BIG BLAZE AT IVYBRIDGE

Allen and Sons’ Paper Mills on Fire

These were the news headlines following a major incident which occurred at Stowford Paper Mill on 5th May 1914. A fire which started in the main building soon took hold of the entire structure.

 

Local people along with mill workers gathered outside to watch the spectacle as smoke billowed high into the air. The fire proved to be devastating, curtailing paper production until the building was repaired and creating hardship for the workforce for almost a year. The whole event was recorded in substantial detail in the local newspaper the following day which has helped historians appreciate the scale of the disaster.

BIG BLAZE AT IVYBRIDGE

Allen and Sons’ Paper Mills on Fire

These were the news headlines following a major incident which occurred at Stowford Paper Mill on 5th May 1914. A fire which started in the main building soon took hold of the entire structure.

 

Local people along with mill workers gathered outside to watch the spectacle as smoke billowed high into the air. The fire proved to be devastating, curtailing paper production until the building was repaired and creating hardship for the workforce for almost a year. The whole event was recorded in substantial detail in the local newspaper the following day which has helped historians appreciate the scale of the disaster.

In 1910, Stowford Paper Mill had been taken over by the Clapperton Syndicate and made into a limited company, with Mr. George Clapperton as managing director and Mr. James Carter Allen as company secretary. Trade at the time was reported to be ‘fairly good’ prompting the new company to invest in a new engine house and chimney stack. A red brick building stands to this day with the date 1914 recorded within its walls.

 

Towering above the new engine house was the main building of the paper mill, a five storey building with a basement under the western end where the ground sloped towards the river. To the front of the building the words “Stowford Paper Mills, 1862” record the date which it was extended and modernised.

 

The fire broke out during the early morning of 5 May 1914 at about a quarter past six just after the men working on the night shift had left work. Other men were working on the floors devoted to the beating and bleaching processes but fortunately there were no women at work on the top storey as they were not due to start work until eight o’clock. In a very short time the smoke was so black and dense that the employees on the floors above could not see their way downstairs. However, ‘thoroughly familiar with the means of exit, they managed to feel their way about’ to reach safety outside.

The fire had started within the large building and by the following morning only the brick walls remained. The structure had been completely gutted and was seriously cracked where the building had bulged under the intense heat. The origin of the fire at the time was not clearly ascertained.  The basement of the large building housed a large turbine engine with belting and ropes providing the necessary power to the other floors.  It was assumed that the belts and ropes caught fire which then quickly spread from floor to floor, given the profusion of timber throughout the building.

 

Harford Road, which abuts the paper mill on the east side the building, had to be barricaded as a precaution, should the wall eventually fall down and injure passers-by.

 

Stowford Lodge, which historically was the residence of the mill owners was now occupied by the Devon School of Gardening for Ladies. Although the building was in no danger, ‘much excitement’ was reported due to the fire and the invasion of the grounds by fire engines attending the unfolding scene.

In 1910, Stowford Paper Mill had been taken over by the Clapperton Syndicate and made into a limited company, with Mr. George Clapperton as managing director and Mr. James Carter Allen as company secretary. Trade at the time was reported to be ‘fairly good’ prompting the new company to invest in a new engine house and chimney stack. A red brick building stands to this day with the date 1914 recorded within its walls.

 

Towering above the new engine house was the main building of the paper mill, a five storey building with a basement under the western end where the ground sloped towards the river. To the front of the building the words “Stowford Paper Mills, 1862” record the date which it was extended and modernised.

 

The fire broke out during the early morning of 5 May 1914 at about a quarter past six just after the men working on the night shift had left work. Other men were working on the floors devoted to the beating and bleaching processes but fortunately there were no women at work on the top storey as they were not due to start work until eight o’clock. In a very short time the smoke was so black and dense that the employees on the floors above could not see their way downstairs. However, ‘thoroughly familiar with the means of exit, they managed to feel their way about’ to reach safety outside.

