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Rushden Echo, Friday 25th March 1904
William Hewitt & James Hyde - Fire

Disastrous Fire at Rushden

Shoe Factory Gutted - Damage £3,000

Rushden was the scene of another disastrous fire on Wednesday afternoon

The outbreak occurred at the factory in Glassbrook Road, off Wellingborough Road, which was originally occupied by Mr. William Hewitt, boot and shoe manufacturer. Recently Mr. Hewitt formed the concern into a company under the name of Messrs. Hewitt, Sharp, Smart and Co. Ltd  who occupied part of the building in the manufacture of boots and shoes, whilst the other part of the premises was let to Messrs. James Hyde and Co. boot closers.

The fire was discovered some minutes after the employees had left for dinner at 12.30. People walking by the factory noticed dense volumes of smoke coming from the part of the factory in the occupation of Messrs. Hyde. The Fire Brigade was at once summoned, and under Captain Fred Knight they were quickly on the scene, but it was obvious that there was no chance of saving the building.

The roof fell in half an hour after the discovery of the fire and soon only the walls remained standing. The Fire Brigade got a moderately good   supply of water, and judiciously concentrated their efforts on the preservation of the adjoining property. The houses nearest to the factory were occupied by Mr. T. Swannell, Mr. E. Swannell, and Mr. Perkins who fearing that their dwellings might become involved, removed their furniture.

The outbreak occurring during the dinner-hour, a large crowd soon congregated. At one time the flames were leaping fully fifty feet into the air.

Immediately on the fire being discovered, information was conveyed to Engineer John Thomas Colson of the Rushden Fire Brigade, who lived near (in Moor Road) and who promptly telephoned to the fire-station. There the care-taker at once called the brigade. This was about 12.45. The firemen quickly responded to the call, with the exception of First Officer C. E. Bayes and Fireman T. Wheeler, who were out of town. Some minutes before 1 o’clock the brigade were at the scene of the fire viz; Capt. Fred Knight (in command), Engineer J. T. Colson, and Firemen Green, Seckington, Staniland, Sparrow, Underwood, Twelvetree and Whiting. Several of the men ran up with the hand cart and 500 feet of hose and Firemen Seckington, Staniland and Whiting at once set to work in the side entrance to the factory, playing on the stairs and the gas engines where at that time the fire was hottest. A few minutes after this, the other members of the brigade came up with the manual.  With commendable presence of mind, Engineer Colson had taken the precaution, whilst passing Mr. James Sargent’s house, to see after the horses. Secretary G. R. Turner and Fireman Sparrow turned up promptly with the fire escape, which was found to be of great use.  When the brigade found it was a hopeless task to try and subdue the flames which were devastating the factory they wisely resolved to devote the major portion of their efforts to the protection of the adjoining property. The fire escape was run out to the top of the three houses referred to, and a stream of water from the Wellingborough Road hydrant was directed on to the premises. The engine took its stand in the Brookfield Road and supplied Firemen Green, Twelvetree and Staniland with water to protect the back of the houses, the three firemen being stationed on the roof. When they found they had saved the houses they went back to the factory to put out the smoking debris, and the two branches continued to play on the smouldering mass until about 3 pm when it was found safe to leave.

There can be no question that the premises could have been saved if there had been any means of turning off the gas at the main.

As it was all the time there was an immense flame five or six feet high from the escaping gas, the pipes having been melted.

The origin of the fire is not known. It is supposed to have broken out in the engine room at Messrs. Hewitts end of the premises. The factory was closed at 12.30 when the work people went to dinner. It was seven or eight minutes then that the smoke was first seen.

Mr. William Hewitt was in London on Wednesday. On the return journey a travelling companion purchased a London evening paper at St. Albans, and caught sight of a brief telegram announcing the destruction of the factory. He at once pointed out the paragraph to Mr. Hewitt, who thereby first learned of the fire. Mr. Hewitt, we believe has ceased to be a director of the firm and is their travelling representative.

Messrs. Hewitt employed about 20 or 30 men, and a good many girls were employed by Messrs. Hyde, and these will be thrown out of work for a time. 

The damage is roughly estimated at £3000. The building was the property of Mr. T. Swindall.

Messrs. Hyde had about 40 closing machines on the premises and most of them had only been put in about a week. A large quantity of leather and uppers were stored in the factory. 

Inspector Onan, P.S. Slaughter, and a staff of policemen were speedily on the scene, and Superintendent Alexander of Wellingborough visited the fire during the afternoon.

On Monday evening Captain Knight put each of the firemen through the manual one-man drill, the work being done very smartly. On the preceding Saturday the brigade had had a wet drill and the hose was wrapped up on Monday evening after drying, being left quite ready for use.

Transcribed by Gill Hollis
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