In the early 1900s there were several very serious fires in Rushden. The first of these was in March 1900 at the premises occupied by Mr. J. G. Buckle and Mr. S. Powell at the north end of the High Street which is now the Blue Corner Café. Mr. Buckle was an outfitter and clothier and Mr. Powell a photographer. The fire was so serious that a special edition of the Rushden Echo was printed to report on it.
The fire was spotted late on Sunday evening by two police constables, one of whom broke open the door and called Mr. Powell. The other ran the length of the High Street to St. Mary’s Church to ring the fire bell (the No. 5 bell) and a young lad who had joined him ran round to Griffith Street, where the hose cart was kept, to raise the firemen.
The seven firemen brought the hose cart and using a dozen lengths of hose managed to get a good supply of water. This was lucky because the town water supply at that time was not always good and was often turned off at night. The fire spread very quickly and it soon became obvious that Mr. Buckle’s premises could not be saved. At one point the roof fell in and at first it was feared that one of the firemen had fallen with it, but fortunately that proved to be untrue. By 2.30 a.m. the next day the fire had been put out but three premises were damaged, although Mr. Powell was able to continue his business. Mr. Buckle was to have been married that day.
The first most Rushden people would have known about the fire was the next morning when the boys were on the streets shouting the special edition of the “Rushden Echo.”
The damage was estimated at £3,000 but was covered by insurance. In another article the estimate was £1,901. The property was owned by Mrs. Wappenham of Towcester.
The fire damaged building
The hose cart
Probably the worst fire was in July 1901 when the factory owned by John Cave, shoe manufacturer, burned down. The factory fronted the High Street with shops on the ground level. The fire started around lunch time and by 1.45 p.m. the whole of the rear of the factory was in flames.
Valuables were removed from the shops in the front of the factory and from the Rose and Crown Inn which is close by.
The firemen were very quickly on the scene but there was little water available. However, by using their long ladder they were able to enter the upper floors of the building and large quantities of boots and shoes were thrown into the High Street.
The fire spread across Alfred Street to the school, and in spite of the thatch on the shops opposite the factory in High Street being hosed they also caught fire and were destroyed. At one time it was feared most of the High Street would be lost. Fire Brigades from Wellingborough, Irthlingborough and Higham Ferrers also attended but there was little they could do.
When a factory was destroyed obviously a lot of men were put out of work and in this case it was about 400 plus all the outworkers. A relief fund was immediately set up, but it was hoped that some of the men could find work in the new Co-operative Wholesale Society factory, which was almost complete.
The fire damage in the High Street
The fire damage in Alfred Street
Another really serious factory fire was in 1907 when the premises of Messrs. Ellard and Howes, boot and shoe manufacturers, in York Road, Rushden burned down.
This fire started on a Saturday afternoon and again the Fire Brigade were quickly in attendance. The fire spread very rapidly and in half an hour part of the roof had fallen in. At one time it was feared adjoining property was in danger but the prompt action of the firemen fortunately prevented the fire from spreading beyond the factory, although some of the residents of the neighbouring properties had started to panic and removed some of their things.
Within a short time the fire had burned itself out until only the skeleton of the walls remained.
The damage was estimated at about £6,000 but this was covered by insurance.
100 people worked at the factory but Messrs, Ellard and Howes were able to take over other premises so no-one was put out of work.
Inside the factory after the fire
A view of the fire in York Road
At over a hundred years distance a less serious fire which happened in July 1908, seems like some sort of comedy.
A terrific thunderstorm burst over Rushden during the night of July 3, and fire broke out at the premises of the Rushden Brick and Tile Co., in Wellingborough Road. The firemen were at the station and kitted out within a few minutes, but they were unsure whether they could get their steamer near the building. One of the firemen was despatched on his bicycle to check out the situation. He obviously decided they could use the steamer and headed back to the station “with all speed.” On the way he met some of the firemen marching to the fire. Back at the station difficulty was experienced in contacting Mr. James Sargent, to obtain the horses, because the storm had damaged the phone lines.
When the firemen eventually got the steamer to the site they couldn’t get it near the fire so they left it on the road and “did what they could in other ways” to prevent the fire spreading. Helped by the police and a few spectators (Health and Safety hadn’t been invented then) they managed to contain the fire but the drying shed was completely destroyed.
Full accounts of these fires, and many more, can be seen at the Rushden Museum.