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Building burnt to the ground in Boltro Road

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Mid Sussex Times Tuesday, 26th October, 1915



As those engaged in business in Haywards Heath were returning to their occupations on Thursday afternoon, the fire bell in South Road sounded in areas, and from Boltro Road telephone messages were dispatched to the fire brigades at Lindfield and Burgess Hill asking their help, as the corn and forage stores occupied by Messrs Jenner and Higgs, near the railway lines, were ablaze.

As far as can be ascertained, Mr F. Harris (chief booking clerk at the station) and Porter Gatton were the first to notice that something was wrong. They were looking at 1:45 PM, from the window of the booking office of the up line and saw smoke issuing from the centre of the stores, where the hay is kept.

An alarm was promptly raised and soon there were shouts of “Fire, Fire!” and people came rushing to the scene from all directions.

In the stores were Messrs G. Patterson, J. Manvell and H.Sayers (storemen) and E. Johnson (office boy). They lost no time in the gathering up the books and the contents of two safes and bore them to a place of safety. It was impossible for them to look after anything else, for flames were issuing for all parts of the building.

It was a grand sight. The flames seemed to fly with each other in getting at, and consuming, the woodwork, which crackled after the manner of fireworks and periodically crashed into the sea of flame below.

Firemen belonging to the Haywards Heath Brigade, under their Captain (Mr G. Clark), were upon the scene and at work within seven minutes of the call. They first got the hose fixed to the hydrant opposite the police station. The nearest hydrant from Boltro Road was in Sydney Road and until the Lindfield Brigade, under Capt Sharman, arrived at half past two with their engine and hose it was not possible to use water from the latter hydrant.

In the meantime fireman A. Smith and police Sgt Short had established themselves on the top of Messrs Goldings motor garage (the cars were removed to a place of safety), and from this point they worked the hose with good effect from the garage and adjoining premises. Had there been a strong wind these premises would have been destroyed, undoubtedly.

The heat was intense, and more than once the woodwork caught alight. The shop windows, and some of those at Messrs Barclay's Bank suffered damage. The doors at the capital and Counties Bank were scorched, and here, again, the absence of wind prevented a serious blaze.

The Railway booking office was cleared of its contents, in case the worst would happen, but after half past two it was evident that the office was safe.

The Burgess Hill and Mid-Sussex fire Brigade and the engine, with sub-engineer W. Ball in charge, appeared on the scene about 2:45 PM, and although the engine was not brought into play the firemen lent valuable assistance to those already engaged in dealing with the trying situation. The Brighton railway fire engine came up from Brighton accompanied by Lieutenant F. A. Bone, and the good work in protecting the station property. For a time it was necessary to hold up the traffic on both lines owing to the scorching heat.

There were no end of willing helpers. The police, military, civilians and Boy Scouts did what they could, their efforts– at times beyond all praise– being eagerly watched by large crowds at various points of vantage.

Had the outbreak occurred at night the scene would have been thrilling in the extreme. As it was, those who witnessed it are never likely to forget it.

From the outset there was not the slightest chance of saving the corn stores or the contents, which included hay, straw, flour, oil cake, a gas engine, seed dossor, a winnowing machine etc. The building belonged to the Exors of the late E.J.Reeves, and, like the contents was insured. It has been standing upwards of 50 years.

Of course there are various speculations as to how the fire occurred. The most feasible suggestion is that sparks from an engine found their way through one of the four wooden ventilators along the lower end of the building and alighted on some hay. The flames evidently worked downwards and proceeded along the building, finding suitable material to feed upon all the way. It was to many an unsightly building– An eyesore–but to Messrs Jenner and Higgs it was most conveniently situated. They had occupied it for 40 years.

Business is now being conducted from the flour mills in Balcombe Road, Haywards Heath, and Messrs Jenner and Higgs will be obliged if their customers will forward their orders to that address.

Messrs Jenner and Higgs most sincerely thank all those who so kindly assisted in removing the books, papers etc from the office at the recent fire.

Thank you to Dave Tucker and Charles Tucker for sharing the photographs


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