 

The fire had started within the large building and by the following morning only the brick walls remained. The structure had been completely gutted and was seriously cracked where the building had bulged under the intense heat. The origin of the fire at the time was not clearly ascertained.  The basement of the large building housed a large turbine engine with belting and ropes providing the necessary power to the other floors.  It was assumed that the belts and ropes caught fire which then quickly spread from floor to floor, given the profusion of timber throughout the building.

 

Harford Road, which abuts the paper mill on the east side the building, had to be barricaded as a precaution, should the wall eventually fall down and injure passers-by.

 

Stowford Lodge, which historically was the residence of the mill owners was now occupied by the Devon School of Gardening for Ladies. Although the building was in no danger, ‘much excitement’ was reported due to the fire and the invasion of the grounds by fire engines attending the unfolding scene.

Fanned by what was described as a ‘stiffish breeze’ the flames travelled from floor to floor spreading with great rapidity ‘flames coming from the windows of nearly every storey’ and threatening to spread to  adjoining buildings.

 

 A small manual engine which was kept at the mill was promptly put to good use but it quickly became apparent that further help would be required. The local Ivybridge fire engine was first to arrive. The superintendent, Mr. William Full, a surveyor for the Urban District Council by profession, and Captain William Martin received the alarm at about a quarter to seven. As most of the men were just going to work, they were at the mill in a few minutes. However, by the time they arrived at the scene it was already apparent that nothing could be done to save the building so efforts were directed at preserving the rest of the property.

 

The Plympton Brigade and their manual engine, under Supt. W. H. Hockin were next to arrive. Twelve men and the engine were at the fire within an hour. Last to arrive was the Stonehouse Brigade. Mr. F. W. Thuell, captain of the brigade, accompanied by Mr. O. R. Matthews, deputy chairman of the District Council, and Mr Mitchell, chairman of the fire engine committee, motored out to prepare for the arrival of the brigade.  The Stonehouse steam engine reached Ivybridge at 9 o’clock. A squad from the George Street Church Ambulance Corps, Plymouth, was also in attendance.

Fanned by what was described as a ‘stiffish breeze’ the flames travelled from floor to floor spreading with great rapidity ‘flames coming from the windows of nearly every storey’ and threatening to spread to  adjoining buildings.

 

 A small manual engine which was kept at the mill was promptly put to good use but it quickly became apparent that further help would be required. The local Ivybridge fire engine was first to arrive. The superintendent, Mr. William Full, a surveyor for the Urban District Council by profession, and Captain William Martin received the alarm at about a quarter to seven. As most of the men were just going to work, they were at the mill in a few minutes. However, by the time they arrived at the scene it was already apparent that nothing could be done to save the building so efforts were directed at preserving the rest of the property.

 

The Plympton Brigade and their manual engine, under Supt. W. H. Hockin were next to arrive. Twelve men and the engine were at the fire within an hour. Last to arrive was the Stonehouse Brigade. Mr. F. W. Thuell, captain of the brigade, accompanied by Mr. O. R. Matthews, deputy chairman of the District Council, and Mr Mitchell, chairman of the fire engine committee, motored out to prepare for the arrival of the brigade.  The Stonehouse steam engine reached Ivybridge at 9 o’clock. A squad from the George Street Church Ambulance Corps, Plymouth, was also in attendance.

Onlookers in Mill Grounds

IVYBRIDGE FIRE RELIEF FUND

During May a special committee in Ivybridge created a relief fund for all those who had been ‘thrown out of work by the disastrous fire’. An appeal made by the Chairman of Ivybridge Urban Council, Henry John Fice Lee, urged the public to be generous given the plight of those affected. In aid of the fund a charge of 3d. was made to view the scene of the disaster, whilst the gardens were open to the public on payment of an admission fee of 6d.

Onlookers in Mill Grounds

IVYBRIDGE FIRE RELIEF FUND

During May a special committee in Ivybridge created a relief fund for all those who had been ‘thrown out of work by the disastrous fire’. An appeal made by the Chairman of Ivybridge Urban Council, Henry John Fice Lee, urged the public to be generous given the plight of those affected. In aid of the fund a charge of 3d. was made to view the scene of the disaster, whilst the gardens were open to the public on payment of an admission fee of 6d.

