Great Fire at Mr Caudwell’s Mill

Great Fire at Mr Caudwell’s Mill

News February 11, 2021
Great Fire at Mr Caudwell’s Mill

We have received a letter from Bramley reader, Una Cater of Bilsthorpe, regarding a fire at Caudwell’s Mill that took place in June 1893. Una’s friend, Marion Whitby nee Mathews is the great grandaughter of Henry Blake, the foreman of the mill and her grandfather Harry who also assisted in putting out the fire. They were both praised for their efforts.

An article in the Newark Advertiser from 21st June 1893 states:

One of the most disastrous fires that has occurred in this district for years past took place on Sunday morning at Southwell, when the large flour mill belonging to Mr E Caudwell was completely gutted, nothing but the exterior walls of the building itself remaining.

The mill and the premises adjoining, consisting of dwelling houses, granary and a large warehouse, constituted a splendid block of buildings, and formed a prominent feature at the entrance to Southwell near the Midland Railway Station. Mr Caudwell had spared no expense to adapt them to the requirements of his extensive business. The mill spanned the little River Greet, and the machinery was driven both by steam and water power.

This fine structure is now a complete wreck. The granary, warehouses and dwelling-houses have been saved, but the mill and its fittings and contents have been practically destroyed, save for the outer walls. We append all details of the sad disaster, which has sent a thrill of excitement and regret throughout the district . .

Foreman Mr Henry Blake, together with his son Harry, quickly hurried to the top of the mill, where they found the dust room, which is next to the roof, nearly full of smoke, and in one corner they immediately saw that flames were bursting through. It should here be explained that Mr Caudwell, in order to save the building in the event of fire breaking out, had had an excellent apparatus fitted up. It consisted of a small hand pump and twelve buckets for each floor, and the buckets were always kept full of water in case of emergency. Without losing a moment, Mr Blake and his son, with the aid of this pump, commenced to play water in the direction from which the fire appeared to emanate, but they soon found, although they were using their efforts to the best advantage, that the supply of water, which now had to be carried up in buckets, was insufficient to cope with the flames, which were then rapidly spreading, and they were therefore compelled to speedily retreat.

A messenger was despatched for assistance and in a few minutes after the inhabitants of Southwell were aroused by the ringing of the fire bell, and ere the sound had died away Mr Butler, jun., and several willing helpers were dragging the fire brigade’s large manual engine to the scene of the conflagration. Here they soon got to work, and at twenty minutes past eight not only this engine but also a smaller one belonging to the brigade were being worked with considerable force and skill in order to subdue the flames. Great praise is due to Mr Butler and his co workers for the prompt and energetic way in which they acted. The Newark fire brigade were also summoned to the scene and special praise is due to Captain Harrison and the members of the brigade, for the able and business-like manner in which they acquitted themselves, for within five minutes after their arrival (9.45) they were pounng a copious supply of water on the burning building.

The mill, which was driven by steam and water power, stands on the Greet, near to the Midland Station, and fortunately, there was an abundance of water. Despite the volumes that were poured on to the fire it continued to spread with great rapidity, and it was soon seen that any effort to save the mill itself would be in vain, it was doomed to destruction and the efforts of the firemen were directed to saving another portion of the building which comprised a large granary, warehouse, and two dwelling houses. This was a new wing added only last year, and at the time of the outbreak the warehouse was stocked with a very large quantity of grain, chiefly wheat with many quarters of oats and maize. From the appearance of these premises it was feared that the flames had extended to them, and therefore there was not delay in endeavouring to save them and the large stock which they contained.

By the combined efforts of a willing band of workers the whole of the grain flour, bran, oats, beans etc, which included some hundreds of bags, was removed as speedily as possible from the building to a place of safety, and most of the furniture was taken from the two dwelling-houses, which are respectively occupied by Mr Blake and his family, and Ulyett, the waggoner. Happily. however, the fire was prevented from spreading to the new wing; but in the mill itself it burned furiously and fast, and it was a heartrending sight to watch the rapid and total destruction of what was but a short time previously one of the best and most modernly constructed flour mills that could be found for miles around. The mill stood six storeys high, and Mr Cauldwell only recently had it fitted up on the roller system with the most modern machinery that could be obtained, regardless of cost.

The whole of this machinery was destroyed, with the exception of the driving engine and boiler, but the engine especially is damaged by the quantity of water that was poured upon it. It was an awful sight to witness this massive and costly machinery crashing through with floor after floor as the fire burned and descended to it, and yet it was impossible to save it. It addition to the machinery a large quantity of grain, flour, etc was also destroyed, and the loss in this direction is likewise very great. We understand that there was a very large consignment of grain at the railway station waiting to be delivered at the mill, but at fortunately it had not been unloaded or it would certainly have perished in the flames.

The conflagration raged very fiercely for some time and as the floors one after the other fell through huge flames and a smoke shot into the air to a tremendous height, ascending on one or two occasions twice as high as the building. At one time the mill presented the appearance of a gigantica furnace, the flames and smoke rushing from the windows with considerable force, and blacking the outside walls in every direction. The heat, too, was intense, but notwithstanding the scorching power of the burning debris, and the extreme force of the sun. the whole of the firemen, besides many practical sympathisers, worked most indefatigably to check the progress of the conflagration. As already stated they were successful in saving the whole of the warehouse, granary, and dwelling-houses, but the mill itself was completely destroyed. The premises were literally gutted, andthere now remain the bare outside walls and a vast heap of debris of what a few hours before was a most handsome and substantial block of buildings. Supt Harrop of Newark, was speedily summoned to the fire, and with the assistance of Inspector Frances, quickly organised a strong force of constables who rendered valuable service. A word of special praise is certainly due to Supt Harrop for the prompt and business-like manner in which he responded to the call, arriving at the mill in exceeding quick time after receiving the call.


