Picture: inside the burnt church

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent,
Tues 4th Jan 1887

  The destruction of Ranmoor Church has created a great sensation in Sheffield. Serious fires are happily infrequent in the town and such a calamity at a handsome and well appointed place of worship like St. John's gives rise to unpleasant reflections on the possibility of similar catastrophes at any of the numerous churches and chapels in other parts of the borough. Nothing is more remarkable, in surveying the ruins at Ranmoor, than the completeness of the devastation and the short space of time which sufficed to transform so much that was orderly and beautiful into ruin and chaos. Had the fire been undiscovered until the building was filled with worshippers, it is appalling to contemplate what might have been the result.

  General praise is accorded to the police and fire brigade for the promptness with which they appeared on the scene, yet Inspector Toulson, when he reached the church from the Broomhill Police Station, found the flames bursting through the roof all along the building, and in a very few minutes the big beams began to give way, the weight of the iron caps which united the principals at their apex bringing them down with a crash.

  The peculiar construction of the roof greatly aided the progress of the fire. The large quantity of timber which composed it, with the tarred felting that covered it, furnished abundant fuel for the flames, while the steeply sloped sides, formed a kind of chimney up which, when the windows burst in, the air would be freely sucked, to give vigour to the flames.

  The fire brigade, having completed their work, left the building on Sunday evening in the charge of the police of the Broomhill Division. The fire was then apparently extinct. Police-constable Stratford was placed on duty within the building, and about two o'clock in the morning was called upon to deal with a slight fresh outbreak from the revival of some smouldering embers. This took place near the east wall of the organ chamber. Stratford, with the assistance of the constable who was on the beat, was able to extinguish it, but they had for a considerable time some smart work with buckets. Some of the woodwork of the organ or of the sides of the chamber probably had not been completely put out.

  The ruins remain undisturbed awaiting the inspection of a surveyor on behalf of the Alliance Insurance Office. Mr. T. P. Ross, the district secretary of the company paid a visit to the church yesterday morning; and made a cursory inspection. He has telegraphed to headquarters, and a surveyor will attend in due course. Meanwhile the building will remain in charge of a police officer. A few pieces of loose stonework and some of the pilasters which hung rather gingerly to their places in the walls have been knocked down, but the walls are not believed to be in a dangerous condition, so as to need immediate demolition. The tall western gable surmounted by a stone cross, appears to lean considerably outwards, but Superintendent Pound and others who have been consulted, do not consider that any risk attends its continuance as at present.

  As stated in yesterday's Independent, the building and its contents were insured with the Alliance Company for 9400. Of this sum the building was insured for 8000, and the organ for 1000, other special items making up the total. How far this sum will go towards replacing or restoring the building is not certain until it is known to what extent the walls will require to be taken down. It is clear that a considerable part of the west end must be reconstructed, and it is more than probable that large portions of the side walls will be found to be seriously weakened or damaged beyond repair.

  The tower had a very narrow escape. The louvres in the belfry windows were fortunately of stone. A little woodwork in such close contiguity to the burning roof as the north side of the belfry would almost infallibly have spread the fire to the bell frames and other woodwork. As it is the tower is intact, and calmly dominates the blackened ruins. The fine peal of bells, presented to the church by the late Mr. Wm. Smith , has therefore escaped all injury.

  The vestry was even more narrowly saved than the tower, being near the seat of the conflagration. The roof is burnt through at the corner nearest the chimney, and the whole of it is scorched and blackened, showing that in a few minutes more it must have gone.

  There is not much doubt that the fire began at the upper part of the flue of the heating apparatus, where a beam supporting the organ chamber roof was let into the brickwork, and if it did not actually penetrate to the flue, was sufficiently near it to be ignited by the heat. A suggestion was made that possibly some danger might have attended the constant burning of two gas jets within the organ, which were kept going to preserve the instrument, but there was no reason why these should have been specially dangerous on Sunday morning, and Superintendent Pound, from long experience, is confident in his opinion that the fire started from the flue at the point indicated.

  The destruction of the church will of necessity create considerable inconvenience to those accustomed to attend there for public worship. It is not probable that any long period will elapse before steps will be taken to renew the building, and the generosity and resources of the district - of which the church and almost everything it contained were ample evidence - are not likely to allow any question of funds to occasion delay.

  The Archdeacon of Sheffield has made an official inspection of the ruins, and in all probability when the question of insurance is settled, the parishioners will be consulted either informally or by public meeting as to the course to be pursued. In the meantime, the new parish room, in Ranmoor Park road, which was open about twelve months ago, is fortunately available. The Vicar (the Rev. A. G. Tweedie) wrote on Sunday night to the Archbishop of York applying that the room may be licensed for the holding of services, for marriages, and so forth. The licence will probably be issued at once, and the room will be converted into a temporary church, which, if not so spacious and luxurious as that which has been wrecked, will yet be convenient and comfortable.

End of Article

Picture from "The First Hundred Years, St. John's Ranmoor, 1879-1979 "

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