This article came from the Chronicle published April 1985. Page 35 – 37
Disasterous Fire At Yeovil
Author: L.E. J. Brookes
From the Western Gazette, 23rd April 1909.
“In the early hours’of Friday morning a fire,, which ultimately proved to be the he most disastrous that has occurred in Yeovil for many years,,”broke out at the bottom of Mill lane, the damage resulting amounting to several thousands of pounds. The scene of the outbreak was the range of buildings adjoining the old Town Mill, and in addition to these premises, occupied by Messrs. Chapman &.Co, builders, Mr. E. Pittard, leather dresser, and a cottage occupied by Frederick. Masters, there is a range of large and modern buildings, used by Messrs. Ewens & Johnson, glove manufacturers, for leather dressing, and which contained a great quantity of leather in various processes of preparation for glove making, in addition to a large quantity already prepared.
“Just exactly where the fire broke out does hot appear to be accurately known. However, it is certain that shortly after three o’clock in the morning the wife of the cottager, Masters, was awakened by a fire, the whereabouts of which did not then seem clear. Masters at once got out, and, scantily attired, knocked up by Mr. Chapman, who was quickly on the scene. By this time the whole range of buildings was well alight, and added to the inflammable nature of Messrs. Chapman’s stock was the fact that Messrs. Ewens & Johnson’s building had the usual louvre ventilators, which burnt and produced a draught which quickly converted the large place into’a veritable furnace. Masters’ family escaped from their house in the nick of time, and, with the exception of what they stood up in, lost everything. By this time the Fire Brigade had been alarmed, and with considerable promptitude the members, under Second-Officer Cridland, with various appliances, were upon the spot. The buildings were now a mass of flames from end to end, and their condition hopeless, so the attention of the Brigade was turned towards saving the adjacent buildings, one containing a large amount of valuable machinery belonging to Messrs. Ewens & Johnson, a house close by the Mill, and the wool store and other buildings of Mr. E Pittard on the other end of the narrow road, and on which flaming fragments were falling fast-and causing some anxiety. In this undertaking, aided by a plentiful supply and good pressure of water from three hydrants, the Brigade were successful, but several hours elapsed before the fire was extinguished.
“Some time ago Messrs. Ewens & Johnson, at considerable expense, installed on these premises fire hydrants connected with the town mains. According to a statement made by the Fire Brigade officer, these were not used before”the Brigade arrived owing to the failure of those on the spot to get the nearest into action, whilst the second was so close to the blazing building that it was impossible to get to it. It is thought that had it been possible to get these going, good work could have been done earlier.
“When the full nature of the damage could be ascertained, examination revealed the fact that very serious losses had occurred, as it was impossible to get anything out, the fire having so great a hold before being discovered. Messrs. Chapman’s stock and premises were burnt out, and practically everything destroyed, although Mr. E. Pittard’s machinery and plant in a building adjoining suffered little damage, except that caused by water. Of Masters’ cottage the walls only remain, and the family lost everything, whilst Messrs, Ewens & Johnson lost the whole of their valuable stock of leather and practically only the piers of the building in which it was contained were left standing.
“The total damage is stated to be nearly, £10,000, the amount.of Messrs. Ewens & Johnson’s loss being estimated at £7,000, which is not fully covered by insurance. Both Messrs. Chapman and Pittard were fully insured.
“Owing to the great damage to the Mill, another of Yeovil’s few remaining ancient buildings has been threatened, for it is claimed that this venerable building is the successor to, and standing on the same spot, as the Saxon Mill, catalogued in Doomsday took as a “ten shillings rent”. The remaining walls of the present Mill. are very old indeed, and according to a tradition form part of the same building which, although in, the midst of the great fire which devastated Yeovil in the time of the Wars of the Roses, about A.D. 1460, and when it is said over 100 houses were destroyed, then escaped unscathed. It has not been used as a corn mill for many years, and latterly has been utilised for the business purposes of Mr. Pittard and Messrs. Chapman, the water-wheel which formerly turned the mill stones having been used to supply power for various machines. The fire smouldered among the ruins during the day, and in the evening it was again found necessary to thoroughly damp down the ruins. Unfortunately, in addition to the damage done by the fire, great loss will be sustained by the throwing out of work of about 30 men employed in the burnt-out buildings.
“We are asked to state that’as the fire did not affect the glove factory of Messrs. Ewens & Johnson, the business will not be seriously interfered with”.
Photographs showing the burnt-out buildings of this calamitous event are among the picture collection held in Yeovil Museum (now CHAC). The reference to the great fire of 1460 suggests that the fire spread as far as the town mill, which was also known as Frog Mill, but it is practically certain that the conflagration was confined to the centre of Yeovil as we know it today – the medieval town being bounded by South Street to the west. It may also interest readers to know that our present chairman is a grandson of the owner of the building firm which occupied the premises destroyed.