Thursday, February 23, 2006

29Oct1857, A Fire

HAWARDEN, October 29th, 1857.
—The much-loved, time-honoured old mother church was set on fire between three and four in the morning, and before the afternoon was destroyed with the exception of the walls, tower, and chancel windows and stalls. The whole of the nave and aisle roofs fell in, and the chancel one will have to come down. The W. window, stone work and all, is destroyed ; the tracery of the others still stands ; all the glass shivered, except in the chancel. Miss S. awoke me at about 1/2 past 5 to tell me, news having been sent to the Castle of it. We scrambled on to the leads of the house, and from thence saw the red glow beating high into the sky above the trees. Before 7 1/2 we went to see. The flames were then being subdued, but the whole floor of the body of the church was a mass of burning beams and red-hot ashes : the columns blackened and stripped of their plaster (a good thing, by the way), the last of the nave rafters burning away in its place across the top of the chancel, and the broken mullions of the W. window alone remaining, the font a shapeless ruin, the roof of the chancel, which still stood, smouldering and occasionally breaking out into flame, the fire-engine fizzing, roaring, rushing, spouting, drenching, a line of schoolboys passing buckets, rather enjoying the fun, an excited crowd all round ; the beautiful Memorial windows looking down upon the wreck serene and unmoved in the morning light, and the old clock melodiously chiming the quarters as if nothing had happened. While we stood on the tombstones bouche béante, the last rafter gave way, and fell amid showers of sparks. Uncle Henry and Mr. Troughton were busy on the top of the chancel wall hauling up buckets, in the hope of saving the roof. The S. chancel aisle roof is saved. Uncle Stephen was there, almost niobe, as was Uncle H. ; Molly Glynne pink and green with dismay ; Miss Brown with her gown and shawl over her night-gown ; Mr. Brewster with his white hair in indescribable confusion, looking like a wild foreigner ; old Bennett helplessly wringing his hands. The engine was kept playing incessantly about the chancel, and at last the fire in the roof was put out, but not before the beams were charred and wasted, and the intermediate spaces done for. Then there was an alarm about the tower floor, the principal beam of which seemed almost self-supported, and true enough while they were spouting at it, crash came part of it, and nearly smashed young Waldegrave Brewster. We picked up particulars as we looked on, and later. The Grammar School master was roused a little after 4 by his dog barking, and saw flames breaking out of the W. window. He rapidly alarmed the village, Mr. Br. among the rest, who instantly sent to Chester for the fire brigade, which arrived promptly in 20 minutes. Meanwhile he, Uncle Henry, and Uncle William later, worked wonders at the church. Mr. B. crept on all 4s through stifling smoke into the vestry, and, with the aid of a maukin and Uncle H. who got in through the window, saved therefrom the parish registers. They penetrated into the chancel, brought out the seats of the choir, arrested the progress of the fire with mere buckets of water, had the organ fetched out, while the candelabras, altar-cloth, and a mass of books were also saved, either by them or by others. Now, the horrid part is that it is proved the church was fired on purpose, probably about 3 o'clock. For the organ was fired inside, and the W. end had also been set fire to. Moreover the poor-box was broken into, its staple was found on the ground, with the tool used. It is an act of diabolical wickedness : destroying the House of God, and a part of it too specially used for His praise, the noble organ whose voice has ever pealed through the church divine music, speaking to Him in what may well be thought echoes from the " Seraph choir," for there is something more than earthly and human in the voice of music.

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