1879 High Street Fire

From Historical Hastings

Reporting in the Hastings & St Leonards Observer of the fire at 48 High Street December 1879[1]:

GREAT FIRE IN HIGH ST. The residents in the neighbourhood of High-street were thrown into a state of alarm on Thursday night by the awful cry of “Fire! Fire!" This at once put a damper upon all enjoyment, and soon almost every house was deserted, judging from the great crowd which very soon collected near the Police-station. On arriving at the scene of the conflagration, we saw that No. 48, High-street was in flames. The origin of the fire is not known; but at about 7.30 Mr. J. C. Miller, his father, and some other persons who were strolling about in the locality, saw a quantity of smoke curling over the tops of the houses.

Mr. Miller ran down Post Office-passage into the back yards of some of the houses, and there saw flames issuing from the lower windows of the house occupied by Mr. G. Coldwell, grocer, and Mr. R. Smith, shoemaker and hatter. He at once rushed to the Police-station, and gave the alarm, and then proceeded to call together the members of No. 2 section, to which he belongs. The engines of the St. Leonards and Halton stations, together with the St. Leonards "steamer," were also called out, and, in a very short space of time the whole five sections were on the spot and at work, under the superintendence of Capt. Glenister. This gentleman thought it best to use the hydrants instead of the manuals, as this would save a great deal of labour in pumping, and would be quite as serviceable. We believe that this is the first time this system has used in Hastings for the purpose of extinguishing a fire.

The residents in the adjoining houses also began to pack up their traps and valuables ready to start off at any moment. Happily for them, however, they had not to undergo the trouble of finding "a night's lodgings", as the fire was principally confined to the house in which it broke out. Both Mr. Coldwell and Mr. Smith were away from the town. The latter went away in the early morning on a visit to some friends, and the former journeyed to London by the evening train. The fire was first discovered at 7.30, and at 11.30—or within four hours—all danger was past.

Mr. J. Miller, of Queen's Road, has kindly favoured us with the following account:—At about twenty minutes past seven on Thursday night, my father-in-law (Mr H. R. Kent) and myself were walking up through George-street. We had got as far as Messrs. Alderton and Shrewsbury's, the ironmongers, when we saw dense smoke, and at the same time, smelt something burning. We at once came to the conclusion that there was a fire somewhere. We walked on up through High-street as far as the Town Hall, and there we saw some smoke coming over the tops of the houses. It proceeded from the rear of Mr. Coldwell's grocer's shop. I called out to Sergt. Dennis, who was in the Police-station, and then with Mr. Kent ran down the Post-office passage, under the archway, near the Winding-street rooms, and into the yard at the rear of Coldwell's house. Just as we got there the flames burst through the windows on the second floor of the large warehouse. We gave the alarm. Mr. Kent proceeded to assist in getting the No. 1 engine out. I ran down to No. 2 station, and with the call boy got as many men together as we could. The horses were immediately got out, and we proceeded to High-street. When I left the Town Hall it was about 7.30, and it was about five minutes to eight when we arrived on scene with our engine. Mr. Kent and myself are both in No2 section. When we got to High-street the members of No. 1 Brigade had been playing on the flames for some few minutes. No. 4 Section next arrived, and after them came the St. Leonards section and the Steam Brigade with their steamer. No manual engines were used. No. 1 played from a hydrant in Winding-street. Nos 2 and 3 from one in Courthouse-street and No. 4 from a hydrant in Hill-street. The "steamer" took up a position at the bottom of Swan-lane, opposite Mr. Spencer's shop. A hose reel was attached to a hydrant in Courthouse-street and carried through passages and over walls to the rear of the building. All the members of the Brigade worked very hard right up to twelve o'clock, when all danger was declared to be over. No. 1 section was left in charge daring the night.

The St. Leonards Steam Engine, which is one of Merryweather's, worked splendidly and threw out an immense body of water. Soon after we began to play on the fire, it became evident that all our efforts would not save the building known as 48, High-street. We therefore directed our attention to the premises of Mr. Duke, butcher, and Mr. Eaton, draper, and tried all we could to save their property. The coastguard, firemen, and a few others helped Mr. Eaton to clear out his stock, which was placed in No. 1 engine house. The premises in which the fire broke out were completely gutted. Part of the roof of No. 49 (Mr. Duke's) was burnt, and the roof of No. 47 (Mr. Eaton's) was completely burnt away. His house also suffered greatly from the amount of water which was poured into it.

All seem to award great praise to the Fire Brigade for the manner in which they worked together, and everybody seemed astonished at the amount of water thrown up by the "steamer." She worked splendidly. This is the first occasion that has arisen for giving her an opportunity of showing what she was capable of doing, and it was proved that all that has been said about her was not boasting, but the plain truth. Mr. Glenister is also deserving of praise for the training through which he has put his men. They are thoroughly acquainted with their duties. The hydrants were also worked without a fault.

References & Notes

Report found by I. Shiner