8 JUNE 1880


Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth was never more forcibly illustrated than when the inhabitants of this usually quiet little town were awakened from their slumbers early on Tuesday morning last, to witness one of the most distressing and appalling fires that has occurred in the town within the memory of the oldest inhabitant. About half-past one oclock, as the police were making their usual parade of the town before proceeding to their usual nightly rendezvous, Police-constables Andrews and Pearman heard a cracking of glass proceeding from the premises of Mr. Egan, and on going to ascertain the cause discovered the premises on fire, and immediately gave the alarm to Inspector Moore, who was also fortunately in the vicinity, and through their instrumentality the alarm spread quickly through the town. The police then proceeded to ascertain the exact situation of the fire, and burst open Mr Egans shop door, when immediately a volume of flame shot upwards, and fierce wild-fire ran along the sitting-room above, and from thence to the third story Here Mr. A. Egan, who was unable to escape downstairs owing to the fire having laid hold of the staircase, was calling for help from one of the windows, and at this moment some of the members of the Newport brigade arrived upon the scene with the escape and placed it in proximity to the window, and Mr. A. Egan, who was almost suffocated, seized hold of it, and luckily escaped from what appeared to be an inevitable death, for immediately afterwards the room from whence he escaped was a sheet of flame. Fortunately the other occupants of the house, who were sleeping on lower floors, were enabled to reach the street in safety, but with very little clothing, and in frightful mental agony.
The brigade and engines now arrived upon the scene, and notwithstanding that a large body of water was quickly poured upon the burning mass, the fire spread with amazing rapidity, and son enveloped Messrs. Simpson & Sons premises in flames. The dwellers here fortunately had timely warning of the impending danger, and were enabled to make their escape through the shop; but unfortunately the ravages of the devouring element, which danced hither and thither with frightful speed, as if tauntingly exhibiting its superior power over mans humane efforts, left little time for the collection of articles of value, and only the cash drawer and ledger were secured, valuable documents and manuscripts-the latter the work of many years of labour, and for which no amount of pecuniary compensation can atone-being consumed in the fire. The printing office being some distance at the rear of the shop, has fortunately escaped without injury. The treacherous monster still continued its onward course of destruction, and Mr. Riches establishment was the next point for its attack, and here it again made sad havoc, the flames in this instance descending from the roof and continuing its course of demolition to the basement. The next in order in this direction was the house of Mr. Chapmen, and here the persevering efforts of the brigade, combined with a continuous stream of water, were successful in staying the progress of the dreadfully bad master, though the house has suffered considerable damage from the water. The attention of the brigade was now directed to the Swan Hotel, on the other side of Mr. Egans house the roof of which was in flames. At four oclock the Olney brigade, under the command of Captain Booth and Lieutenant Hipwell, arrived upon the scene of the appalling catastrophe, and about forty minutes afterwards were followed by the Stony Stratford Brigade, under the superintendence of Captain Revill. This augmentation of assistance was most valuable, as the attention of each brigade was now concentrated upon points where the fire was raging most furiously, and the large body of water they were enabled to pour upon it succeeded in diminishing its power. When the fire was at its height the flames ever and anon darted into the heavens, telling unmistakably that it had received renewed vigour by having come into contact with some inflammable material. At this time the scene was one of awful grandeur. The sky was illumined for a considerable distance, and the upturned faces of the numerous spectators in the street, lit up by the lurid glare of the flames, combined to form a most imposing yet peculiar spectacle. But sad was shortly the picture of desolation wrought, crumbling and ruinous walls, large fissures, and, worse still, not a vestige of the property remaining that belonged to the unfortunate individuals who occupied the premises that were now smoking ruins. Still they have cause for congratulation, for had the fire occurred later, when the police were not about, the probability is lives would have been sacrificed, as it made gigantic strides in a very short space of time. The brigade continued to work with an assiduity and perseverance that was highly commendable, and none of the members were wanting in that indomitable pluck which indisputably marks the Englishman in cases of emergency. Walls were mounted, houses scaled, and every available position of vantage was taken by them for the better and more speedy extermination of the fire. Unfortunately, while the fire was raging, an accident occurred to Captain Taylor. When endeavouring to keep back the spectators, one of the walls came down with a terrible crash, and a brick struck him a severe blow on the foot, rendering him incapable of continuing his important, and indefatigable discharge, office of superintending the Newport brigade, and his place was ably filled by Lieutenant Coales. The brigades continued working until after eight oclock, and by dint of skill succeeded in getting the fire under sufficiently to enable the Olney and Stony Stratford brigades, who both did excellent service, to leave for their respective towns, and the thanks of the inhabitants of Newport Pagnell went with them for the promptitude they manifested in answer to the call. There was still a great deal of work left for the home brigades, who volunteer and paid, exhibited much intrepidity throughout the conflagration, and now displayed a care and watchfulness that showed their determination to prevent further outbreak, and it was not until late in the day that they ceased operations. Notwithstanding the strenuous efforts put forth in all directions to curtail the extent of the calamity, the residences of Messrs. Egan, Simpson, and Riches were levelled to the ground, nothing left remaining but a few charred beams and a promiscuous heap of stones and mortar; and the west end of the Swan Hotel was completely ruined, and the other part of the building gutted, while large holes were conspicuous in the house occupied by Mr. Chapman. At six oclock in the evening the brigade again appeared upon the scene and played upon the smouldering ruins, and some of the members remained watching throughout the night and the following evening. On Wednesday evening a fresh outbreak occurred in the Swan Hotel, the fire being located in an old beam in that portion of the building which has been seriously affected by the fire, but luckily the brigade and polices were on alert, and by their united efforts quickly subdued it. Fortunately the truth of the adage, A friend in need is a friend indeed was forcibly illustrated on the evening of this sad event, for the sufferers received every assistance it was possible under the distressing circumstances for the inhabitants to render, who, one and all, manifested not only a deep feeling of sympathy, but supplemented it with many little acts of kindness, which have contributed much to mitigate the pangs created by the fire. The whole of the three houses which brunt down belonged to Mr. J. Odell, Sen., and were insured in the Liverpool and London and Globe Offices, though not at all near the amount of the loss. Mr Simpsons stock and furniture were insured in the Northern; and Mr. Riches also in the same office. (This company have acted most honourably in the matter). Mr. Egan was insured in the Phoenix; the Swan Hotel, the property of Mr. Hipwell, of Olney, in the County; and Mr. Chapmans house, which belongs to Mr. J. W. Bull, in the Sun. The estimated total loss occasioned by the fire is between six and seven thousand pounds. The origin of the conflagration is at present involved in mystery, though it is conjectured that it was caused by a stove in Mr. Egans shop.