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John Meads 2018
Coffee Tavern in Flames

Coffee Tavern
The Coffee Tavern in the High Street, a hundred yards
away from the Fire Station in Duke Street

Exciting Scenes in Burton Latimer

Northampton Daily Echo 4 August 1909

"In the early hours of this (Wednesday) morning an alarming outbreak of fire occurred at Burton Latimer, when the Coffee Tavern, occupied by M. and Mrs. Arthur Harper, was practically gutted. It appears that on Tuesday Mr. and Mrs. Harper went to Yarmouth for the day, returning home about 1.30 in the morning. On entering the bar Mr. Harper perceived a strong smell of escaping gas, and struck several matches in an endeavour to locate the leakage. The search, however, proved futile, and after some time Mr. Harper and his wife retired to rest. From subsequent events it is practically certain that some of the matches which Mr. Harper threw down must have ignited something beneath the counter, and the flames spread to a box containing a gross and a half of matches. This gave great impetus to the flames, which spread to the shelves at the rear of the bar. Fortunately the collapse of the shelves, heavily weighted with jars and crockery, aroused Mr. Harper, and on going downstairs he was met by overpowering smoke and a volume of flame. Hastening back, Mr. Harper aroused his wife and child, and hurried them out of the rear of the premises to a place of safety. A minute later the quiet streets resounded with the cries of "Fire," and in a brief space of time neighbours were on the scene. The Fire Brigade were hurriedly summoned, and despite the antiquated system of individual calling, the members made a prompt response under Captain Harris. Hose was affixed to a hydrant close to the blazing building, and in an hour the outbreak was completely mastered. The damage, which is estimated at £160, is covered by insurance."

The implied criticism above to the "antiquated system of individual calling" probably referred to the fact that at that time the firemen were called from their homes by a messenger. It was not until 1911 that maroons (rockets) were used to summon the firemen at Burton Latimer, these were fired from the back yard of the Fire Station which was only just around the corner in Duke Street. Even these maroons sometimes failed to alert every firemen during the night and it would have then been the job of a messenger to alert the heavy sleepers who would have been expected to follow the brigade to the fire.

Read here about a sequel to this fire reported in the Northampton Daily Echo on 19 August.

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