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29 October 2014
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Stourhead ablaze …. again !
On the 16 April 1902 a great fire broke out in one of the front bedrooms of Stourhead.
On the 16th April 1902 a great fire broke out in one of the front bedrooms of Stourhead.

On the 16th of April 1902 a great fire broke out in a South Wiltshire mansion, almost destroying it.

To mark the centenary of the fire a series of special events has been organised this month at Stourhead.

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National Trust Stourhead

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Season:

Thursday 18th, April 2.30pm – Talk: Fire History talk by the House Manager Gary Calland.

Thursday 25th April 2pm – Talk: Historic Fire Fighting Techniques by Derek Wheeler, a specialist in historic fire-fighting equipment.

House opening times:
Dates: 23 March to 3 Nov.
Days: Saturday - Wednesday (closed for general admission Thursday and Friday).
Times: 12–5.30 or dusk if earlier.


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On the 16th of April 1902 a great fire broke out in a South Wiltshire mansion.

The mansion was Stourhead House, home to the Hoare family for over 200 years.

The fire raged all night. It swept through the main core of the building, gutting it.

The roof and windows were destroyed.

By the following morning smoke still rose from the remains.

The great house had been reduced to a blackened and smouldering shell.

The History

Stourhead Entrance Hall on the day of the fire
The Entrance Hall of Stourhead House, on the day of the fire, 16th April 1902
The fire was discovered by the housemaid and under housemaid as they went upstairs to resume duties after breakfast.

One of the front bedrooms was filled with smoke from a fire in the chimney flue.

The fire rapidly took hold, ripping through the upper floors.

Staff at the house, unable to stop the fire's progress, turned their attention to
rescuing the family’s precious collection of furniture, books and works of art.

The family had amassed, over 175 years, a vast collection of works by great masters such as Poussin and Sir Joshua Reynolds.

As the fire raged the great rescue effort began.

Teams of people, over 100 strong, passed furniture and paintings through the windows of the burning house on to the lawn.

Local villagers, seeing smoke, made their way to the house and joined in.

A horse drawn fire engine, hand pumps and hose carts arrived from Mere, Zeals and Frome.

Lady Alda and staff catalogued the salvaged items
Lady Alda and staff catalogued the salvaged items on the lawn in front of the Stourhead House.

The firemen fought the blaze with water from the lake.

The family helped too.

Lady Alda, wrapped up in coat and hat, can be seen in photographs cataloguing the rescued items she treasured.

Sir Henry Hoare was at a board meeting in Salisbury.

On his arrival at the scene, the Bristol Mercury recorded:

"He seemed to take the matter somewhat coolly, if outward appearances count for anything, and he walked up and down the lawn smoking cigarettes. But conversation with him revealed intense sorrow at what was taking place around him."

The Centenary Events

To mark the centenary of the 1902 fire at Stourhead House and the great rescue operation which followed a series of special events has been organised this month at Stourhead.

The fire-fighting team
The fire-fighting teams came form Mere, Zeals House, and Lord Stalbridge of Knowle.
Events include an exhibition of dramatic black and white photographs and written accounts of the fire which will be on display
in the House from April 3rd to 30th.

"The fire constitutes an important part of the history of the house," said Beccy Speight, the National Trust’s Property Manager at Stourhead.

"The fire gutted the centre of the house but left the library and picture gallery unscathed. Sir Henry Hoare insisted that the house be rebuilt in replica, and it was, being completed in 1907."
 
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