Great Fire at Yeovil

Great Fire at Yeovil

From a random selection of newspaper articles stretching from 1848 to 1944 fires in gloving factories seem to have been a recurrent hazard. The following taken from the Western Gazette is an abridged account of one disastrous one which occurred on 27th March 1908.



A fire broke out in the dressing yard behind the glove factory of Mr G. H. Gould, in Vicarage Street, Yeovil about 4 o’clock on Sunday morning, and, racing unchecked for some considerable time before being discovered, was not extinguished until the larger part of the buildings and machinery had been practically destroyed. In this yard was a five-floored building used by Mr Gould for the preparation of skins for the manufacture of gloves and divided into engine and boiler rooms, various machinery departments, and a wool store, which contained practically a year’s accumulation of wool from the skins used. The buildings overlook Earle Street, and the reflection of the fire on his bedroom windows aroused Mr H. Mitchell, who lives opposite, and he promptly gave the alarm. A Mr F. G. Collins, the manager of the yard, was fetched and Mr Mitchell’s boy went to the Police station with the alarm…. Standing in the yard, too, is a huge pole carrying a large number of telephone wires used in the town services, and although it appeared in great danger at times it escaped injury…. A very considerable time elapsed between calling the Borough Fire Brigade and their actual arrival – it is said over an hour –but when they got to work, under Second Officer Brown, they worked in a manner deserving the highest praise. ….. When at last the flames were brought under control, the five storey building was a total wreck, and a few only of its piers were standing.

The damage is estimated by Mr Gould at about £4,000, but practically the whole of that done to stock and buildings, amounting to £3,500, is covered by insurance. The machinery, valued at about £500, was not insured. All the wool in the store was destroyed, the engine and boiler damaged, “tumbler” and crushing and emery wheeling machines wrecked or badly damaged, and a large quantity of dressed leather ready to put into gloves totally destroyed. By the ruin of the dressing yard about 20 men were thrown out of work, and by the end of the week practically the whole of the hands at the factory will be more or less affected. Several of the other manufacturers in the town have, however, kindly offered to help Mr Gould out of his difficulty.

It is only fair to say that the delay of the Fire Brigade in arriving on the scene was in no way their fault, but the fault of the antiquated methods of calling them. The Town Council at their last meeting adopted a scheme for electric communication which has been put in hand, but which is not yet in operation. ….

The cause of the fire is unknown, but it is conjectured that some material had been smouldering in the engine room for some time before the outbreak of the fire.

Soon after midnight on Tuesday the Fire Brigade received another call to Mr Gould’s premises. On arriving they found a large amount of the debris, which had evidently been smouldering since Sunday morning, was well alight, and being close to the cottages in Vincent Street was looked upon as being extremely dangerous. The Fire Brigade finally left scene between nine and ten on Wednesday morning. An unfortunate accident befell a local policeman, who was also called to the factory in the small hours on Wednesday morning. Whilst looking round the dressing yard for signs of fire he failed to notice the puring pits full of unsavoury liquid used in the process of skin dressing, and stepped into one. Seeing that the pits were four or five feet deep, his condition on emerging can be better imagined than described. 

Jean Harper
May 2017

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