GREAT FIRE AT RANMOOR CHURCH
THE BUILDING IN RUINS
The beautiful church of St. John the Evangelist, Ranmoor, erected less than ten years ago by the late Mr. J. Newton Mappin, and which has cost probably from first to last not less than £15,000, was yesterday almost entirely destroyed by fire. Nothing intact now remains of a building which added much to the beauty of Ranmoor, and in which the residents justly felt considerable pride, but the tall tower and its graceful spire. The nave and chancel have been utterly destroyed. Only the walls are there to tell what the church once was. Its internal decorations, its splendour, and its wealth of architectural details have all disappeared, and now lie in a charred and smouldering heaps upon the ground. So unexpected was the fire, and so rapid was its course after it was discovered, that scarcely anything could be saved.
The church registers and a few official documents, the collecting plates, one piece of the Communion service - the rest was on the Communion table in readiness for the morning service - and the choir surplices - these were all that could be got out of the church before the roof was in flames, and further attempts to enter the building became impossible.
The fire broke out shortly after nine o'clock, and was then discovered by Mr. Leighton, clerk and sexton. It is believed to have been caused by the heat of the flue which carries off the smoke from the heating apparatus. This flue runs between the vestry and the organ chamber, and the walls of the latter were covered with wood.
Mr. Leighton went to the church at five o'clock yesterday morning for the purpose of lighting the furnace fire, and getting the church ready for the service at eleven. Whilst doing this he took all the Communion plate with the exception of a patin from the safe in the vestry, and put it upon the communion table. This service was a gift to the church by Mr. J.E. Bingham, and was said to be one of the richest and most valuable in the diocese. Mr Leighton went home to breakfast about half-past eight, and returned at twenty minutes past nine. Going into the firing hole, for the purpose of "firing up," he was engaged for a few minutes in doing this, and then in turning on the water sprays for the ventilators.
As he was coming up the steps out of the hole, he fancied he detected a smell of burning wood. As he knew there was none in the furnace, his suspicions became aroused, and he ascended the sloping ground at the back of the church to see whether the smell was caused by the wind "backing down" the smoke from the chimney. A moment's glance showed the church was on fire, for Leighton saw that small volumes of smoke were issuing from the roof of the organ chamber. Rushing back to the vestry, he opened the door leading therefrom into the church, and saw that the top of the organ or the chamber roof was on fire.
His wife, Mrs. Antill (a neighbour), and Mr. C.H. Firth's butler discovered that the church was on fire about the same time as Leighton did, and whilst the latter ran off to inform the Rev. A.G. Tweedie and the churchwardens, they entered the vestry for the purpose of trying to save its contents. On his way he saw a man in the employ of Mr. Outwin, of the Ranmoor Inn, whom he instructed to communicate with the police at Broomhill. This the latter did by riding one of his master's horses to Broomhill, and thence a telephone message was sent to the Fire Brigade Station in Rockingham street.
When Leighton first made the discovery that the church was on fire, no flames whatever could be seen from the outside. This, too, was the case a few minutes afterwards, when the Rev. A. G. Tweedie came on the scene. The flames at that time were for the most part confined to the top of the organ, though some of the embers had fallen upon the cushions in the front seats, and had set them on fire. The church, however, was full of smoke, so dense at the eastern end as to prevent the rev. gentleman from seeing the Communion table and the plate upon it. Soon afterwards the flames from the organ chamber leaped up into the roof over the chancel, and in a few minutes this part of the church was all ablaze.
About this time Mr. Hamer Chalmer and Mr. R Colver, the two churchwardens, arrived almost breathless upon the scene. Finding that it was impossible to save anything in the church, Mr. Tweedie at once opened the safe in the vestry, took from it the registers and other official documents, and had them conveyed to a place of safety. A little boy, son of Mr. W. Lockwood secured the paten and took it to his father's house. As soon as the fire had fairly got hold of the roof it became at once apparent that nothing could save the church.
The roof was of timber and what is called a single span: that is to say, it stretched from east to west the whole length of the church, some hundred and thirty feet, without being supported by pillars. It was, moreover, of great height and considerable pitch. A roof such as this became an easy prey to the fire, and it was made additionally inflammable by a layer of felt coated with tar, which was put on only a few months ago. At that time the roof underwent considerable repair, and upon this work and some beautiful internal decorations an expenditure of £1200 was incurred.
