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Marked in red are the factory and band room opposite.
The factory site and band-room
opposite, where the family sought
refuge during the fire
William Harris, who
owned the factory
managed by his
nephew William Meads

From the Evening Telegraph Friday October 22 1897



The village of Burton Latimer was the scene of a disastrous fire early on Tuesday morning, resulting in the total destruction of a large shoe factory, whilst a small villa adjoining was partly demolished by the falling brickwork.  The premises in question are situated in the new and growing part on the western extremity of the parish, known as Alexander-street and were of comparatively recent erection, the present occupier having only been in possession some two years.  The owner of the premises is Mr. W. Harris, Guardian of the Poor and Rural Councillor for Burton Latimer, and his house and factory were in the occupation of his nephew, Mr. W. Meads, who has carried on the business of a shoe manufacturer for some four years.

The house adjoins the street, and the factory which was of three storeys,  with a frontage of about 50 feet,  ran back upon some waste ground.  Owing to the space adjoining Mr. Meads' factory being vacant, the neighbours on the opposite side of the street have an uninterrupted view of the building, and to this fact was attributable the discovery of the fire.  Work was carried out as usual on Monday, and when the factory was closed for the night, everything was apparently safe, Mr.  Meads, with his wife and five children, retired to bed about ten o'clock, and at that period there was nothing to indicate that anything was amiss.

   The first person to discover the outbreak was Mr. Edward Bailey, who lives opposite the vacant space referred to above,  and who was aroused by the bright reflection of the flames illuminating his bedroom.  On ascertaining that the bottom room of the factory was well alight, Mr. Bailey hastily dressed himself and called up Mr.  Meads, who at once set about securing the safety of his family, which fortunately was effected without injury.  Mean while Mr.  Bailey had alarmed the other neighbours in the street by cries of “Fire!" and a small band of helpers was speedily on the scene.  It was apparent that the outbreak could not be checked by the only means at the disposal of the neighbours, which consisted of drawing water from the wells in the vicinity to dash through the broken windows.

   A messenger was immediately dispatched to Kettering for the Fire Brigade, but he was unfortunately delayed on the road through his bicycle breaking down.  When he eventually reached Kettering he was stopped by P.C. Short for having no lighted lamp, but upon briefly relating the circumstances of his errand, the constable at once rushed off to the Fire Station.  The alarm was given at two minutes to three,  and the firemen quickly responded to the call,  the steamer,  under Captain Riddle and Inspector Dixon,  with Firemen Few,  Gilby,  Thompson,  Todd,  and Pinnock being on the road in a very few minutes of the alarm,  the engine being,  as usual,  horsed by Mr.  Thos.  Tirrell.  The flames, however, spread with the greatest rapidity, the falling slates and brickwork driving back the willing helpers,  who left the factory to assist  in the removal of  Mr. Meads’ furniture to the Band Room opposite.

       This was safely accomplished, although Mr.  Meads had a remarkably narrow escape of being buried beneath a huge mass of bricks which fell from the gable end as he was leaving the back door with a table in his hands.  A mass of fire fell upon his hands and feet, both of which were badly burned, one finger lacerated with some broken glass.  As each successive floor succumbed to the flames, the machinery fell to the ground with a crash.  So fierce was the heat that no near approach to the factory was possible and the arrival of the firemen was eagerly awaited.

   It was 3.40 when the Brigade arrived, but from the outset they were very much handicapped by the scarcity of water.  Only one well in the vicinity could be reached,  several having been emptied previous to their arrival,  and this barely lasted three minutes.  At this time nothing remained beyond the four walls, which momentarily threatened to fall outwards, but a tremendous amount of leather in various stages of manufacture still supplied fuel for the flames, which now and again burst out with vigour.  After emptying the well, the steamer was taken to brook on the Finedon-road some 500 yards away, but here the distance prevented anything like an adequate force or supply.  The whole of the machinery, comprising a heeler,  two presses,  split,  weighing machine and the necessary machinery in the clicking room,  was totally destroyed,  whilst Mr.  Meads lost all his books, which were kept in his office on the second floor,  in addition about £20 in money,  which was  in  a till in the office desk.   During the morning a piece of the west gable fell upon the back portion of the house, completely smashing in the roof.

   Mr.  Harris,   the owner of the property, severely injured himself through partly falling down an open well in the darkness.  His injuries were attended to by some of the firemen who hold ambulance certificates, and they also dressed Mr.  Meads’ injured hand.   When our representative left at seven o'clock there was nothing standing beyond the bare walls, although there was considerable fire to contend with in the building.  How the outbreak originated is at present a mystery.  The contents of the factory are insured, whilst the buildings are also covered by insurance for £600.  Mr. Meads estimates his loss at about £1,500.  Supt. Andrews of Kettering with Inspector Butlin and P.C.s Currin, Short and Garratt, were early on the scene, and rendered efficient help.

   During the morning whilst a labouring man was walking close to the factory a brick fell upon his head causing a very serious wound.  First aid was rendered by Inspector Dixon and Fireman Few, after which the unfortunate man was conveyed to his home.  About 50 people are thrown out of employment by the fire.  The Kettering Brigade reached home at 11.30 a.m. 


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