Despite their best efforts the five storeys of the main building were quickly burnt through and by 7.45 am the roof collapsed. The roofs of some of the other buildings were damaged but as they were all low they were largely out of the reach of the fire in the main building.  The firemen worked with ‘commendable skill and determination, taking their hoses along the roofs of the buildings and keeping a steady stream of water upon the flames, thus preventing the fire from spreading’.

Despite their best efforts the five storeys of the main building were quickly burnt through and by 7.45 am the roof collapsed. The roofs of some of the other buildings were damaged but as they were all low they were largely out of the reach of the fire in the main building.  The firemen worked with ‘commendable skill and determination, taking their hoses along the roofs of the buildings and keeping a steady stream of water upon the flames, thus preventing the fire from spreading’.

 

By 10 o’clock the fire had been brought under control. Apart from the workshop, the damage was limited to a low long building through which the launder channelled water to the rag boilers. The wooden launder, whilst charred, remained intact. For several hours afterwards, the hoses were directed onto the burning debris at the bottom of the building. This consisted of bales of compressed rags and wood pulp and they continued to smoulder producing vast clouds of smoke.  A number of cutting machines were also in the building. Thankfully there had been a plentiful supply of water from the launder which brought water from the external leat. However, there was no pressure and had the new water scheme planned for Ivybridge been operational the fire might have been tackled more proficiently during the early stages as the new reservoir situated at 800 feet above sea level would have provided adequate pressure.

 

There had been many willing helpers throughout the morning. The hand-engines had been manned not only by men but also young women who ‘displayed remarkable endurance at what was decidedly arduous work.’ Also, when the Mill House which adjoined the rag-sorting department became in danger from the fire, volunteers assisted in removing all the furniture to a field close by. ‘That this precaution was wise was evident from the fact that some of the articles in the house were almost too hot to handle’. The furniture, which belonged to mill foreman James Purdie who lived at the Mill House, was later transferred to Stowford Lodge and the Devon School of Gardening.

By the following morning it was clear that major damage had been sustained to the mill. The rag loft was completely gutted. Other adjoining buildings were also damaged, as was the water turbine whilst valuable machinery used for dealing with the rags had been destroyed. The larger quantity of machinery housed elsewhere was fortunately undamaged. The new engine house which was still in the process of completion was also saved.

 

It was feared that the incident would close the mill, as was often the case following fire around this time. However, Stowford Mill was one of the lucky ones and was successfully repaired. The total cost of the restoration was approximately £14,000. The buildings and their contents had thankfully been insured by several fire insurance companies.

During the reconstruction of the mill the workforce experienced reduced hour working, a hardship which was to last for almost a year until the building was re-established. It was also at the outbreak of the First World War with men up and down the land conscripting for military service. George Clapperton, the Managing Director reported that with his connection with several other paper mills, around three quarters of the male workers at these sites were enlisting and that it was impossible to get women or inferior labour to conduct such skilled work. It is not known exactly what proportion of the labour force was affected in Ivybridge.

 

In 1916 a local press article reported that the mill had to apply for an exemption of the only remaining stoker on the grounds that they were unable to replace him and without his daily 16 hour shift the mill would have to close. Thankfully the exemption was granted on condition that he remained in his current employment. Coal was of course used to fuel the boilers which provided the power for the machinery. Orders for paper remained scarce throughout the war years and even after the armistice was declared, making it a difficult period in the history of the paper mill.

SAFETY MEASURES INTRODUCED AFTER THE FIRE

 

When the paper mill restarted, a new but fairly primitive sprinkler system had been installed to avoid fire damage from happening again. However, there was a problem, the headroom between the five floors of the rag loft building was very low and the sprinkler heads were constantly being knocked accidentally and the floors flooded. In desperation, holes were drilled in each of the wooden floors to allow the water to drain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the day of the fire it had been ‘a mercy the fire did not occur an hour or two later, when all the women and girls would have been at work in the very top storey of the building’. The staircase on that fateful day had rapidly filled with smoke so any rescue would have proved extremely difficult. During the rebuilding work and to avoid any such recurrence, the owners added a series of external metal steps providing an alternative method of egress and fire escape. These steps remained in situ throughout the working life of the mill, becoming integral to one of the iconic building of Ivybridge.

