Local History

Fire St James’s Street, Shaftesbury | Then and Now

Roger Guttridge recalls a fire that ripped through terraced cottages at Shaftesbury

What a difference 63 years makes!

The above picture shows some of the devastation after fire swept through six terraced cottages at St James’s Street, Shaftesbury, on June 17, 1955.

The modern picture features the same terrace in 2018 complete with the tiled roofs that replaced the thatch of yesteryear.

The fire was accidentally started when a painter’s blowtorch set light to the thatch below the galvanised sheeting that also covered the terrace pre-1955.

A strong wind fanned the flames, which quickly spread from No. 77 to five neighbouring cottages, including No. 79, home of James Parsons, one of the 50 Dorset and Wiltshire firemen who fought the blaze.

His uncle, Charles Parsons, was Shaftesbury’s chief fire officer.

Almost 300 residents formed a human chain to rescue furniture and other possessions, most of which were saved and stored in the nearby school and church hall.

The 1955 picture, from the Gold Hill Museum collection, features trucks from the US Air Force, stationed at Guy’s Marsh, who helped to fight the fire and clear up the debris.

Their efforts were hampered by the design of their hoses, which didn’t fit the local hydrants.

There was also a general shortage of water and hoses had to be run hundreds of yards to supplement the supply.

More pictures of the fire appear in Roger Guttridge’s book Shaftesbury Through Time (Amberley).

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