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A disastrous fire destroyed four houses in Fore Street, Witheridge, early on Saturday morning. Just before six o'clock smoke was observed coming from the house of Mr Rogers, builder, undertaker, etc. - one of a row of eight. Mr James Greenslade, who lives near, assisted in conveying Mr Rogers children to a place of safety, while Mr W C Carter informed P.C. Luxton, who was soon on the spot, together with Mr Rogers workmen and many others. It was impossible to prevent the fire spreading to the shop adjacent, occupied by the Misses Holcombe, dressmakers, and the dwellings of Mrs Tucker and Mrs Hooper. The Misses Holcombe lost a sewing machine, and Mrs Tucker some furniture, but a good deal was conveyed to other houses. Considerable anxiety was felt respecting the house occupied by Mr W Dinner, who is dangerously ill, as is also Mrs Dinner. However, Messrs C Maire, H Gunn, W Drew, J Mogford, J Crook and several others stationed themselves upon the roof and threw buckets of water upon the thatch. In this way the fire was kept from spreading in a westerly direction. Messrs A Vicary, F Leach, J Phillips, E Gunn and others in a similar manner prevented the fire from travelling towards Mr Rogers workshops, engine shed, and timber yard at the rear.

Perhaps the hardest fight with flames was that which resulted in saving Mr James Bennett's house. The wind was blowing up the street in the direction of that house, and already the houses between Mr Rogers and Mr Bennett's were hopelessly involved. A large party commenced to strip the thatch off an empty cottage which separated Mr Bennett's from Mrs Hooper's. Numbers of willing hands conveyed the thatch further up the street, where it would be altogether clear of the flames. Others mounted ladders and threw water which was handed up in buckets. It seemed very doubtful which would win, and many looked anxiously up the Tiverton road and hoped the Tiverton Fire Brigade would soon arrive. Mr W Greenslade of the Witheridge Dairy Co. had cycled to Tiverton immediately upon seeing the flames; and about eight o'clock he brought back the welcome news that he had met the Brigade at the bottom of Long Drag, they having received a telegram previously. Not long after the Brigade arrived, and all anxiety with regard to the further spreading of the conflagration was at an end. The promptitude with which they had acted upon receiving the message was much admired. They quickly poured a heavy stream of water upon the flames and then proceeded to pull down dangerous beams and walls, their operations being watched by an interested crowd of people.

It would be impossible to enumerate all the helpers. Mr J Way, builder, rendered valuable help by fixing a standpipe in the water main and also by the loan of ladders, etc. Messrs E Hutchings, R and F Bowden, J and P Gard, J Davey, J Burnett, J Southwood worked hard at saving the buildings; and men and women alike copied the example set by the Vicar and his wife, and carried hundreds of buckets of water from the pumps to the ladders.

Nearly all the property in Fore Street is thatched and the danger at one time was very great. Fortunately the water supply held out well. The heavy rains of the past week rendered the thatch less liable to be set on fire by sparks. The street is narrow, and this makes it more surprising that the property on the other side of the street did not take flame.

The fire is said to have originated in a defective flue. The damage is estimated at over £1,000. The owners and occupiers were insured. As the Tiverton firemen left on Saturday evening they were heartily cheered.

Interviewed by a "Tiverton Gazette" reporter, Mr Mercer, Captain of the Fire Brigade, said "We received a telegram from the police at Witheridge stating that there was a large fire in the village, and asking us to bring out the engine. I rang up the firemen and fired off the maroon; and in a short time we started with the engine and eight men. We reached Witheridge just after eight and found that four houses were well alight, the roofs having fallen in. The villagers were hard at work preventing the fire from spreading. They were drawing their water from a hydrant connected with a reservoir just outside the village. They were doing very good work. In one place they had cut the thatch in two to prevent the fire spreading in that direction. At another place they had got on top of a house throwing water on the thatch. At this place the fire was burning furiously, and was getting very dangerous, as there was a long row of thatched cottages very near. We found some difficulty in getting the engine to work owing to the standpipe of the hydrant not having the same coupling as ours, theirs being a screw and ours instantaneous. Another difficulty was that the stand-pipe was low on the ground, and so we could not get anything to catch the water. A number of men, however, set to work with picks and spades and sank a pit underneath, into which we put a tin bath, the water from the hydrant being thus able to flow into it. After this we soon got to work with one jet, there not being sufficient water to keep two jets going. We played on the flames first at one end and then at the other. We kept the hose going until between five and six in the evening, when all danger of the fire spreading was at an end. There were one or two exciting incidents. Soon after we got there I was on top of one of the houses when the roof gave way. I spread out my arms to save myself and fell into the room below, carrying the ceiling with me. I was partially buried, but escaped with a few scratches and a damaged uniform.

At one time the risk to surrounding property was very grave, the burning buildings being surrounded with thatched buildings, while at the back of Mr Rogers buildings was a long row of cottages. We concentrated our attention first of all to the old place next to Mr Dinner's house. The roof had fallen in, the woodwork underneath had become ignited and was blazing furiously. At one time the firemen were driven back in consequence of the intense heat and the smoke. They stuck manfully to their work, however, and prevented the fire spreading to Mr Dinner's house, which was only separated from the burning buildings by a narrow cartway. At the rear of Mr Rogers house were a lot of outbuildings, had these become involved a big range of buildings would have been swept down.

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Last Edited 03/07/2006    Copyright © 2000-2006 Witheridge

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