Stackyard Blaze – Heavy Harvest Totally  Destroyed – Christmas Eve Mishap

December 1907

Mexborough and Swinton Times, December 28th 1907

Stackyard Blaze at Conisboro’.
A Heavy Harvest Totally  Destroyed.
A Christmas Eve Mishap.
Incendiarism Suspected.

The stack-yard at Castle Farm, Conisboro’, has been Gutted, and an exceptionally rich harvest completely wiped out.

The affair took place in the small hours of Christmas Eve, and the fire has only just been stamped out. It was about two o’clock on Tuesday, and the morning was very thick and foggy, when a Mr. Johnson, who keeps a little shop in Elm Green Lane, saw smoke and flames shooting out from the direction of Mr. W. W. Norwood’s farmyard. Instantly he went to raise the alarm, and at the same time a cottager on the other side of the stackyard saw a flame shoot up to the sky and then on the instant spread into a lurid mass, eating up everything which came in its way. He guessed the stackyard was the centre of this outbreak, for the night was very dark and very foggy, and he also went to the alarm.

The fire brigade was soon stirring, and speedily saw that it was hopeless to attempt to save the stacks of corn. There was a more pressing danger to be combated, for at 2-30 a.m. the flames were darting in all directions, and were even leaping upon some old cottages which are-situate hard by. The walls soon began to get very hot, and the people of the neighbourhood were very much alarmed, so much alarmed in fact that many of them actually brought out their valuables into the lane, out of the reach of destruction. The fire brigade immediately began to play on the houses, and in an hour everything around the centre of the conflagration—the farm-yard and outbuildings, and the cottages was safe, there was just a slight breeze prevailing, and this fortunately kept the flames from the east ‘end, and from some thousands of pounds’ worth of property.

Mr. Norwood had been summoned shortly after the outbreak, and he had plenty of willing helpers in the attempt to get the fire under. But it was useless. Nothing could stand up against those fierce sweeping flames. They burnt up the fog for yards around, though the fire could not be seen from a great distance. However, to the crowd which gathered in the yard and around in the fields it was one huge glaring red-hot glow. Fifteen minutes from the moment the outbreak was first noticed, the tarred roof of the Dutch barn, in which the stacks were tightly packed, fell in with a roar, and the flames began to make headway, and in a few hours had destroyed everything—barn, stacks, and even heaps of buried potatoes and swedes lying near.

Fortunately the fire brigade had a very good supply of water at hand, and the engine was not called upon. Under Captain W. Jones, the men acquitted themselves very creditably. They made a very earnest effort to keep the flames away from the fodder, which was at the east end of the barn.

The grain was doomed from the first. The fire simply cut its way from end to end. The heat was terrible, the volumes of smoke suffocating. Mr Norwood was there at 2-20, shortly after the fire broke out. He left at two o’clock on. Christmas morning; and the flames were then crackling merrily enough.

The Dutch barn was a very large one, being 30 yards by ten, and it was filled with flour: corn stacks and two hay-stacks everything that the farm had Produced (except a stack of rakings), and the farm had produced a good deal more than average during, the past summer And, as Mr. Norwood put it to our representative, he has not two penn’orth of fodder about the Place, and is compelled to buy from his brother farmers.

This disaster for it is nothing less, hits, him very hard. .

The damage amounts to about £1000, and the stacks were insured. But as insurance is paid on an average crop, it is estimated that Mr. Norwood’s personal loss will be over £200.

The fire raged on until well into Christmas Eve, the firemen devoting themselves to the surrounding property, and at last, exhausted by its own fury, it began to sink, and the thing was to all intents and purposes over. But throughout Christmas Day, however, there were great heaps of red-hot grain, which, shining through the wet outer covering, looked—and felt—like a molten furnace. Firemen were left in charge on Christmas Day, and they were engaged in turning over the ruined heaps, and promptly drowning – further outbreaks at their birth. Loads of the charred rubbish were removed from the yards to the field during the day.

On Thursday morning the fire was finally extinguished and that was the last of one of the largest stack-fires ever known in the district, there can be but one explanation of the cause. It is too late in the season for spontaneous combustion to be possible, and everything points to the ignition of the stacks by some person at present unknown,

The most likely explanation is that the fire has been caused by some sleeping vagrant; most probably the affair was a pure accident. At any rate, the police have the matter in hand. Mr. Norwood’s man, Ezra Croupe, went round the stacks on Monday evening at nine o’clock, but noticed nothing untoward; Sergeant Horton, at half-past one saw nothing amiss; and a little later the first warning of this terrible destruction was given.

Naturally the affair has caused the Norwood family much anxiety, and for Mr. Norwood it has been but a sorry Christmas. He has been the object of much sympathy from his fellow-agriculturalists in the district.