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From The Devon Weekly Times

10 June 1898:


"The  most destructive fire which has ever taken place in Thorverton or its neighbourhood, broke out in the centre of the village shortly after midday on Sunday, and it is due to no forethought on the part of the local powers-that-be that the whole of the village was not destroyed; in fact, if outsiders had acted upon the principle of refusing to help those who neglect to help themselves, Thorverton would in all probability have been "wiped" out.


The contemplation of this fact will, perhaps, have the effect of rousing the villagers to a sense of their responsibility. The place has, it is stated, been entirely without any effective means of coping with fire since an engine was kept, and maintained by the late Mr. John Milford, whose public spirit is still remembered very keenly. About three years ago, an Insurance Company offered to present this engine to the parish. A meeting of the parishioners was called to discuss the matter, and the result was a refusal of the parish to maintain the old engine or purchase a new one. Hence for anything like an effective means of dealing with Sunday's outbreak, reliance had to be placed on the brigades from Exeter and Silverton. One excellent thing was done locally and that was to dam  back the stream which runs through the village, so that when the steamer "Devonia" (i.e. the fire engine ) arrived there was an ample supply of water, and most of that poured on the burning buildings again finding its way into the stream above the dam, was used over and over again.


The scene of the fire was at "The Berry" in the heart of the village, directly opposite the Dolphin Hotel. Soon after church time a smell of something burning was noticed, but it was not until about 1.30 that the cause of this was discovered. Then several people seemed to have almost simultaneously observed that the thatch of the roof of the premises occupied by Mr. T. B. Plucknett was burning, a spark from the chimney being the supposed cause. A fresh wind was blowing, and in a very short time the whole of the upper part of the premises took fire, and the flames spread to an adjoining house which was unoccupied, and belonging to Mrs. Dyer, and afterwards the house of Mr. Churchill, saddler and harness maker, also caught.


All three houses were burning simultaneously, and an hour after the outbreak it looked as if the whole of the northern part of Thorverton would be destroyed, the flames being fanned by a rather stiff south-east wind, and fed by two thatched roofs. If, however, there had been an organised brigade in Thorverton the fire might have been coped with in its early stage and confined to the one house, whereas the only appliances at hand were buckets, which were handed from the stream about thirty yards distant, to the burning buildings by willing helpers.


News of the outbreak being being telegraphed to Tiverton, the engine and brigade from that village made a prompt appearance on the scene, in charge of its Captain, Mr. G. Short, and began at once their attempt to limit the scope of the fire, their praiseworthy efforts resulting in the saving of the shop and house of Mr. Short, grocer, adjoining that of Mr. Churchill.

The Exeter Brigade was also telegraphed for, and the steam fire engine reached Thorverton within 50 minutes of receiving the alarm, and steam being up, in less than two minutes the hose was run out and the engine playing on the fire. In a very short time no less than five jets were being thrown by the steamer, and with a force which speedily showed an effect. Very soon it became apparent that the Brigades would have their hands more than full, and, as a consequence, Superintendent Pett telegraphed to Exeter for a manual engine to be dispatched, which reached Thorverton in time to render very useful service.


A good deal of the furniture and effects of Mr. Plucknett were removed without being damaged by fire and water, but very little could be taken from the other two houses, whilst none was attempted from the shop and house of Mr. Short who is a great sufferer through the damage by water. There was no loss of life nor any serious accident, but some difficulty was experienced in removing Miss Dixon, a young lady staying at Mr. Plucknett's, who being an invalid was carried out in blankets and conveyed to Berry House, where she was kindly taken charge of by Mrs. Hill. Mr. Robert Churchill, who is 81 years of age, was in his house at the time of the fire and at first refused to leave, but was afterwards persuaded to do so.

During the afternoon, Fireman Vosper, of Exeter, had a narrow escape. He was inside one of the buildings engaged in playing on the flames when a portion of a ceiling fell in, almost on top of him. Vosper was struck in the back and his tunic torn. The fire was at its height from 2.30 to 3 o'clock, and burning pieces of thatch fell as far as a mile away, but it had very little chance after all three engines got to work, and the jets from the steamer were especially effective, so that by four o'clock all danger was over. It was, however, deemed necessary to still watch the smouldering embers, and the Exeter steamer was not brought back to the City until Monday morning.

The following were affected by the fire:

Mr. T. B. Plucknett (owner), dairyman, shop, dwelling house and two cottages, one of which was occupied by Mrs. Dickson, and the other unoccupied, all totally destroyed. Insured with the Commercial Assurance Company.

Mrs. Dyer (owner), an unoccupied but furnished house, destroyed. Insured with the Equitable Assurance Company.

Mr. R. Churchill (owner), saddle and harness maker; dwelling house and shop destroyed. Insured with the Commercial Union.

Mr. George W. Short (owner), shop, rafters burnt and damaged by fire and water. Insured with the Sun Fire Assurance.

Mrs. Uglow (occupier), thatched cottage, slight damage to the roof. Insured with the Sun Fire insurance.

Mrs. Dyer (owner), bakery, shop and dwelling house, roof destroyed and damage to stock-in-trade by water. Insured with the Equitable Assurance Company.

Mr. W. G. Sage, tailor, owner of cottage, damage to roof. Insured.

Mr. G. Lightfoot, occupier of cottage belonging to Mr. Burridge of Torquay, formerly of Thorverton, damage to roof. Insured.

Mr. G. Westcott, owner of cottage, damage to roof. Insured.

Much of the furniture which was removed from the buildings was stored in the schoolroom for safety. The damage is roughly estimated at about £2000.

In the evening, the scene of the fire was visited by hundreds of pedestrians and cyclists from Exeter, Crediton, Silverton and adjoining villages, greatly exaggerated reports of the extent of the conflagration having been circulated during the afternoon. Just as the fire of Sunday was at its height, there passed by the scene, the funeral of a little girl who died from the effects of burns received last week, and who h ad been brought back from Exeter Hospital to Thorverton for burial.

The smouldering ruins of Plucknett's dairy again burst into flames in two places at 9.15 on Tuesday but the application of a few buckets of water subdued the outbreak and prevented any sparks being blown  on to the thatched roofs i n the vicinity."


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