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Article from the "Evening Telegraph" of Friday May 12 1961 , transcribed by Sally Crane

Burton Police Searching for “Firebugs”

Books, desks set alight in old school

The old infants school where the fire was started

Burton Latimer police were today searching for the “firebugs” who yesterday set fire to piles of books, desks and paintings and almost burned down the centuries old St. Mary’s Infants School - the ancient monument building which housed Northamptonshire’s first grammar school.

Firemen who raced to the school last night after passers by raised he alarm found a scene of chaos, with black smoke filling three classrooms, blazing pictures on all walls, musical instruments strewn on the floor and drawers and cupboards ransacked.

One of the teachers, Mrs. O. Hart , surveying the broken windows and charred walls in a 1622 classroom today said: “It looks like the work of children with nothing better to do.  We had a holiday yesterday for Ascension Day”.

It was shortly before seven yesterday evening when Mr. C. Hendry , who lives just below the school at 17 Church Street , saw the smoke pouring from the classroom windows.

He ran past the building to the house of Mrs. H. Savage , the school’s caretaker, and together with her husband they unlocked the school door. The firemen arrived almost at the same time.

Mrs. Savage said today: “It looked like a real ‘jam session’.  The percussion instruments that the children used were littered over the floor, blazing books were jammed under the stove, and against the wall was a pile of desks with blazing books on it.

“All the taps were running and black smoke was everywhere,” she added.

She said that a “few coppers” from the teachers desk, a set of keys and the lock from the coal bin were missing.

She guessed that it was the work of children, and that they had climbed into the building through a small broken window at the back.

Mrs. Hart told how she was called to the school when the fire had been extinguished and discovered the charred remains of the six year olds’ “tidy boxes”.  The cardboard boxes in which they keep their books had been piled high on desks against the wall and lit.

Freshly painted pictures had been added to the blaze and all round the walls. The pictures had been lit where they hung.

She said that when she came to the classrooms there were spent matches littering the floor, among the other debris.

As the school was being cleaned up this morning the rector, the Rev. R.W. Sharpley , leafed through the school’s insurance policy.

“It is a very serious matter, and I am leaving it entirely to the police”, he said.

“If the fire had not been spotted when it was it could have done untold damage”.

Today the 26 children in the infants’ section of the church school were crowded into the two least damaged classrooms and education was taking its normal, if inconvenienced, path.

Burton police said they would be glad of any help in tracing the culprits, but would not commit themselves to saying that they thought it was the work of children.

“We investigate every fire as a matter of course”, explained the sergeant.

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