevent further destruction of property situated in Court Street.

Crowds of people turned out to witness the awe-inspiring sight, the flames reaching at times to an immense height.  The roofs of some of the burning buildings were of tar and sand, which produced a terrific heat, so much so that the windows of the hotel on the other side of the Square were almost red hot.

The cold, however, from the north east wind was so great that icicles a foot long were hanging from the remains after the fire had been subdued somewhat.  It was evident from the start that it was impossible to save the block of buildings, which were very old and dry, containing large quantities of wood.  The brigades fought hard, but finding it impossible to save any furniture from the doomed buildings, accordingly made efforts to prevent the flames spreading further.  By removing slates from adjoining buildings and isolating the fire as much as possible.  If the brigades had been long delayed in arriving, the whole of the Square, Court Street and Forder Street would probably have been destroyed.  Not far distant are the Bowring Library and the White Hart Hotel, but fortunately these were a reasonably safe distance away. 

CATS LEAP TO DEATH

Those who were forced to leave their doomed homes stood in the cold, wet street in distressed conditions, attired in scanty apparel, and were later offered accommodation by kind-hearted neighbours and friends, and needless to say this hospitality was  eagerly accepted.  Fortunately there was no loss of human life, the only death being that of a cat, which appeared to be fascinated, and leapt into the flames.

The Newton and Exeter Brigades were in attendance until about 12 o'clock, when they returned to their respective stations, whilst the Moreton Brigade remained on duty pouring water upon the smouldering ruins, as fresh signs of fire were visible and meanwhile pulling down all possible portions of wall which might prove dangerous.  Four members remained on duty the whole night.  The worst of the outbreak was completely under control by 7 o'clock, being confined within the stark naked walls.  The property destroyed formed the real centre of Moreton?s business quarters, the shop of Neck and sons being a busy one, especially on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

INCIDENTS OF THE FIRE

One of the sights was the burning of the large clock in the Bank building, from the face of which the flames shot, but a hose directed on it caused a mass of wheels and springs to fly in all directions.  The Square was full of water, pouring in torrents down the Station road, the drains being unable to cope with the extra rush.

Thanks to Mr Clampitt's presence of mind, the towns supply of gas was cut off to avoid the chance of an explosion.

Many were inconvenienced by the cutting off of the supply, through having to go without their morning cup of tea.

The wind throughout the conflagration was icily cold and blew the flames right across the street, greatly to the alarm of other residents, many of whom removed their goods and furniture to safety.  Mr J. Germon deposited valuable furniture in the Gordon Hall.  The ruins still continued to smoke and smoulder during the whole of Tuesday afternoon and evening, whilst a heavy snowstorm was raging.  The town from early morning till late at night was full of sightseers, many coming from long distances in cars and on motor cycles.

Several London daily papers were represented amongst the many reports and photographers present and a cinematograph operator also put in an appearance and filmed the smoking ruins from all quarters.  As early as 6 o'clock on Tuesday morning calls were received at Moreton local Police Station by the Sergeant from London newspapers who were eager for information .  The news reached them even before some of Moreton's own inhabitants in more distant parts of the parish were aware of the disaster.

The safes of the National Provincial Bank were among the ruins, and were rolled across the Square to the residence of Mrs F. Clampitt, where temporary officers were opened at once with a notice in the window reading Banking hours from 10 to 3.30.  The money and papers in the safe were intact.

The property where the fire commenced, that occupied by Mr and Mrs W. Morgan was several hundred years old.  Master Anthony Davy escaped with just his everyday school suit, and later had to purchase a new collar and tie.  At the residence of Mrs Davey it was thought the safe where money and papers were stored was insecure, but a fireman entered the burning building and found it quite sound.  The safe, amongst other valuable articles, contained an old gold watch of her late husband, greatly valued, but which it appears went through the ordeal safely and was later found to be in perfect order.

The disaster is one of, if not actually the worst that has ever been experienced at Moretonhampstead.  It is proposed to start a relief fund for those more seriously hit.  The destruction of the houses will no doubt lead to the modernisation of Moreton at this particular spot.

1926, Daily Sketch March 24th

TOWN RINGED WITH FLAME

Twenty houses destroyed in Disastrous Early Morning Fire on Edge of Dartmoor

Homeless Victims' Night of Terror

Over twenty houses and business premises with all they contained in the way of furniture and goods were destroyed by a fire which raged throughout Monday night in the little town of Moretonhampstead on the fringe of Dartmoor.

Fortunately all the inhabitants managed to escape, hurriedly wrapping around them various garments, but there were pathetic scenes in the raging storm of wind and snow as little groups of parents and children stood shivering, watching the burning of their homes.

The outbreak originated in Court  street in stores belonging to Messrs Neck and Co., and fed by the thatched roofs of the historic houses, galloped round the main square of the town with extraordinary rapidity.

SOS calls were sent to the Exeter and Newton Abbot fire brigades, 12 miles away, and, pending their arrival, the inhabitants of the entire town turned out and fought the flames with any and every appliance that came to hand.

THRILLING RESCUE

Aged Woman Taken From Blazing Home

But for the prompt dash of the brigades across country, it is certain that the greater part of the town would have been completely destroyed.  The firemen arrived in an hour to find the Square an inferno.  Flames were leaping to the sky from a score of houses, while of some buildings only charred and blackened walls remained.

