The Great Fire of Evershot

Evershot. Dreadful fire. Twenty houses destroyed.

From the Western Gazette, Friday 29 September 1865

On Tuesday last, a dreadful fire, which was not extinguished until nearly twenty houses had been destroyed, and more than a hundred people had been rendered homeless, occurred in this little town. Summers Lane is a somewhat narrow thoroughfare leading out of the main street of the village in a southerly direction, towards Cattistock. On Tuesday, at noon, this lane contained several houses, but only one or two detached cottages now remain. It was on the west side of this lane, a few paces from the main street, and at the back of a house occupied by a carpenter named English, that the fire broke out. As far as we could ascertain from personal enquiries on the spot, it was caused by hot ashes placed in a back-house connected with Mr. English’s premises. The flames were discovered about one o’clock, the whole of the house being almost instantly enveloped in them, as if by magic. The neighbouring houses being thatched, and the thatch being as dry as tinder in consequence of the long-continued drought, P.C. Hare, and others who were on the spot immediately, at once saw that the whole of the lower end of the town was in danger and messengers were instantly despatched for the two engines kept at Melbury House. In the meantime, the wind blew the flames and sparks across the narrow thoroughfare, upon the roofs of the barn, slaughterhouse, &c., occupied by Mr. Trenchard, butcher, and these were soon discovered to be on fire. The flames now spread rapidly towards the main street, until the whole of the houses in Summers Lane, with the exception of the one or two detached cottages to which we have before referred, were one mass of fire, and the lane was no longer passable.

Telegraphic messages were now sent to Yeovil for more engines, and to Dorchester for a staff of policemen. The request for the engines reached Mr. Bradley, the Captain of the Yeovil Volunteer Fire Brigade, at a quarter past two, and his engine started in fifteen minutes after its receipt, and reached Evershot in 45 minutes. Before its arrival, however, the wind had changed and driven the flames across the main street, and house after house in this thoroughfare also fell a victim to the flames. At this time, the scene was a grand but dreadful one. Both sides of the street and the lane were masses of fire, both thoroughfares were impassable, the heat was so great that it was impossible to approach any of the burning premises, and it appeared probable that the fire would sweep up both sides of the street, and wipe Evershot out (as a Yankee would say) altogether. It was only by dint of the most strenuous and well-directed exertions of those in charge of one of the Melbury House engines, and of the Yeovil Brigade engine, that this catastrophe was averted, and the fire confined to the lower end of the village.

Two other engines were present a second from Melbury House and the West of England Company’s from Yeovil, but these were less serviceable than the two first named. To attempt to extinguish the fire in the seventeen or eighteen houses in which it was already raging was useless, and the efforts of the firemen were directed to the cutting off of the flames, and thus preventing their further spread up the street. There was an abundant supply of water in a stream, one or two hundred yards distant, or the engines would have been comparatively useless, and the total destruction the of the place inevitable. By keeping the houses next to those which were burning completely saturated with water, the firemen eventually succeeded in checking the progress of the flames, and saving the remainder of the little town.

The following are the names of the persons who were burned out of their houses:

Charles White, labourer; George Brett, tailor; E. Rutley, labourer; T. Frampton, labourer; A. English, carpenter; S. Christopher, butcher; W. Groves, labourer; J. Groves, shepherd; J. Childs, labourer; J. English, labourer; J. Tompkyns [?Tompkins], labourer; J. Groves, gamekeeper; A. Sartin, widow; J. Perrett, cooper; S. Chubb, shopkeeper; J. Edwards, bootmaker; E. Knell, tailor; S. Jessop, labourer. Besides the premises occupied by these persons, one empty house, and the barn, occupied by Mr. Trenchard, butcher, were entirely destroyed.

Those persons who lived in Summers Lane lost nearly the whole of their furniture; but those whose residences were in the main street, having more time to prepare for the reception of the enemy, managed to save the greater part of their property. The whole of the buildings were the property of the Earl of Ilchester, and were uninsured. Mr. Chubb’s stock and furniture were insured to some extent, but his loss will, nevertheless, amount to £100. With these exceptions, none of the property destroyed was, as far as we could ascertain, insured. A body of police soon arrived from Dorchester; and, under Supt. Brown, who happened to be in the village, and Sergeant Vickery, they rendered valuable assistance. We need hardly say that, at such a time as this, everybody turned out, and, without regard to class or station, and with a sublime indifference to dirt and discomfort, did all that could be done to arrest the progress of the flames. Among the most active were Mr. Baskett, solicitor, Mr. Martin, Mr. Baring, the Earl of Ilchester’s steward, the Rev.Greenhill, Mr. Clapcott, and Mr. Forward; and even the Rev. Collins, the clergyman of the parish, and his wife and daughters, were seen handing to each other the buckets of water for the engines. Mr. Clapcott, Mr. Collins, Mr. Martin and others, opened their houses and provided refreshments for all who needed them. One was almost tempted to lose sight for a moment of the crowd that had been rendered homeless, and to feel something like satisfaction that so fine an opportunity had been for once afforded for the working together in one common use, and with one mind and soul, of a whole community. Such a sight is certainly quite as uncommon as the destruction of half a town in a single afternoon.

Although the loss of property was great, no life was lost, nor any personal injury sustained. This being so, the inhabitants have good reason to comfort their souls with that reflection, so full of resignation and true philosophy, “It might have been worse.” We say that no “life” was lost; and when we say this, we are not thinking of human life only. It was reported that some pigs were unintentionally converted into roast pork, but we are happy to say that such was not the case, that the animals in question are still living, and that, whenever they go the way of all swine, they will probably do so in a strictly orthodox manner.