By 10 o’clock the fire had been brought under control. Apart from the workshop, the damage was limited to a low long building through which the launder channelled water to the rag boilers. The wooden launder, whilst charred, remained intact. For several hours afterwards, the hoses were directed onto the burning debris at the bottom of the building.This consisted of bales of compressed rags and wood pulp and they continued to smoulder producing vast clouds of smoke. A number of cutting machines were also in the building. Thankfully there had been a plentiful supply of water from the launder which brought water from the external leat. However, there was no pressure and had the new water scheme planned for Ivybridge been operational the fire might have been tackled more proficiently during the early stages as the new reservoir situated at 800 feet above sea level would have provided adequate pressure.

 

There had been many willing helpers throughout the morning. The hand-engines had been manned not only by men but also young women who ‘displayed remarkable endurance at what was decidedly arduous work.’ Also, when the Mill House which adjoined the rag-sorting department became in danger from the fire, volunteers assisted in removing all the furniture to a field close by. ‘That this precaution was wise was evident from the fact that some of the articles in the house were almost too hot to handle’. The furniture, which belonged to mill foreman James Purdie who lived at the Mill House, was later transferred to Stowford Lodge and the Devon School of Gardening.

 

By the following morning it was clear that major damage had been sustained to the mill. The rag loft was completely gutted. Other adjoining buildings were also damaged, as was the water turbine whilst valuable machinery used for dealing with the rags had been destroyed. The larger quantity of machinery housed elsewhere was fortunately undamaged. The new engine house which was still in the process of completion was also saved.

 

It was feared that the incident would close the mill, as was often the case following fire around this time. However, Stowford Mill was one of the lucky ones and was successfully repaired. The total cost of the restoration was approximately £14,000. The buildings and their contents had thankfully been insured by several fire insurance companies.

During the reconstruction of the mill the workforce experienced reduced hour working, a hardship which was to last for almost a year until the building was re-established. It was also at the outbreak of the First World War with men up and down the land conscripting for military service. George Clapperton, the Managing Director reported that with his connection with several other paper mills, around three quarters of the male workers at these sites were enlisting and that it was impossible to get women or inferior labour to conduct such skilled work. It is not known exactly what proportion of the labour force was affected in Ivybridge.

 

In 1916 a local press article reported that the mill had to apply for an exemption of the only remaining stoker on the grounds that they were unable to replace him and without his daily 16 hour shift the mill would have to close. Thankfully the exemption was granted on condition that he remained in his current employment. Coal was of course used to fuel the boilers which provided the power for the machinery. Orders for paper remained scarce throughout the war years and even after the armistice was declared, making it a difficult period in the history of the paper mill.

SAFETY MEASURES INTRODUCED AFTER THE FIRE

 

When the paper mill restarted, a new but fairly primitive sprinkler system had been installed to avoid fire damage from happening again. However, there was a problem, the headroom between the five floors of the rag loft building was very low and the sprinkler heads were constantly being knocked accidentally and the floors flooded. In desperation, holes were drilled in each of the wooden floors to allow the water to drain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the day of the fire it had been ‘a mercy the fire did not occur an hour or two later, when all the women and girls would have been at work in the very top storey of the building’. The staircase on that fateful day had rapidly filled with smoke so any rescue would have proved extremely difficult. During the rebuilding work and to avoid any such recurrence, the owners added a series of external metal steps providing an alternative method of egress and fire escape. These steps remained in situ throughout the working life of the mill, becoming integral to one of the iconic building of Ivybridge.

A bell chamber which existed at the top of the main building was a feature which was not replaced following the fire. The bell which had been sounded to call employees to work was damaged beyond repair. Fortunately there was a bell in the small belfry at the Lower Mill and this was fixed to the side of the rag loft. The bell was later replaced by a more modern hooter.

Stowford Paper Mill during the nineteenth century. The main mill building still has the bell chamber which was not replaced following the major fire in 1914.

