Disastrous Fire at Chinnor


Tuesday, August 15, 1899 (page 5)

Sunday [August 13th] was a day that will live long in the memory of the people of Chinnor. Never in the history of the village has such a disastrous fire occurred as commenced just after one o’clock on Sunday afternoon, by which in less time than is taken to write families were driven from home without time to save but very little of their belongings.

The fire originated in Mr. BRAZELL’s rickyard about ten minutes past one o’clock, there being two straw ricks, one wheat, and three hay ricks. Mr. BRAZELL and family were just having dinner when the first rick caught, and Mr. A. BRAZELL seeing the inevitable result immediately jumped on his bicycle and came to Thame for the Fire Brigade. In the meantime, however, the premises began to blaze at a most alarming rate. Directly the thatch of the hay rick caught, the wind played havoc with the loose straw and almost simultaneously the whole six ricks were ablaze and burning straw blowing in clouds on to the thatched houses of the villagers for a considerable distance off. Adjoining the yard was a cart hovel containing a great number of farm implements, waggons, machines, and a light spring cart. Helped by the exceptional dryness of everything the hovel was one mass of flame before any attempt could possibly be made to get the contents out. Next came a granary in which corn and fodder were stored ; this quickly succumbed, and notwithstanding a gap of several yards the outbuildings attached to Mr. BRAZELL’s house became ignited, and great fear was entertained for the safety of the buildings. However, by continued throwing on of buckets of water and sawing away of beams the fire was after great effort checked in this direction. The stock on the premises consisted of horses and pigs, and of course first thoughts were for these, but so swiftly did the flames travel with the breeze that it was with the greatest difficulty the horses were got out of the stables. One sow and nine pigs were also safely got away, but a sow and six pigs were burnt to death in the sty, it being impossible to get at them. Close to the farm were three cottages belonging to Mr. Thomas BUSBY and Mr. BRAZELL. Two of these, occupied by William GIBBS and William BARNES were thatched, whilst the third occupied by Mrs. FULLER was tiled. On these the flying sparks literally rained and it was with the greatest difficulty that some of the lighter furniture was saved. Neighbours flocked in hundreds and gave willing help ; pumps were going in all directions and buckets upon buckets of water were poured on the burning masses, but so dry was everything that the efforts of all seemed almost in vain. Whilst attending to one place attention was quickly drawn to another some distance off, until it seemed that the whole village was in danger, and people began to wonder where the next break out would be, as being in the day time the course of the sparks could not be seen. Had it occurred at night the results must have been alarming, and perhaps have resulted in the loss of human life. The cottage occupied by Mrs. FULLER caught at one end and burnt away the wood supporting the roof, but the flames were prevented from going any further and the furniture was safely got out. A big blaze came from the next object which was a large thatched and tarred weather-boarded barn and hovel belonging to Mr. PITCHER. In less than three minutes these were razed to the ground and lay in smouldering heaps. By the grass, hedges and sparks, still further the flames flew, and in less than ten minutes from the commencement, the thatch of Mr. Alfred LITTLE’s cottage, in which he lived, and the thatched building occupied by Mr. Jose JACKSON, cycle repairer, burst out simultaneously, and so great was the heat that it was impossible to get but a few things out of the houses. Mr. JACKSON’s cycle shop, containing cycles, a large number of tools, and a quantity of bicycle cement, was completely gutted, it being impossible to get everything out. Within a few yards of these premises stood Mrs HARDING’s stables, upon which had the fire succeeded in keeping a hold, another block of buildings must have caught. However, thanks to the efforts of Captain TUPPER, a visitor to the village, and Messrs. Walter JACKSON and Jose JACKSON, the flames were eventually kept down. Thus in less than fifteen minutes nearly fifty square yards of premises was a mass of flames.

In the meantime, Mr. BRAZELL jun. had reached Thame, and the Fire Brigade were soon apprised of the occurrence. The members turned out with commendable smartness, and under the command of Captain BAILEY, started for the scene of the conflagration. In less than twenty minutes from the call, the brigade were on their way, but before their arrival the fire had gained a hold as above described. Water was scarce, and two thousand feet of hose was requisitioned before a supply could be obtained from a pond at the back of the Bird-in-Hand Inn, in Mr. H.D. EGGLETON’s field. Seeing the hold the flames had obtained on the buildings, the brigade immediately confined their efforts to checking further progress, and this they were fortunately able to do. Luckily these premises were situated at a lower level than the pond, consequently pumping was not so hard ; had it been uphill there would have been great difficulty in sending a good force of water along nearly half-a-mile of hose. Bad news travels quickly and in a very short space of time people from neighbouring villages flocked to the scene and the village was crowded throughout the afternoon and evening. Considering the manner in which the sparks flew about it is surprising that more damage was not done. Mr. Robert WHITE’s stacks narrowly escaped, buckets of water just being thrown on the thatch in time to prevent the flames spreading, and cloths had to be thrown over. These were nearly 400 yards away. Quite 300 yards off, the thatched roof of the Royal Oak, occupied by Mr. WEBSTER, ignited and was put out with difficulty. Mr. TURNER’s blacksmith shop caught but was saved. Throughout the afternoon and evening the premises and ricks blazed away, but with the presence of the fire engine all fears of danger of a fresh outbreak were allayed. There being a large number of spectators present, the Rector, the Rev. E. J. HOWMAN, made a collection on behalf of the cottagers who had been burnt out, and a committee was formed consisting of the Rector, Capt. TUPPER, and the two district Councillors, Messrs. J. WHITE and H.D. EGGLETON, for the purpose of raising a fund to help the sufferers. We understand that Messrs. BRAZELL and BUSBY were insured, but Messrs. JACKSON and LITTLE were not.

The members of the Thame Fire Brigade present were:—Capt. BAILEY, Lieut. MAY, Engineer HORTON, Buglers VARNEY and GREENWOOD, Firemen GOODENOUGH, ARNOLD, BARTON, F. WEST, BETTS, and COX. The Brigade with the engine were on duty throughout the night and most part of yesterday. A word of praise is due to the members for the smartness with which they turned out and the efficient in which they carried out their work. The origin of the fire is unknown.

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