THE OLD BAGINTON HALL
Great Fire at Baginton Hall - October 9, 1889
Intelligence was received at Coventry on Monday morning about twenty minutes to eleven that Baginton Hall was on fire. All that the messenger, a groom named Everitt, could say, for he was breathless with hard riding, was that a cask of paraffin had caught fire in the lamp room, and that the flames were spreading rapidly. Inspector Wyatt, who was on duty at the police station, telephoned immediately for four horses from Mr. Camwell's to horse the steam fire engine, and despatched all the available constables to call the members of the Fire Brigade. In about five minutes the steamer was ready to start, and Deputy-Captain Liggins who had been fetched from a meeting of the Market Hall Committee, took command.
The news of the fire spread quickly, and a number of persons set out on foot for the scene. The Coventry Fire Brigade reached Baginton about five minutes past eleven, and the serious nature of the conflagration was at once seen. It would appear that the petroleum for the use of the entire house is stored in the basement underneath the drawing-room, the cellar being so dark that a light is required when any work is done therein. About ten o'clock on Monday morning one of the men was getting a supply or oil, when it caught fire, and the cellar was instantaneously in a blaze. The flames soon broke out from the storeroom windows in the basement, under the breakfast room, at the east front of the building. Already the servants, assisted by the neighbouring farmers, ware busy removing the valuable oil paintings, the grand old furniture, and other treasures. The plate, which is very costly, was early removed to a place of safety. Amongst the foremost arrivals to render assistance was the rector of the parish, the Rev. B. G. Gronow, Messrs. Hulme (Village Farm), E. Lucas, Captain-Commandant of the Leuville Life Saving Brigade (Home Farm), J.Bostock (Baginton Lodge), Barnwell (Baginton), Grimes (Bubbenhall), Hawkes (Stoneleigh), & c. Immediately after the arrival of the Coventry Brigade, a detachment of the I Battery 2nd. Brigade Royal Artillery, galloped up to the Hall, from the Coventry Barracks, under the direction of Lieut. Younge Bateman, and energetically set to work in removing the furniture from the upper stories. The lawn in front of the house, with its splendid avenue of trees stretching away down parallel with the Bubbenhall Road, was piled with a miscellaneous assortment of goods from the interior of the Hall. Pictures, books, a large billiard table, dining and drawing room suites were quickly handed out through the large windows on the ground floor and hastily deposited on the terrace.
The wind blew in strong gusts, fanning the flames, which spread with fearful rapidity. Up through the floor of the breakfast room, bursting out at the window on the north side of the massive portico, the fire raged and the workers were driven to the south end of the building. At the gables at either end and at the west front of the house the task of clearing the bedrooms could be prosecuted with safety for some time. Rapidly the fire spread upwards, window after window falling in with loud crashes, and the flames darting out drove the spectators back off the terrace, down the grassy slope to the lawn. The wind blew the flames out from the house in long forked tongues, and the showers of sparks falling on the terrace and lawn compelled a hasty removal of the goods placed there to more distant spots. It was thought that the fire might be restricted to the part of the house where it originated, but this proved impossible. The Coventry men had ran their steamer down to the side of the nearest pool of water—a pool well known for its good angling sport—hut this, unfortunately, was a distance of 400 yards away from the burning pile. Yet the distance would have offered but little obstacle to a speedy service of water had not the hose to travel over a steep piece of rising ground. The engine pumped under good pressure, but despite the efforts made, the water could not be forced over the brow of the hill.
No other engine had then arrived to carry on the service and the flames raged and roared unhindered until the whole building became like a seething furnace. Deputy Captain Liggins who had been relieved of command, by Captain Thomas, mounted a horse and galloped to Coventry for more hose, to bring along the old engine, and to telegraph for further assistance from Warwick. Mounted messengers had been despatched for other neighbouring brigades.
For some time nothing could be done but watch the terrible progress of the flames. At last a cheer greeted the first jet of water on the north gable by the Coventry men. By various devices they had ‘coaxed’ current the water over the hill, for no other engine had yet arrived. By this time the flames were extending to the roof. and the molten lead began to pour down in streams. Through the wrecked windows portions of bedsteads and bureaus could be seen. One room in particular in the second floor at the rear of the Hall seemed charmed, for it stood intact for a long time after the surrounding rooms had been completely gutted. Its turn came at last, and the magnificent mahogany bedstead, with its heavy hangings, was destroyed in a moment.
Some alarm was occasioned by the constant explosion of the contents of a case of cartridges stored in one of the basement cellars. It shot up through the flooring with a loud report, shattering the burning timber into a shower of sparks. One of these explosions blew out the glass in a gable window, and the fragments struck Captain Thomas in the face, severely cutting his cheek. He was attended to by Dr Pickup and resumed duty with his face bound up with sticking plaster and a white pocket handkerchief.
Mr W S Armytage, the tenant of the Hall, was met with frequently, now in front, now at the rear, urging on the men, and directing the disposal of the goods that lay about the grounds.
