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Northampton Mercury Newspaper 10th March 1877, courtesy of Northampton Library Services (Local Studies)

Rushden - Destructive Fire

Mr. John Cave's Factory

The largest and most destructive fire that can be remembered by any person living in Rushden broke out on the premises of Mr. John Cave, army contractor, about midnight on Monday. The factory, which was originally in two portions, was situated in the chief street of the village. The frontage, some 18 months since used as a dwelling-house, two storeys high, was built in red brick and was backed by a block erected for factory purposes, the latter building being of three storeys. These two portions had been connected, and formed a good-sized shop, three sided in shape, resembling three sides of a square; the depth of the whole was about 32 yards, the breadth of the frontage being about twelve. The back line, overlooking a field, was 16 yards in breadth, the centre block, connection the two ends, being from eight to nine yards across. The field end of the building was one storey only, containing the boiler-house and engine-room. The ground floor, starting from the street, was chiefly used as storage, the remaining portion being taken up with offices, and a room for taking in work. Above this, still in the dwelling-house portion, was the girls machine-room, in which there were from 16 to 18 machines in constant work, employing 24 girls and one man. Adjoining this room were two smaller rooms used as store rooms. On the ground floor of the centre block was the rough-stuff and cutting room, in which 14 hands were employed. The machines, most of which were lately new, comprised cutting presses, Illingworth’s patent sole press, an American champion pegging machine, a Blake’s sewing machine, heeling machine and a paring machine. The machinery in the room, which took in a portion of the field end, ran round and adjoined the engine-room, was driven by that engine, a four-horse horizontal, by Walter. The second storey was the shoe and packing-room, in which there were four punching and eyeletting machines. The number of men employed there was six. The clickers’ room occupied the top storey, and in this were placed two eyeletting machines and a blocking machine; 15 men being employed, making a total of 60 in-door workers on the factory. A heavy army order had some short time since been received, to meet which the proprietor had obtained a large quantity of leather, a portion of which had been made up. Although most places had been complaining of the depression in trade, Rushden had been singularly fortunate in procuring orders. Some of the shops had during the winter been working over-time, and Mr. John Cave’s men were not behind their neighbours. Trade with them had been brisk, and from eight to ten thousand pairs of boots were in the factory on Monday, of which a thousand were “army”, indeed the building might be said to have been literally packed with material. The fire was discovered about half-past twelve o’clock at the bottom end of the shoe-room, the only place where an open fire-place was used, the remainder of the factory being heated with steam pipes. It was noticed at the same time by Mr. Pearce, a surgeon, of Higham Ferrers, who was returning from Irchester home; by the Rev. A. E. Osborn, the curate of the parish, living just opposite the field end of the building; by Mrs. Cave, who noticed a smell of burning elastic sides; and by the schoolmaster, Mr. Hustwaite. Mrs. Cave roused the household, and just as they were dressing, information was given by the other three gentlemen, immediately after which Mr. Pearce drove on to Higham to give notice of the fire to Mr. Sargeant, under whom the engine was manned. On first going to the factory, the end of the clickers’ and shoe-rooms were found to be enveloped in flames, and, shortly after, the flooring of the centre falling through, the conflagration extended to the lower storey. The fire soon passed along the centre block, and in about half-an-hour the whole building was completely covered with flames. The light and heat given forth was tremendous, and the awful grandeur was fully shown on the falling of the roof. About 1.30 the Higham engine, drawn by a band of men – for they had not waited to obtain horses – arrived, and immediately some two or three hundred men were told off to supply the engine with water from wells both above and below the scene of the fire. They formed themselves in a double line, and they are deserving of much praise for the indefatigable manner in which they passed and re-passed the buckets. Without their assistance it is certain that the fire would have extended to the building immediately adjoining the factory. The firemen, as soon as they had got their engine in play, set to work to save those houses. The furniture was cleared out, and the hose kept playing on the walls, the property with great difficulty being saved. The wind, which had to this time been blowing with great force, partially subsided, and their task was considerably lightened. Had it continued all night as it was at the commencement of the fire, there is no doubt the neighbouring houses, notwithstanding the efforts of the Higham men, would have met with the same fate as the factory. A man named Edmund Chettle had, in the meantime, been started to obtain assistance from Wellingborough. He, however, did not arrive there as soon as expected, for, it is reported, he was stopped some considerable time at the Wellingborough toll-gate, the man refusing to let him through. It is said that he finally obtained a passage by leaving his coat as hostage for the gate money. On reaching Wellingborough he gave information to the authorities, and the men having been summoned up, the horses were put to, and a start was made to the scene of the fire as quickly as possible. On arriving there, however, the Wellingborough band found that the Higham firemen had, assisted by the lulling of the storm, sufficiently got the fire under to ensure the next building from all risk, so they, without rendering any help with their machine, returned. The fire of the factory itself raged until ten o’clock the next morning, soon after which the Higham engine was drawn off, leaving the ruins smouldering. The fire was finally put out on Wednesday. The place was completely gutted, the walls, of the middle block, only being left. That position of the building was, on Wednesday, a picture of desolation. The end wall, in which there were three windows, was in a tottering state, the bricks between the apertures looking as though they needed but a small breath of wind to bring the whole lot into the ruin below. The side wall, that towards the railway, was of heavy stonework, and was remaining; that opposite it, forming the other boundary wall of the centre building was, however, in a worse state. Between these three walls was a conglomerated mass of burned bricks, broken machinery, large gas pipes, and charred beams, from which rose a heavy smoke, lighted at times by small flames, which flickered for a few minutes, and then went out. To add to the dreariness of the scene, during the day snow, interspersed with rain and hail, fell, the sun hardly showing himself the whole time; the front house was about three-fourths destroyed, the walls of the two store rooms on the second storey, which adjoined the machine-room, being left standing. These rooms were, however, roofless. In the back of these two was a large stack of shoes, which, being unable to be removed in time, were baked through like a stack of bricks, and totally spoiled, the leather in all of them having been rendered quite brittle. The damage is estimated between £7,000 and £8,000, new machinery having been introduced some short time since at a cost of over £1,000. The premises and most of the stock were insured in the Norwich Union, with Mr. Simpson, of Higham. No one was hurt in rendering assistance on Monday, with the exception of a large dog, kept on the premises, which it is suspected met with its death from suffocation. By this fire between two and three hundred men will, for a short time, be thrown out of work, until a temporary place is obtained to carry on the business during the re-building of the premises. The factory was situated on the brow of the hill, so that the light of the conflagration was seen for miles round. The cause of the fire has not yet been discovered, but it is suspected to have originated from the fireplace in the shoe-room.

16 June 1877 - Northampton Mercury 

The Clerk reported that in the case of the late fire at Mr. Cave's, Rushden, the expenses for the services of the fire brigade, £10 2s. 0d., had been paid by the Norwich Union, but with a protest against ….. 

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