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Original Article by Douglas Ashby, transcribed by Sally Crane

Fire at Groome’s Mill

In April 1936 two disastrous fires occurred within 24 hours of each other.  The first was a serious blaze in Russell street, Kettering which destroyed the New Coliseum cinema which was later re-built and re-opened as the Savoy. Then, twelve men working on a night shift had to dash to safety when one of the worst fires in memory at Burton Latimer swept through the factory in which they were working.

The large five-storey building known as the Mill Factory, Finedon Road and owned by Messrs, C.E. and H.B Groome, leather dressers, was completely gutted. Only three of the four outside walls remained standing while the inside was nothing but a heap of charred ruins.

Twelve men working on a night shift, had to dash to safety, when one of the worst fires in memory at Burton Latimer swept through the factory. Fortunately no one was injured but Mr H. B. Groome established the damage would run into five figures. By an irony of fate the burned building stood by the river Ise and the mill stream poured under the blazing factory.

The outbreak originated in the engine room of the tannery which was on the ground floor and was discovered by Mr Harry Miller who was in charge of the room. He had left the engine to attend to some other duties and on returning saw to his horror that the room was ablaze, and impossible to enter because of the heat.

He dashed upstairs to warn the men who were working on four of the five storeys of the building, two being on the fourth floor. A fire extinguisher was hopeless against the blaze.

The failure of the lighting system within a few minutes added to the confusion, the lights being dependent on a dynamo driven by an oil engine in the engine room.  The shafting to the dynamo was quickly burnt and the lights went out. One workman, a Mr Blackwell who was the last to come out of the burning building, was still on the stairs when the lights failed.

The alarm to the Burton Latimer fire brigade was given by Mr Ernest Dent, another employee, who had to cycle about a mile from the factory which is some 400 yards from Finedon railway station, into Burton Latimer. He obtained access to the station, and rockets summoning the firemen were sent up at 12.40a.m.

The brigade made an exceptionally smart turn-out, the fire engine with Chief Engineer Desborough and six firemen being on their way within five minutes. Chief Officer Rickards and other firemen followed, and the brigade was quickly in action. Sergeant Richardson and P.Cs Allen and Albon of Burton Latimer and later Inspector Chapman and Sergeant Tozer of Kettering were also on the scene within a short time.

Burton Latimer Fire Brigade c.1931

Chief Officer Rickards is on the right.

Water could not have been any nearer than it was for the brigade, but unfortunately gravel which was drawn from the mill stream into the pump choked one of the valves, with the result that full pressure of water from the hoses would not be obtained for some time. About 1.30 a.m. it was decided by Chief Officer Rickards to summon the Rothwell brigade, which very quickly arrived under Chief Officer Vincent.

The outbreak originated in the engine room of the factory, which is on the ground floor, and was discovered by Mr. Harry Miller, who was in charge of the room. He had left the engine to attend to some other duties, and on returning saw to his horror that the room was ablaze.

“I could see a glow on the glass partition and found that it was quite impossible owing to the heat to enter the engine room,” he told the “Evening Telegraph”.

“I dashed upstairs to warn my mates who were working on four of the five storeys of the building, two being on the fourth floor. Then we got a fire extinguisher, but it was hopeless to try to put out the blaze.”

P.C. Allen reported the flames had started at the west (railway) end of the factory and simply seemed to walk their way along the building. Flames rose to a height of 30 feet from the roof as it burned, and lit up the surrounding district so that even the Finedon station a quarter of a mile away was visible, despite the rain which began to fall. He continued “With other helpers, I tried to save the firm’s correspondence in the office. We threw one of their safes through the window and threw another downstairs. Files, ledgers and other property were also thrown through the window.

“One of the helpers, Mr. Samuel Love, apparently lost his cigarette case in the office, and he amazed me by going back to look for it. The smoke and heat caused him almost to collapse and I had to go in and help him down the stairs.”

One young woman clerk hurried to the scene, she was Miss Joyce Newman who lived in Station Road opposite the field later to be occupied by Alumasc.

Mr H. B. Groome explained that the firm was very busy and had had a night shift on duty regularly for some time. In the daytime about 50 men were employed. The tannery contained a great quantity of leather and much machinery, all of which is ruined.  The property was insured. He also added that within 12 feet of the building was a large tank containing five tons of crude oil which is used for firing the oil engine. Fortunately the tank did not burst otherwise there would have been a terrible blaze, for crude oil though it is not very inflammable in liquid state is highly inflammable when it is heated and vapourises.  Smoke from the smouldering ruins persisted into the afternoon of the following day.

When an “Evening Telegraph” reporter visited the fire the interior of the factory presented a scene of indescribable chaos. A few charred beams stretching from wall to wall were the only signs left of the four different floors which the building had contained. Hanging precariously across a beam here and there was some bits of iron lodged where they happened to have fallen. On the floor, littered several feet deep, was the remains of the leather and machinery which the building had contained.

A mill has stood on this particular site probably for the hundreds of years. The present building, which now lies in ruins, was erected about 70 years ago. It was occupied for many years by Messrs. Dolben and also by Messrs. Ward, and was taken over by C. E. and H. B. Groome, Ltd., about 14 years ago.

A remarkable coincidence connected with the fire is that it is situated at the very spot which Burton Latimer has used on several occasions for practice turnouts.

A few months ago Mr. H. B. Groome had a damaging fire in the nursery of his Northampton-road residence.

The Groome brothers later decided the ruined tannery including the 100ft chimney stack, should be completely demolished. Mr. W.Couzens, an engineer of London, employed by Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd, travelled to Burton in order to supervise the use of the explosives. He stated that about 100 half-pound shots of gelignite had been used during the destruction of the building. Nine shots were used to bring the chimney down.

Read about the demolition of the Groome's Mill

Read about the later sale of Mill Cottage

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