At twenty past twelve, the Stoneleigh Fire Brigade who had heard the news at twelve o’clock, arrive with the manual engine from Stoneleigh Abbey, accompanied by Mr. H. Donne on horseback. Mr Stainton, the horse steward at Stoneleigh Abbey, also came to render assistance. They proceeded to the pool and, directed by Mr. Flint, ran out their hose. Ten minutes later the Kenilworth Fire Brigade with their manual drove up in command of Captain Dr. Atkinson. The combined force of the two manuals was, however, not sufficient to send the water over the hill that lay between the pool and the burning building. The Coventry old manual engine arrived, this, taking up a position at the rear of the Hall, and fed by the Stoneleigh and Kenilworth manuals managed to throw a second jet on the flames. Members of the various brigades drove to the scene in cabs and cars and traps and joined their comrades, while arrangements were made for relays of men at the manuals. Mr Pryce arrived and took charge of the Stoneleigh Brigade who were doing good service at the pool by the side of the powerful ‘Merryweather’ The efforts of then firemen were directed to saving the conservatory, which formed the wing of the Hall and in this they were successful.
Meanwhile the interior of the main block was being totally destroyed. Terrific crashes told of the falling in of portions of the roof and stout oak beams, charred to the core, crumbled away like matchwood. Nothing was left of the division walls of the various rooms but the bare red bricks, while outside the stone facing shelled off in large quantities making a near approach absolutely dangerous. The north wing, consisting of the drawing room, was not so badly burnt as the main portion, but here the leaden roof was peeled and warped in all manner of fantastic shapes. There was nothing more for the firemen to do but to direct their efforts to quenching the smouldering beams, for the fire seemed to have spent itself when the wreck of the main building was complete. Fortunately, the stables were at some distance from the Hall, and not in the direction of the flames.
At twenty minutes past two the Warwick Fire Brigade arrived with ‘Shand and Mason" steamer, with Capt. Devey in charge. They had received the call at 12 30, and lost no time in getting to the scene. The same difficulty that met the Coventry brigade presented itself, and it was some time before they could get their service to play on the building. The Hatton Brigade also arrived and gave their assistance. During the day a large number of people visited the scene from Coventry and the surrounding district, but the utmost good order prevailed. Supt. Wilson was present in charge of a strong body of the county police, augmented by members of the Coventry force under Inspector Golby. Inspector Hall, of Warwick arrived about midday with a further body of police.
Baginton Hall is the property of Mr Bromley Davenport, and the Warwickshire seat of the family, who, however, have not resided there for some years. It was let in June last to Mr W Sugden Armytage, who, with his wife and seven children, were at home on the outbreak of the fire. The children were in the nursery, situate in an upper storey, and were quickly conveyed away to the houses near. Mr Armytage remained on the scene throughout the whole day.
The Hall, which lies partly hidden by trees, is of a classic style, a good view of the east front being obtained from the road leading from Coventry to Bubbenhall. Across the fields from the same road there is a favourite footpath leading to Stoneleigh, and this passes directly at the rear of the Hall.
The situation is a charming one, and the Hall, being built upon an elevated piece of land, commands a fine view of the surrounding woodland country. An inscription on the west side reads, "Dii patrii,servate domum 1714," while over the terrace entrance the motto, " Pheonix Resurgens," throws another light upon its history. In the year 1706, the old Hall was burnt to the ground, while the head of the Bromley family was a member of the House of Commons. Intelligence of thin calamity was forwarded to the owner while attending his duties, and he allowed the debate to be concluded before he gave any intimation to the House of what had occurred. Immediately a considerable sum was voted by Parliament for the restoration of the structure, which was completed in 1714.
Queen Anne is stated to have visited the Hall and to have planted a cedar tree on the east lawn. The new mansion was capacious and altogether devoid of ostentation; it was, in fact, of a description suited to a country gentleman much given to hospitality. In different parts of the house were some valuable and interesting family portraits, amongst them being one of Lord Keeper Bromley and a whole length painting of the owner at the time of the fire which destroyed the old Hall. In the south chamber, known as the Bachelors Room, was hang a drawing of the former building, and this, as well as the other valuable paintings, were saved, although somewhat affected by the heat and smoke. In the library was a fine collection of Greek and Roman classics, and some curious original letters, several of which are said to have been written by royal hands. These, it is believed, have been saved, many of the bookcases having been lifted bodily out of the library on to the lawn. The estate was bought in the sixteenth year of King James the First by William Bromley, Esq, and has remained in the possession of the family ever since.
The Hall yesterday presented the appearance of a total wreck. From basement to roof the flames had made a clean sweep of everything of a combustible nature. The interior walls are left naked and bare, and it is only in the upper storey that even the plaster has been left. Not a vestige of the roof remains, and the windows on the terrace front have been divested of every fragment of their casements. There are seven windows in the upper storey, the same number in the centre, and three on each side of the portico. Each one bears traces of the fierce fury of the flames as they burst outwards. The eight steps to the entrance are covered with debris, the fluted columns peeled, and the carved capitals are broken, while standing by the side of the ruined doorway is a broken ornamental flower-pot. The ground floor of the mansion has gone completely, and the debris has fallen through into the cellars, where a few heaps of blackened timbers were still smouldering.