 

The photographer of the large image was William Harding Warner (1825-1895). During the 1860s he was based at Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire before moving to Bishopston, Bristol, during the very early 1870s.  He specialised in publishing stereoscopic views (for the most part of Herefordshire, Devon and mid-Wales). This photograph is mounted on card serving as a carte de visite, perhaps taken during  the late 1860s.

A bell chamber which existed at the top of the main building was a feature which was not replaced following the fire. The bell which had been sounded to call employees to work was damaged beyond repair. Fortunately there was a bell in the small belfry at the Lower Mill and this was fixed to the side of the rag loft. The bell was later replaced by a more modern hooter.

Blchmbr

Stowford Paper Mill during the nineteenth century. The main mill building still has the bell chamber which was not replaced following the major fire in 1914.

 

The photographer of the large image was William Harding Warner (1825-1895). During the 1860s he was based at Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire before moving to Bishopston, Bristol, during the very early 1870s.  He specialised in publishing stereoscopic views (for the most part of Herefordshire, Devon and mid-Wales). This photograph is mounted on card serving as a carte de visite, perhaps taken during  the late 1860s.

Reference: Stowford Paper Mill and the Industrial Heritage of the Erme Valley – Colin Harris (1999)

FIRE AT STOWFORD PAPER MILL

Big Blaze at Ivybridge

Allen and Sons’ Paper Mills on Fire

These were the news headlines following a major incident which occurred at Stowford Paper Mill on 5 May 1914. A fire which started in the main building soon took hold of the entire structure.
Local people along with mill workers gathered outside to watch the spectacle as smoke billowed high into the air. The fire proved to be devastating, curtailing paper production until the building was repaired and creating hardship for the workforce for almost a year. The whole event was recorded in substantial detail in the local newspaper the following day which has helped historians appreciate the scale of the disaster.
In 1910, Stowford Paper Mill was taken over by the Clapperton Syndicate and made into a limited company, with Mr. George Clapperton as managing director and Mr. James Carter Allen as secretary. Trade at the time was reported to be ‘fairly good’ prompting the new company to invest in a new engine house and chimney stack. A red brick building stands to this day with the date 1914 recorded within its walls.
Towering above the new engine house was the main building of the paper mill, a five storey building with a basement under the western end where the ground sloped towards the river. To the front of the building the words “Stowford Paper Mills, 1862” record the date which it was extended and modernised.
The fire broke out during the early morning of 5 May 1914 at about a quarter past six just after the men working on the night shift had left work. Other men were working on the floors devoted to the beating and bleaching processes but fortunately there were no women at work on the top storey as they were not due to start work until eight o’clock. In a very short time the smoke was so black and dense that the employees on the floors above could not see their way downstairs. However, ‘thoroughly familiar with the means of exit, they managed to feel their way about’ to reach safety outside.
The fire had started within the large building and by the following morning only the brick walls remained. The structure had been completely gutted and was seriously cracked where the building had bulged under the intense heat. The origin of the fire at the time was not clearly ascertained.  The basement of the large building housed a large turbine engine with belting and ropes providing the necessary power to the other floors.  It was assumed that the belts and ropes caught fire which then quickly spread from floor to floor given the profusion of timber throughout the building.
Harford Road, which abuts the paper mill on the east side the building, had to be barricaded as a precaution, should the wall eventually fall down and injure passers-by.
Stowford Lodge, which historically was the residence of the mill owners was now occupied by the Devon School of Gardening for Ladies. Although the building was in no danger, ‘much excitement’ was reported due to the fire and the invasion of the grounds by fire engines attending the unfolding scene.
Fanned by what was described as a ‘stiffish breeze’ the flames travelled from floor to floor spreading with great rapidity ‘flames coming from the windows of nearly every storey’ and threatening to spread to  adjoining buildings
A small manual engine which was kept at the mill was promptly put to good use but it quickly became apparent that further help would be required. The local Ivybridge fire engine was first to arrive. The superintendent, Mr. William Full, a surveyor for the Urban District Council by profession, and Captain William Martin received the alarm at about a quarter to seven. As most of the men were just going to work, they were at the mill in a few minutes. However, by the time they arrived at the scene it was already apparent that nothing could be done to save the building so efforts were directed at preserving the rest of the property.
The Plympton Brigade and their manual engine, under Supt. W. H. Hockin were next to arrive. Twelve men and the engine were at the fire within an hour. Last to arrive was the Stonehouse Brigade. Mr. F. W. Thuell, captain of the brigade, accompanied by Mr. O. R. Matthews, deputy chairman of the District Council, and Mr Mitchell, chairman of the fire engine committee, motored out to prepare for the arrival of the brigade.  The brigade together with their steam engine reached Ivybridge at 9 o’clock. A squad from the George Street Church Ambulance Corps, Plymouth, was also in attendance.
Despite their best efforts the five storeys of the main building were quickly burnt through and by 7.45 am the roof collapsed. The roofs of some of the other buildings were damaged but as they were all low they were largely out of the reach of the fire in the main building.  The firemen worked with ‘commendable skill and determination, taking their hoses along the roofs of the buildings and keeping a steady stream of water upon the flames, thus preventing the fire from spreading’.
By 10 o’clock the fire had been brought under control. Apart from the workshop, the damage was limited to a low long building through which the launder channelled water to the rag boilers. The wooden launder, whilst charred, remained intact. For several hours afterwards, the hoses were directed onto the burning debris at the bottom of the building. This consisted of bales of compressed rags and wood pulp and they continued to smoulder producing vast clouds of smoke.  A number of cutting machines were also in the building. Thankfully there had been a plentiful supply of water from the launder which brought water from the external leat. However, there was no pressure and had the new water scheme planned for Ivybridge been operational the fire might have been tackled more proficiently during the early stages as the new reservoir situated at 800 feet above sea level would have provided adequate pressure.
There had been many willing helpers throughout the morning. The hand-engines had been manned not only by men but also young women who ‘displayed remarkable endurance at what was decidedly arduous work.’ Also, when the Mill House which adjoined the rag-sorting department became in danger from the fire, volunteers assisted in removing all the furniture to a field close by. ‘That this precaution was wise was evident from the fact that some of the articles in the house were almost too hot to handle’. The furniture, which belonged to mill foreman James Purdie who lived at the Mill House, was later transferred to Stowford Lodge and the Devon School of Gardening.
By the following morning it was clear that major damage had been sustained to the mill. The rag loft was completely gutted. Other adjoining buildings were also damaged, as was the water turbine whilst valuable machinery used for dealing with the rags had been destroyed. The larger quantity of machinery housed elsewhere were fortunately undamaged. The new engine house which was still in the process of completion was also saved.
It was feared that the incident would close the mill, as was often the case following fire around this time. However, Stowford Mill was one of the lucky ones and was successfully repaired. The total cost of the restoration was approximately £14,000. The buildings and their contents had thankfully been insured by several fire insurance companies.
During the reconstruction of the mill the workforce experienced reduced hour working, a hardship which was to last for almost a year until the building was re-established. It was also at the outbreak of the First World War with men up and down the land conscripting for military service. George Clapperton, the Managing Director reported that with his connection with several other paper mills, around three quarters of the male workers at these sites were enlisting and that it was impossible to get women or inferior labour to conduct such skilled work. It is not known exactly what proportion of the labour force was affected in Ivybridge.
In 1916 a local press article reported that the mill had to apply for an exemption of the only remaining stoker on the grounds that they were unable to replace him and without his daily 16 hour shift the mill would have to close. Thankfully the exemption was granted on condition that he remained in his current employment. Coal was of course used to fuel the boilers which provided the power for the machinery. Orders for paper remained scarce throughout the war years and even after the armistice was declared, making it a difficult period in the history of the paper mill.
A bell chamber which existed at the top of the main building was a feature which was not replaced following the fire. The bell which had been sounded to call employees to work was damaged beyond repair. Fortunately there was a bell in the small belfry at the Lower Mill and this was fixed to the side of the rag loft. The bell was later replaced by a hooter.
Reference: Stowford Paper Mill and the Industrial Heritage of the Erme Valley – Colin Harris (1999)