Nostalgia: The efforts made to save church from flames

St Michaels church, Honiton. Photo by Simon Horn. Ref mhh 8689-12-09SH

St Michael's Church, Honiton - Credit: Simon Horn

This lead cross mounted on an alabaster base was made from the debris after the disastrous fire which destroyed everything but the outside walls and tower of St Michael’s Church in 1911. The lead on the roof and the windows melted and flowed onto the wooden block floor forming crosses at the joints. The font, made of alabaster and marble and erected in memory of Archibald Stamp was shattered by the intense heat.
 

A lead cross mounted on alabaster

A lead cross found after a fire at St Michael's Church - Credit: Honiton Museum

At 9.00am on the morning of March 25th, James Hurford the Sexton took the Communion plate into the Church to prepare for morning service. He left the building for half an hour and returned to hear what he described as rushing noise. He saw a sheet of flame roaring between the ceiling and the roof in the direction of the tower. He told his wife Anna to save what she could in the church and ran down the hill to the home of Mr Cox, the Fire Brigade Captain. He then alerted the Rector, churchwardens, and the police. Meanwhile, Anna with the help of Messrs. Tratt, Stewart, Lemon, Radford, and Cotton rescued the communion plate, the altar ornaments, crosses, the pulpit desk, candlesticks, and brass oil lamps.

Honiton had no method of calling its firefighters, so valuable time was lost in notifying them. The Brigade reached the fire with their hand manual engine at 10.30am. By this time, the flames had broken through the roof. There was little water to be found. A ditch outside the churchyard was dammed up. The nearest hydrant was three hundred yards away but there was no pressure, owing to the small size of the mains. Pauley Bate and Harry Banfield of the Dolphin Hotel sent a number of Minimax fire extinguishers. All hope of saving the main part of the church was abandoned so attention was devoted to saving the tower.

The Rector telegraphed Exeter Fire Brigade for help. Fifteen men, four horses, and the Exeter fire engine were put on a special train that had a clear run to Honiton at express speed. They arrived at the Church by 11.30am. The fire engine was driven to the mill stream beyond the timber yard. Nineteen hundred feet of hose was used to pump water into a canvas tank erected on the church path and the Honiton engine soon had two jets of water aimed at the roof.
The Fire Brigade committee reported that their expenses were £17 five shillings and that rockets would be kept at the Fire Captain’s house and the Police Station to summon members of the Fire Brigade in the future.

Work on restoring the Church started in August. The heating apparatus which was said to have been the cause of the fire was retained. The old font was retrieved from the Workhouse chapel and 15 months after the fire, St Michael’s was rededicated by the Bishop of Exeter.

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