In the conservatory on the terrace side the broken windows nearest the Hall show where the first jet of water was thrown upon the flames. Lead from the roof has poured down to the basement and cooled in huge masses. It is remarkable how little of the fine timber in the building is left; nothing but a few relics of immense beams are to be seen, and of the grand polished oak staircase not a vestige has survived. At the north wing, the drawing-room casements remain in three of the four windows, but the interior walls are disfigured and discoloured with heat and smoke, and the ceiling is stained with water, where the second jet was brought into play. Large pieces of stone have fallen, and others are crumbling away from the face of the building. The proud motto, "Phoenix resurgent" is nearly hidden by the blackening stains of the smoke. In the conservatory many of the plants are untouched, and it is here that the fire was kept under control, The south entrance is nearly blocked by a heap of wreckage, the framework of a small iron bedstead that had fallen from one of the top bedrooms being uppermost. Here, too, by the door side, is a portable fire engine, with its leather straps burnt and singed, and still containing a small quantity of water. Several of these engines were placed in different parts of the Hall and three were bought to play on the flames directly they were discovered in the lamp room. The engine on the doorstep was one of those actually used. On the front facing the carriage drive which the flames attacked last. there is a repetition of the burnt-out windows but the porch has not suffered so severely on the terrace side.
Remaining quit intact is the iron bell-pull on the right hand side of the burnt-out doorway. One window only out of the twenty on this front unbroken and the exterior of the building here has not been affected as the wind blew the flames inward from the west.
Evidences of the searching nature of the fire lay around the building. Near together were pieces of burnt joists, broken glass, a bell, a pair of tongs, a champagne bottle, splinters of furniture, a fire guard—a miscellaneous assortment fallen or thrown from various parts of the house. The large billiard table, burnt only from its legs in order to get it away from the building, lay on the lawn, while the grass beaten and trampled down showed that many hurrying and I hasty feet had worn it nearly bare. Neither have the flower beds and shrubs escaped! those nearest the Hall being considerably damaged. It is only too evident that the fire was one of the most destructive that has occurred for a considerable period in a building of the solidity and massive proportions of the Hall.
None of the valuable pictures or books have been lost; these have been removed to safe places at storage. Visitors to the scene have been very numerous, but no one is allowed to approach near to the building on account of the danger from falling stones and bricks.
With reference to the delay in getting the service of water to play on the fire, one of our representatives spoke to Lieut. Thomas, who was in charge of the Coventry Volunteer Fire Brigade steam engine. Lieut. Thomas explained that the steamer took up a position by the side of the pool at ten or fifteen minutes past eleven. There was an abundant supply of water and the members of the brigade went to work heartily in getting the hose laid oat, seventeen lengths being required to reach the burning building. The hose bad to be carried up a steep incline rising from the pool, a distance of nearly three hundred yards, then along a comparatively level piece of ground to the shrubbery, and thence to the Hall a distance of another hundred yards. The laying of the hose was accomplished in very smart time, Lieut. Thomas judging it at about eight minutes. After the hose was down the difficulty presented itself of forcing the water up the incline and this proved a most arduous task. It was estimated that the rise from the pool to the Hall was about 100 feet, and in places the gradient was very steep. The engine continued to pump at the highest possible pressure that the strength of the hose would allow; had the hose not been of the best material it must have burst. At intervals the water forced its way tiny holes in the canvas jets of water five feet the demonstrating the pressure being exerted upon it from the engine. Gradually the hose swelled out and marked the advance of the water, but when the top of the hill was reached it would go no further. The firemen hurried to and fro, and used every endeavour, and tried every resource to "coax" the water further along. It was decided to disconnect the hose at the highest point reached by the service of water, and allow the pent-up air to escape. This was done, and the hose worked to and fro to find the easiest gradient. Meanwhile, the fire was gaining on the building. And comrades coming from the scene urged their fellow-members to further endeavours; it was impossible, by reason of the belt of trees, for the men working at the hose to see the exact progress of the fire, but they heard enough to convince them that every effort was needed. At last the water swelled up the hose and a jet was thrown from the nozzle, the supply the never ceased until the order was given to stop pumping. The engine worked continuously four hours and twenty minutes. ‘Had it been possible,’ said Lieut. Thomas, ‘to have got the water earlier, without having to pump it up that hill – never mind the distance – I believe the brigade could have prevented the fire getting past the first storey.’ Capt. Thomas was present at the Council meeting yesterday morning, with a surgical bandage round his head, his upper lip apparently being cut. Mr Ballantine MP, telegraphed to Mr Thomas yesterday; ‘Extremely sorry to read of your injury. Trust not serious. Wire how you are.
The hall was rebuilt for the Bromleigh family between 1706 and 1710 following the fire of 1706. It was designed by Francis Smith of Warwick whose building of the West Front of Stoneleigh Abbey is considered his masterpiece.