The local branch of the National Provincial Bank was destroyed, only the safes remaining intact, as well as the co-operative stores and a drapery shop.

Boy Scouts and Girl Guides rendered splendid service in salving furniture and household valuables from houses in the path of the flames.  The fire had been raging for some considerable time when it was learned that Mrs Tourle, a woman over 80 years of age, was still in her room over a tobacconist's shop.  The townsfolk rushed to her rescue, and she was taken out with difficulty, clad in her night attire.  A few moments later the thatched roof caught alight and the building  was lost in flames.

After hours of strenuous work the brigades mastered the outbreak and prevented it spreading.  All danger was not past, however, until an advanced hour yesterday morning, when, after a night of terror, water was still being showered on the glowing debris to prevent any further danger.

The damage is estimated at nearly £20,000.  The fire originated in the historic house which was once the home of George Parker Bidder, who, because of his amazing powers of mental arithmetic, was known as the calculating boy.

1926, Daily Graphic, March 24th

TOWN IN PERIL FROM FIRE

Many Buildings Razed in Fierce Outbreak

PLUCKY BOY SCOUTS

Brigades' Dash to Scene Through Blizzard.

A Fire which broke out in the early hours of this morning, fanned by a strong north east wind, burnt so fiercely that it threatened to wipe out this little Devon market town, situated on the fringe of Dartmoor and well-known to thousands of visitors at near-by coast resorts.

Nearly a score of persons are rendered homeless and the damage is estimated at between £15,000 and £20,000.

The Exeter and Newton fire brigades made a breathless dash through  blizzard, along miles of country lanes, and it was due to their prompt arrival that the town was saved.

Five of the chief buildings in the square, the centre of the town, were totally destroyed.  They were: -

The Bidder Tea House, Messrs Neck and Sons' General Stores, the offices of the National Provincial Bank, Mrs Tourle's fancy goods shop, and another shop occupied by a Mr Davey.

Snow showers were falling at the time, and the occupants, after a hasty rush to safety, stood in the bitter wind in their night attire until temporary accommodation was found for them.

Aged Woman's Protest

One woman of eighty, Mrs Tourle, was only carried from her house with difficulty, and is said to have protested strongly that she did not wish to leave her home.

The fire started in the Bidder Tea House, occupied by Mr Morgan.  Awakened about 3.30, he found smoke issuing from cracks, and rushed to summon the local brigade.  When he returned the house was a mass of flames.

When the Exeter and Newton brigades arrived the flames had a firm hold on all five properties.  Though hampered by an insufficient water supply, the firemen were successful in saving the adjacent buildings, the Free Library and the White Hart Hotel.

Boy Scouts and Girl Guides performed nobly in preventing the spread of the flames, the scouts climbing to thatched roofs and soaking them with water, and the guides aiding the villagers in passing buckets.

Lad's Single-handed Feat.

One lad climbed to a roof and, single-handed, put out a fire that had started in the thatch.

The safe and books of the bank were saved, but in every other case it was impossible to remove a single article of furniture.  The outbreak was got under about noon.

The Bidder Tea House was of historic interest as the home of George Parker Bidder, who was, in the early nineteenth century, known as the Calculating Boy by reason of his amazing powers of mental arithmetic.  He was afterwards associated with Robert Stephenson as a railway engineer, planned the Victoria Docks in London, and helped to found the first electric telegraph company.

1926, Daily Express March 24th

Fire Fight in a Snowstorm

Dartmoor Village Blaze

Brigades' Race

Firemen and villagers battled for four hours early this morning in a raging snowstorm against a disastrous fire which threatened to destroy half the village of Moretonhampstead, on the fringes of Dartmoor.

Three houses and five shops were destroyed and nine people were rendered homeless.  A high wind fanned the flames and the old wooden buildings burned like matchwood.  Water had to be poured on the thatched roofs of the neighbouring houses, and in two cases the thatching had to be ripped off to prevent more houses from catching fire.

Men women and children whose homes were burning stood in the streets with coats slung over their night attire. Hundreds of villagers joined in the fire fight, and Boy Scouts and Girl guides formed a chain to pass buckets of water.

WOMAN AWAKENED

The fire was discovered shortly after three o'clock by Mr W. Morgan.  His wife had been awakened by the crackling of flames.  He and his family rushed out of the house and gave the alarm.  The next minute their house was a furnace.

Fire brigades from Exeter and Newton Abbot, twelve miles away, raced to the village, but the fire, which had started in business premises at the top of the main street, enveloped a large general store, the National Provincial Bank, and some shops.  Three houses were next involved, and but for the arrival of the fire brigades half the village would have been burned to the ground.  Two safes which were rescued from the bank were the only property saved.

Horses in a neighbouring stable were brought out and led down the street to safety.  Dogs in the houses jumped from windows and escaped the flames, but a cat was burned to death.  Mrs Tourle, aged eighty, at first refused to leave her old home, but as the crackling of the flames grew more menacing  she agreed to go. Water was still being pumped into the charred timbers at midday.

One of the houses burned was noted as the birthplace of George Parker Bidder, engineer and mathematician.

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