knepp fire


The Horsham Fire Brigade, when horses were secured, performed the journey in remarkably quick time. Until now the suspense had been very great, for the fire was raging with the utmost fury in the south wing. As soon as the two manual engines arrived, one took up its position near the lake, while the other was placed at the top of the lawn. Naturally there was an abundance of water, but it was hard work for those willing hands who zealously did the pumping. Captain Moses Brooks – who, with Lieutenant Penfold, was in charge of the Brigade, which mustered its full strength with one exception, through illness – saw from experience that there was no chance of saving the south wing. Efforts were at once made by the Brigade to save the other part of the caste, which principally constituted the servants’ quarters, and, beyond, the stables , coach-houses, and other buildings – which are more recent than that part which was already doomed to destruction.


Upon receiving the call, Captain Brooks also sent for the steam engine at Warnham Court, the residence of Mr C J Lucas, JP. The men promptly responded to the call, and were smartly driven over by Mr J Morrison. Their arrival was of the utmost service to the Horsham Brigade. The steam engine occupied the place of the manual by the side of the lake, and the second manual was removed to another part of the castle, and played upon the conflagration. By this arrangement, four powerful jets of water were playing upon the fire, the manuals drawing their water from a receptacle into which the water was forced from the lake by the steam engine. With the object of cutting off the flames from the servants’ quarters, firemen mounted the roof and poured a tremendous quantity of water upon the fire. Their efforts were rewarded in this direction, but it was found that the fire had got a strong hold upon the ground floor. Here the firemen worked with renewed zeal, and after they had fought the flames with indomitable pluck and courage – and their work was attended with considerable personal danger, owing particularly to the streams of molten lead – the fire was concentrated in one quarter. But, while the spread of the fire had been effectively cut off, it continued to burn with unabated fury around the seat of the outbreak.


When morning dawned, and all the country around was enveloped in a damp, thick atmosphere, with drizzling rain, only the bare walls remained, while from the interior dense dark clouds of smoke rose into the air. The scene of desolation was pitiful to contemplate, for what only a few hours previously was a noble and dignified residence, of stately proportions, was reduced to a mass of smouldering ruins. The outside walls, in many parts covered with ivy, and the castellated towers alone defied the fury of the fire. For a greater party of the day and at midday a good deal of anxiety was displayed owing to many beams bursting forth. Still the firemen plodded on, and shewed scarcely any fatigue, although drenched to the skin. The Warnham steam fire engine was manned by Messrs. J Morrison, S. Booth, G. Branch, Chris, Branch, J, Walford, and H, Forest, who also rendered the Horsham Brigade valuable sevice, The Warnham Court Brigade remained on duty last night, together with Superintendent Hall, of the Horsham Fire Brigade, Salvage Foreman Chriss, Superintendent Parker, and Fireman Scutt, Among those who attended the scene of the fire were the Dowager Lady Burrell, who arrived about half-past eleven, Sire Edmund Loder, Bart., Mr C J Lucas, JP, Dr, Gravely , and Mr R J Frank.


In the course of a conversation with a representative of the “Sussex Daily News,” Sire Merrik Burrell said the fire apparently originated owing to some defective work in a chimney, and that it obtained a hold at the back of the bookshelves in the library. It is evident that when Sire Merrik Burrell detected the smoke a fearful fire was raging below his bedroom, for within a very short time after he and Lady Burrell had got out the ceiling collapsed. The valuable property in the safe was not damaged. The conflagration, when at its height, illumined the county side for miles around, and caused great alarm. The scene at the burning castle itself, although so lamentably destructive, was at the same time of extraordinary and terrible grandeur, the massive stone walls, the towers, and the battlements forming the framework of what seemed to be a gigantic furnace glowing and blazing in the still night. After a time the work of rescuing articles was discontinued; it had, indeed, become too evident, half an hour before the arrival of the Horsham Brigade, that the castle was doomed.


Among those earliest on the scene was the Rev. Father Measures, priest of the Roman Catholic Mission at West Grinstead. Father Measures speaks in the highest terms of praise of the firemen. When they arrived it seemed almost impossible that they could stop the progress of the flames, but they set to work with determination and courage, and accomplished a feat for which they deserved the greatest credit. During the morning and afternoon, and even when dusk had set in, people from all the region round about kept coming to see the mischief done by the fire which had so alarmed them in the night. Lady Burrell remained at West Grinstead Park, but Sir Merrick Burrell was on the scene all day long, and the Dowager Lady Burrell and Miss Burrell arrived from London at noon. Superintendent Byrne was early on the scene, having see the reflection in the sky from the railway bridge at Southwater. He thought at first that some ricks were ablaze. Police constables Standing, Marsh, and Brown rendered admirable service.