In reply to our representative, Captain Harrison, of the Newark Fire Brigade, said: “On Sunday morning about 8.45, I received a telegram from Southwell, summoning the brigade to a fire at Mr Cauldwell’s flour mills. I immediately telephoned the police-station and engine-house and also communicated with Supt. Harrop. We speedily got ready, and had started for Southwell by 8.55. We arrived at the scene of the fire at about 9.45, and within five minutes of our arrival were pouring a good stream of water from the Hockerton side of the Greet on to the burning mill. The building was all in flames, and I knew it would be no easy matter to get the fire under. After playing from this direction for an hour, we went on to the other side and directed our efforts to saving the new wing, the engine house, warehouse, and dwellings, which we succeeded in doing. We found this a hard and dangerous task, as we were afraid the walls of the mill would collapse in consequence of the heat, one of the walls expanding about eight inches, As I have already said, we continued to work here until we had made the new building quite safe, after which we directed our efforts to cooling the burning mass of debris inside the mill, which by this time was terribly hot, there being a number of smouldering bags of wheat as well as a quantity of machinery. We worked in this way until nine o’clock at night, by which time we had fairly seen the end of the fire, and we left the Southwell Brigade in charge, and in case the smouldering mass should kindle into flames they would be there to prevent any further outbreak.

“Our efforts had no doubt been appreciated, for we were loudly cheered on leaving by a large concourse of people who had assembled at the scene of the fire. I had better add that while pouring water in the engine house we found that the floor was on fire, but we soon succeeded in putting it out. The Southwell Brigade remained until about half-past eight on Monday night, and before they left any danger of any further outbreak had been averted. The Southwell Brigade worked exceedingly well to save the building, and rendered good service.”

We understand that Mr Cauldwell expressed himself highly pleased with the way the men worked, and said that had it not been for the efforts of Captain Harrison and his men there is no doubt that the whole of the premises must have been burned to the ground.


Our representative again paid a visit to Southwell flour mill yesterday, and found it still smouldering. This was more particularly in connection with the vast heap of grain, which formed a portion of the debris lying along the bottom of the mill. It is composed chiefly of wheat, which at the commencement of the fire was in the garners, waiting to be ground, and amounted to something like 400 quarters. It now forms a burnt and charred mass, averaging between seven and eight feet in depth, whilst buried in it and above it is a large quantity of machinery, including five sets of double rollers, each of which must have weighed not less than 24 to 25 cwt. These were erected on the second floor, but are now bent and broken to such an extent that they look very little better than a lot of old rusty iron. It is a deplorable sight to look upon this heap of ruins and contract it with the sound and perfect condition the mill was in but a few hours before. In addition to this is the total destruction of the stone mill, known as the old mill, which adjoins the buildings on the Hockerton Road side. Lying in the bottom of this building is a valuable washing and drying machine, buried in about 10 feet of grain, consisting of a quantity of maize, barley, oats, beans, Indian com, &c, which must amount to some hundreds of quarters. All this is completely spoiled by fire and water, together with some thousands of new empty sacks, which are burned and charred to a great extent. The large water wheel tool, is destroyed; nothing in fact has escaped wholesale destruction, except the new wing, and it was almost a miracle that this did not meet with the same fate. Luckily, however, there was a space between this building and the mill, which was utilised as a store-room, and for other purposes, and it was no doubt the means of preventing the flames spreading before the firemen were able to direct their attention to that particular quarter.

The Newark Fire Brigade were enabled to withdraw their engine on Sunday night, but owing to the extent of the smouldering of the salvage, the Southwell Brigade did not deem it advisable to withdraw their manual until Monday night. Smouldering continued, however, all through the night, but Mr Blake (Sen), who remained up to watch it, prevented any fresh outbreak by the use of occasional buckets of water. The same thing was repeated yesterday by Mr Harry Blake, and there is no doubt that the smouldering will continue for several more days yet. Great praise should be given to Messrs Blake for the way they have worked in the matter all through. We are glad to say that we have heard of no accidents except one or two mishaps, which have been of a slight nature. In order to give some idea of the force and height to which the flames shot out of the mill when the fire raged at its midst, we may state that a quantity of charred wood was found fully half a mile away, Mrs Bacon of Southwell, sweeping up a number of pieces of the sizes of walnuts. Wind, of course, would carry them that distance, but it still shows the extent to which they must have been shot into the air


The last time was July 21st 1867, and by a curious coincidence it also happened on a Sunday morning. We quote the following from the Advertiser of July 24th 1867: “A disastrous fire occurred at Southwell Water Mills on Sunday morning which resulted in the total loss of both large com mills, belonging to and occupied by Mr Charles Caudwell, together with nearly the whole of the valuable machinery and stock-in-trade. On Saturday evening, about 12 o’clock, one of Mr Cauldwell’s men, who had been engaged up to that hour, left the mills, when all appeared to be perfectly safe; but between three and four o’clock on the following morning, Mr Cauldwell’s daughter awoke, and perceiving a smell of burning in her bedroom, which was only separated from one of the mills by a single brick wall, she called to the ….. (remainder missing)

Sketch shows burning building, of which only the walls remain, and the warehouses to the left, which have been saved from destruction. The original photo was taken while the work of salvage was in progress, and while the firemen were pouring water upon the flames