Just before six oclock on Thursday morning, February 9, the town of Newport Pagnell was greatly alarmed by a report that Messrs. Rowlett and co.s extensive steam flour mills, situated immediately on the River Ouse, were on fire. The report, unfortunately, was only too true, for by six o'clock the whole town, and in fact, the neighbourhood for several miles round was lit up by the magnificent but lurid glare from the flames as they shot forth from the burning building. So intense and continuous were the flames as they mounted higher and higher into the air that it gave an impression to those who saw the fire from a distance that half the town was in flames. From north bridges, too the scene was exceedingly grand, as a vivid reflection of the burning building was photographed in the boiling flooded waters surrounding the mill, and making it appear as though two fires were raging in the vicinity at one and the same time. The first discovery of the fire, we understand, was made by a man named Malsher, in the employ of Messrs. Rowlett & Co.,
who was proceeding to the mill to set the machinery in motion, and at once aroused Mr. Whitworth, and the inmates of the Mill HouseThe fire was also announced at the Fire Brigade Station, and the brigade, under the command of Captain Coales, appeared on the scene and got to work with commendable promptitude, directing their efforts mainly to the preservation of the Mill House by keeping the fire well within the mill. At the time a very high wind prevailed, and this added greatly to fan and increase the flames, which despite the most energetic and praiseworthy efforts of the brigade, continued to run along the burning building, as if in defiance of every effort to prevent their spreading. The high and lofty roof fell in with a tremendous crash, and buried beneath it the splendid new machinery which was put in the mill by the late Mr. Charles Henry Whitworth, after the fire which occurred here on Monday, the 15th of November, 1880, and which then entirely demolished the old mill premises. On the same site the extensive and well-equipped buildings which have now been razed to the ground were erected and completed just about twelve months afterwards, and of these scarcely anything remains but bare walls, that is, so far the principal portion of the mill is concerned. The rapidity with which the flames spread after the fire was announced was truly remarkable, and the heat was so intense that Captain Coales was obliged to remove the men who were pumping near the river to a greater distance, for the paint on the engine was beginning to blister. At this period crowds lined the roadway on the North Bridges and watched with interes, yet with awe, a sight which will remain indelibly imprinted on the memory for many years, as the tongues of flame which ever and anon darted forth ascended at least a hundred feet, and sparks were flying in abundance in a north-easterly direction.
Fortunately this was so, for had the wind veered, there is little doubt we should have had to chronicle a still more disastrous fire. The members of the brigade, with nos. 1 & 2 engines, and assisted by willing pumpers, worked with tremendous energy, and, despite the dangerous condition of the tottering walls, pluckily went forward into the burning building with the hose-pipes in order to get a better command over the flames. Several hours elapsed, before they could see any return for their arduous labours, but, ultimately, by fighting the fire manfully well, they succeeded in confining it entirely to the larger building, and saved the lower and smaller building adjutting, which contained the boiler room, top and bottom smutting rooms, loading room, stive room, and wash-house.
The main building, where the fire originated (it is supposed in the room over the engine-house) was totally wrecked, and all that remained of the engine-house, top and bottom floors, roller floor, purifying floor, silk-room, etc, were four bare and cracked walls, with extensive breaches in the side; and the massive iron girders, iron ties, and machinery, lay in a sad and mingled heap of ruins, twisted and distorted into inconceivable shapes. Indeed, so rapid and certain was the destruction that those who came to the scene a few hours after were astonished to find only smouldering embers and blackened walls of what was but a short time previously one of the finest flour mills in the county. The brigade did not, however, cease their efforts, and it was not until two o'clock in the afternoon that it was thought necessary to take away No. 2 engine. The No. 1 engine, which was connected with the stand-pipe of the water mains of the town, was still kept going so as to keep the fire under which remained in the debris, and relays of firemen were told off for duty at intervals during the evening, whilst other were selected to keep a strict watch throughout the night. Mr. H. Whitworth and Messrs. Savory & Fletcher, as also were many other of the employee, were also especially active at the time of the fire and during the whole of the day in superintending, instructing and assisting with a view to minimise the damage. For some time past, except at intervals when the trade has not been so brisk, the mill has been working all night, and therefore, men have always been about the premises; but on this occasion, as had occurred, we understand, previously, the men left work at twelve oclock, and, therefore, it is difficult to ascertain the origin of the fire, but from the position in which the flames were located (above the engine-room) when it was first discovered, it is premised that it originated there, and the supposition is that it must have been caused by friction or the over-heating of some portion of the machinery and communicated with the wood-work, which smouldered for a time, and then burst into flame. But, whatever the cause, the loss is most serious, and will be the means of throwing several of the work people out of employ for a long time to came. The mill was well stocked with flour and corn, and this together with the valuable machinery, and the electric light installation which has been added more recently, makes the loss still more heavy, so that, giving a rough calculation, the damage cannot be much less than £10,000 but we are glad to say the loss is covered by insurance with the Atlas Insurance Company. We understand it is the intention of Messrs. Rowlett & Co., as soon as possible, to rebuild the mill. This will, no doubt, be a source of congratulation to the employee.