From the chancel the flames rushed with astonishing rapidity along the roof towards the western door, and in scarcely more than half-an-hour from the time the fire was discovered the whole of the roof had fallen in, leaving but the blackened walls and a ruined gable to tell of what this part of the church once was. Those who were present describe the flames as being of great height and of intense fierceness. The rapidity, too, with which they continued their course from east to west seemed remarkable. But this was really not remarkable when it is remembered that there was nothing in the church to stay their progress, and that they had pitch pine timbers and well tarred felt to feed upon.
The police from Broomhill were not long in arriving with a hose reel, and were speedily followed by Inspector Toulson. But unfortunately they were for some time prevented from obtaining water in consequence of the hydrant in the ground being frozen, and it was only after several applications of hot water that the ice could be removed, and the hose attached. This delay was both unfortunate and annoying, but it is to be doubted whether, even if water could at once have been obtained, that it would have been of any use in preventing the fire from extending along the roof.
Finding that the roof must go, and that there was a probability of the fire making its way into the tower, the police directed their energies to saving this part of the church. They were only just in time. The western door was on fire. So was that at the south-western entrance, and the tower door just inside the latter was in flames. A well-directed volume of water soon put all danger at an end; but one of the ringers, a man named Hinde who shortly afterwards ascended the tower steps and went into the belfry, found that both the tower and belfry were full of smoke. None of the woodwork, however, showed signs of heat, and the bells were uninjured. But for the fire being promptly checked at this part of the church, there can be no doubt that the tower would have been much damaged, if not destroyed. As it is, it remains as perfect as it was before the fire.
Sir Frederick Mappin, who naturally takes considerable interest in the church, was early upon the scene of the fire. Whilst it was at its height he was afraid that the tower might fall, and, acting upon his earnest instructions, the police and others who were assisting them moved out of harm's reach. As it turned out, however, there was no cause for alarm. The tower stood firmly enough. The western end of the church, however - this adjoins the tower - moved out of perpendicular, and will have to be pulled down.
Twenty minutes after receiving the telephone message, Superintendent Pound and the fire brigade were in attendance, and from that time the arrangements for extinguishing the fire were directed by him. But not much could then be done. The roof had virtually gone, and he and the brigade directed their attention first to see that the tower was safe, and then extinguishing the burning rafters and the flame that still clung to the walls or to the fallen woodwork on the ground. This was a work of some difficulty, and the brigade did not leave till six o'clock last evening. But the fire was really over soon after mid-day, though it was necessary to keep constantly playing upon the burning debris for several hours afterwards.
In consequence of the fire occurring on a Sunday morning, it soon attracted a considerable crowd of spectators. They were, however, exceedingly well behaved, and gave the police but little trouble. The bulk of them stood on the ground above the church, whence they could look down upon the burning roof and watch the efforts of the firemen without being themselves in the way. Many members of the congregation were unaware of the fire till they came to the church with the intention of taking part in the service. Seeing what had happened, they then went on to St. Mark's, or to St. Thomas' at Crookes.
The church was fortunately insured for a considerable amount, though for nothing like the sum it must have cost. The insurance is upwards of £9000, and it is effected in the Alliance Office. Nothing, of course, can at present be said respecting the rebuilding of the church. If the walls have to come down, then a church not upon the same architectural lines will be erected in its place. Though there cannot be much doubt that the fire was due to the overheating of the flue, this was not absolutely ascertained yesterday. The flue is lined with fire bricks nine inches in thickness, and it is said that it is almost impossible to overheat a flue so lined. It is, however, the impression of Superintendent Pound, who made a partial inspection of the flue yesterday afternoon, that the fire was due to this cause. The extreme coldness of the weather probably led to the sexton making an unusually good fire, insomuch as there had been complaints of the church being somewhat cold. Many of the residents in the neighbourhood were either at breakfast or in their bedrooms when the fire broke out.
Picture from "The First Hundred Years, St. John's Ranmoor, 1879-1979 "