15 NOVEMBER 1880


Scarcely have the inhabitants of this usually quiet town recovered from the shock occasioned by the fire which demolished three houses in the High street and very much damaged the ancient hostelry known as the Swan Hotel, than their nerves received another shock which must have considerably disturbed their equanimity, and which like that which preceded it, has undoubtedly left an impression which will not easily effaced. The declining hours of Sunday last had barely passed away and the small hours of Monday morning, the 15th, ushered in, before the cry of fire, a cry which sends a thrill through the entire system, was heard proceeding from one of, these officials whose duty it is to watch and guard the lives and interests of the general public. Fortunately the police patrol the town during certain hours of the nigh, and it was while in the execution of this duty, about half-past one o'clock, that Police-Constable John Pearman perceived a strong smell of smoke, and upon proceeding in the direction of Mill-street to ascertain the cause discovered that the basement of the Flour Mill occupied by Mr. Charley Henry Whitworth was on fire.

The Mill before the fire which destroyed

it in 1880

He immediately gave the alarm, and quickly aroused the members of the Newport pagnell Fire Brigade. This valuable institution was speedily represented at the scene of the conflagration, the men having turned out with that praiseworthy promptitude for which they are justly celebrated. The engines, three in number, were quickly arranged in the most advantageous positions , and but a very short time elapsed before they were all brought into requisition and a very large body of water thrown upon the burning mass. The men, under the command of Captain F. J. Taylor and lieutenant Coales, worked with great determination for a long time, in spite of a very high wind which prevailed, and which fanned the increased the flames, until they found the fire had made such headway that it was impossible to save the building. They, therefore, directed their attention to the premises adjoining, consisting of the offices and residence of Mr. Whitworth, which, by their untiring energy and united efforts, they succeeded in protecting from the rapidly advancing flames. The destruction of these premises, which are situated but very few yards from the mill, seemed almost certain, as the flames were driven in this direction by the wind with such force as to endanger the roof, and to cause much alarm to the occupants. Fortunately, however, the brigade had so saturated the roof as to make it impermeable the advancing wave of fire, and so made it secure. The fire raged with great fury, and large volumes of dense black smoke, which proceeded from the burning mass were beaten down to the ground by wind, making the work of the brigade very inconvenient and uncomfortable; but still they persevered with a will and determination that unmistakably showed the English pluck. Sparks were scattered about in all directions reminding one of a magnificent pyrotechnic display and the view from the North bridge which notwithstanding the early hour, was the position of yonder taken up by hundreds of persons was peculiarly splendid. The lurid glare of the burning mass lighted up the country for miles around. The building stood out in bold relief the back and fore grounds being sheets of water, on the surface of which the grand but devastating spectacle most vividly reflected and an additional attraction lent to the scene by the multiplying effect produced by the water.Some idea may be formed of the extent of the conflagration when it is stated that some thatched cottages standing upwards of fifty yards from the fire, situated in the Mill-street entrance to Bury Field, were ignited by the falling sparks. Here great consternation was created amongst the dwellers, who were suddenly awakened from their slumbers to find themselves confronted with that dreadful destroyer, fire. They flitted hither and thither in great dismay, barely giving themselves time to secure the necessary covering that would afford them some protection against the chilling wind which was blowing at the time. But the scene may be better imagined than described. Some of the firemen were quickly upon the roof and as quickly set to work to cut away the burning thatch and while this was proceeding, a brick, from one of the chimneys, fell upon Volunteer Chantler, striking him with great force in the side, and cutting open his coat, but, luckily, beyond a slight contusion, doing no further damage. The promptitude and despatch with which they proceeded to arrest the progress of the fire was rewarded with a speedy success, for after dividing the thatch in two places, and well drenching it with water, little danger was apprehended. The occupants, however, who had been so suddenly and unceremoniously displaced, were not so secure in mind and would not return. Fortunately for them, they were surrounded by friends who were ready to give them that accommodation which their homes and circumstances afforded, and which we feel sure, was heartily appreciated. During this time, the mill, where the fire originated, was reduced to a few walls and charred beams, except the high chimney, which remains almost intact. These encircled the remains of the once valuable stocks, machinery, and plants, which, a short time before, formed the chief feature of the interior of the mill, but which now, like the building, presented a complete wreck, and were telling evidences of the destruction wrought by the devouring element. It seems incredible that so great a work of destruction should have been so soon accomplished, but such was the speed with which the fire raged that scarcely two hours had elapsed from the intimation of the fire being given until the building was little more than a smouldering heap of ruins. The brigade did not, however, leave the scene until nearly six oclock, and then some were told to watch the burning emberu, and see that they did not increase so as to endanger other property. The ruins were still smouldering on Tuesday afternoon, and, as the quantity of fire had increased rather diminished, it was thought advisable to have the services of the firemen, who, under the superintendence of Lieutenant Coales, quickly succeeded in reducing the flames. The fire, however, has continued to smoulder all week, but fortunately is contained to a small area. The estimated loss is upwards of £6000. The mill is the property of Mrs. Eve. Widow of the late Mr. Charles Eve, who formerly carried on business there and is insured in the County Fire Office. The stock and machinery Valued at £4500. Belonged to Mr. C. H. Whitworth and is insured in the Millers and General Fire Office. The origin of the fire cannot be ascribed though it is conjectured that it may have occurred by the over-heating of some portion of the machinery in the water mill communicating with some woodwork, the engine not having been used for a fortnight. When the building was closed on Saturday evening everything was left apparently safe. The mill was not visited on Sunday therefore it is surmised that the fire, if caused by over-heating must have smouldered all day.