There has not yet been time for any steps to be taken to raise a fund for the relief of the poorer sufferers from this sad affair, but we are greatly mistaken in our estimate of the wealthy inhabitants of Evershot and its neighbourhood if some such steps are not taken shortly. Of the families left houseless, several were allowed to take possession of a large unoccupied house, the property of the Earl of Ilchester, some have gone away to a distance, and the remainder have been taken in temporarily by their neighbours. Our news-agent was burnt out among others, but we cannot refrain from expressing a hope that this circumstance will in no way interfere with the discharge of his duties on Friday. One calamity a week is enough; and it would be sad indeed if, immediately after such a catastrophe as that of Tuesday, the Evershot people should be deprived of their weekly copies of the Western Gazette.

Evershot Extensive Fire

From the Western Flying Post, 3 October 1865

This place was on Tuesday last the scene of one of the most destructive fires it has fallen to our lot to record. Eighteen dwelling-houses, besides a barn and some stalls, were totally destroyed, and but for the exertions of those entrusted with the working of the engines employed in stopping the progress of the flames, there is every reason to believe that property to a much greater amount would have fallen prey to the devouring element. As it is, the loss to the noble owner will, we understand, be considerable, and although many articles were saved, yet the greater proportion of the furniture, &c., belonging to the unfortunate inhabitants was destroyed. A grocer’s stock in trade and some fat pigs are also mentioned as being among the property lost on the occasion. On the breaking out of the fire the engine belonging to the Earl of Ilchester was soon on the spot, and a telegraphic message was sent to Captain Bradley, at Yeovil, requesting the aid of the Brigade. On receipt of the news a muster of the members was soon made, and the brigade drawn by four of Mrs Bulleu’s best horses, with their engine and apparatus, were soon on the scene. On their arrival they at once set to work, and in conjunction with the other engine succeeded in preventing the fire from spreading, and aided by a good supply of water, the fire was pretty well got under by eight o’clock. The engine belonging to the West of England Insurance Company from Yeovil which arrived during the evening, relieved the Brigade, who as soon as they saw no danger of the fire spreading, set off on their return journey, arriving at Yeovil at half-past nine. We are informed that very little of the property was insured. Many conjectures are made as to the origin of the fire, but the cause most generally assigned seems to be that some straw was ignited by wood ashes thrown by one of the tenants on the ground adjoining one of the houses. The thatched roof of one of the dwellings by some means was ignited and the rapid spread of the fire, aided by the wind was the result. This catastrophe has rendered some twenty families houseless.

Evershot The late Fire

From The Dorset County Chronicle, 5 October 1865

We learn that to mitigate the losses of the poor cottagers a subscription has been started, and the youthful Earl of Ilchester, Mrs. Strangways, Mr. Martin and the principal residents are among the subscribers. Eighteen families, living in fourteen houses, have severely felt the ravages of the fire. Their names are as follows: Aubrey English, carpenter (in whose house the fire is supposed to have commenced); Charles White, labourer; George Brett, tailor; Edward Rutley, labourer; Thomas Frampton, labourer; Stephen Christopher, butcher; John Groves, labourer; John Groves, jun., gamekeeper; John English, labourer; James Childs, labourer; John Tompkins (?Tompkyns), labourer; Ann Sartin, widow; John Perrett, cooper; Samuel Chubb, grocer; John Edwards, shoemaker; Esau Knell, tailor; and Samuel Jessop, labourer. In addition to the destruction of the cottages we learn that two stables, two slaughter-houses, a barn, cowshed, and several linhays [a shed or other farm building open in front, usually with a lean-to roof (Shorter OED)] were involved in the conflagration. Mr. Chubb’s stock-in-trade we hear was insured in the West of England Insurance Office; and Mr. Trenchard, butcher, who had property in the outbuildings, was also insured in the same office. The cottagers’ furniture suffered as much from the hasty removal as from the effects of the fire, and we hope the subscription list will be sufficient to recoup them for the loss they have sustained. The total damage is estimated at about £3000.

Evershot The Late Fire.

From the Western Gazette, Friday 6 October 1865

We regret to state that a number of unprincipled people carried off many of the articles rescued from the flames. A correspondent informs us that plunder was the order of the day. Blankets and bedroom carpets which had been saved from the fire disappeared most mysteriously, and the contents of a butt of cider, the property of Mr. S. Christopher, which had been removed to Mr. Knell’s garden for safety, were likewise stolen.We trust that the heartless wretches who took advantage of this great calamity to rob their neighbours may be speedily brought to justice. On Sunday by nine o’clock, the inhabitants of the neighbouring towns and villages began to pour into the place to view the scene of the fire. The street was literally crowded throughout the day, not less than from 600 to 1,000 people being present at one time. In the evening, the church was crowded, many strangers being present in the expectation of hearing the Rev. E. Collins make some reference to the sad event. The rev. gentleman selected his text from the first verse of the 27th chapter of Proverbs:

“For thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” A considerable part of his sermon related to the recent catastrophe, so that those who went to hear his references to the one topic of the week were not disappointed. We are pleased to find that a subscription has been set on foot for the benefit of the poorer sufferers, and that the youthful Earl of Ilchester, Mr. Martin, and other gentlemen in the neighbourhood, have contributed liberally. £70 was raised in two days.

One thought on “The Great Fire of Evershot

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *