Fire in the Bell Tower

Soon after 6.00am on the 14th March 1909, Mr Wilson of Church Farm noticed smoke curling out of St Marys Church tower. He alerted his wife who raised the alarm. As the doors were locked, Mr A. Bishop, the caretaker, was summoned. When access was eventually gained it was discovered that the base of the Belfry, being used at the time as the Choir Vestry, was well and truly alight. 

The fire had spread from the cupboard to one of the oak pillars supporting the first floor of the Belfry, which was also burning. The flooring of the first floor, being of solid oak, restricted the spread of the fire, which prevented the tower from being totally destroyed before fire-fighters could arrive. Soon after the alarm had been raised, PC Luff (presumably the local constable) arrived to take control of the situation.

Arundel Police Station received a telegram at 6.20am. Superintendent White rang the fire bell immediately. Within 15 minutes a horse had been harnessed to the Fire Engine and left for Yapton. Lieutenant Evershed, Lieutenant Augwin and Foreman Kendall were among the crew. The sound of the fire bell caused a lot of excitement in the town. It took the Fire Brigade a further 15 minutes to arrive at the church. Meanwhile several villagers had arrived to help fight the fire.

Buckets of water were carried from Church Farm and Church House as well as from the Churchyard. In order to raise water to roof level, a hand pump was brought from Mr G.T. Sparks Engineering Works, as it was impossible to reach the roof with buckets. By the time the Brigade arrived, 50 minutes after the alarm was raised, the fire was almost under control. To prevent any 'flare-up', the firemen hosed the Belfry floor for some time before returning to Arundel.

The Belfry floor had been severely damaged and all the church music had been destroyed along with the Surplices. Other casualties were the four ancient bells, they all had to be re-cast. The rim of one of them was converted into candelabrum which still can be seen hanging from the ceiling of the church (at the entrance to the Chancel). The 8.00 communion had to be cancelled but apart from that all other services continued as normal.

A.K.Misselbrook 2015


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