Knepp Castle is a very ancient Sussex seat, but the building which has been destroyed was of modern construction, having been erected by Sir Richard Burrell. The original Castle was built subsequent to the Norman Conquest, probably by William de Braose, soon after he received the Barony of Bramber from the Conqueror. It was possessed for at least two centuries by the great family of de Braose, and King John frequently stayed there. Sir Merrick Burrell, the seventh Baronet, was born in May 1877, and succeeded his father, the late Sir Charles Raymond Burrell, in 1899. He was formerly a Lieutenant in the 1st Dragoons, and served in South Africa in 1901. In 1902 Sir Merrick married Miss Wilhelmina Louise Winans, daughter of Mr. Walter Winans, of Brighton, and Surrenden Park, Kent. Sir Merrik Burrell’s mother is a daughter of the late Sir Robert Loder.


Captain Moses Brooks, of the Horsham Fire Brigade, upon his return to the engine house at half-past ten last night, said the Brigade had attended undoubtedly the largest fire since he had been captain. When they arrived at Knepp Castle, the roof of the main building, including the picturesque tower, had fallen in. Flames were leaping high in the air and the sky could be seen reddened for a considerable distance. As they got nearer the building, the scene was one of terrible grandeur. He could see that there was no hope of saving the wing, and the Brigade at once directed their attention to the other part of the mansion. To do this they had to get on the top of the roof. Fortunately he had for over 40 years had a full knowledge of the mansion, and was thus enabled to attack the flames from a point of vantage. The Brigade got up on the roof and played on the fire for about half-an-hour, but finding that it had obtained the mastery on the ground and second floors, they came down and tackled it from below. Fortunately, the Warnham Brigade arrived in the nick of time, and they were able to put on more jets. He wished to convey on behalf of the Fire Brigade, his sincere thanks to Mr. Lucas for his great kindness in allowing his men to attend with his engine and to remain during last night. They proved most valuable assistants. The Brigade continued to put water on the pr3eises until just before they cam away yesterday evening. One of the firemen, a messenger named King, sustained serious injury to his skull by some falling bricks. First aid was rendered by Superintendent Byrne, and King, after resting, was subsequently sent home.


The Steyning Fire Brigade will remember this conflagration, if only for the untoward circumstances against which they had to contend. In the first place the messenger, who came post haste on a bicycle from the scene of the outbreak, did not arrive until just before half-past six, although it is stated he started away by four o’clock. Ten miles or so in some two and a half hours is certainly not excessive but it seems the messenger got on the wrong road. He is said to have arrived safely at Ashurst, and there made the welkin(??) ring and made awakened slumberers do something else with his inquiries as to the Steyning road. Then, however, he appears to have taken the wrong turning, and it is reported, that he went in the direction of Dial Post, nearly completing a circle of which Knepp Castle was a point on the circumference. Another report pictured him as going to Henfield.


However, he got on the right road at last, and the Brigade once called made a quick turn-out and were on the way within ten minutes, the manual being horsed by some capital animals from the stable of Mr. Harry Joyes of the White Horse Hotel. Lieutenant Kilner could not accompany them. Partridge Green was reached in five and twenty minutes, and it was conjectured the journey would be made well within three-quarters of an hour. Then, however, some icy roads were encountered, and progress was very difficult. Jolesfield was left behind, however, and the Burrell Arms attained. Then they said: “We will get our horses roughed.” But, on searching out the forge of the “Village Blacksmith.” They found that that worthy had gone off to see the fire. So it was then decided to proceed afoot to the scene of the outbreak, which was about a mile farther on, and get the blacksmith to return to “rough” the horses. On arriving there, however, It was discovered that the fire had, happily, been got under, and consequently their services were not needed. Thus, through no fault of their own, they were on the scene too late to render aid. They can, however, congratulate themselves on a quick turn-out, and even with the difficult travelling they encountered, they were at Knepp Castle in an hour from the time they were called. Coming home they encountered a large number of people on the way to Knepp Castle from Henfield and other places.


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