Fire at the Mitchells! | Then & Now

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Roger Guttridge tells how a blaze in 1942 brought drama to a corner of Hazelbury Bryan – and hears about the remains visible today

Mitchell’s shop (left) some years before the 1942 fire. Postcard from the Barry Cuff Collection

The cottages on the near-left of these pictures, which were taken more than 100 years apart, were the scene of a major fire drama in 1942, as present residents Valerie and Brian Kelly were able to tell me.
At the time, the building now known as Forge House included a garage complete with a hand-operated Shell petrol pump and an ironmonger’s and hardware store adjoining.
The whole place was run by the Mitchell family, including Len and Horace.
‘The shop stocked household goods, car bits, carbide batteries and shotgun cartridges, among other things,’ Valerie told me.
‘I have talked to elderly people who remember sitting on the wall opposite as people ran in and out with shotgun cartridges and other stock, all of which was put out in the road.’
The building was rebuilt with tiles replacing the thatched roof, but the original garage doors can still be seen today.
The business closed in the 1970s and Valerie and Brian arrived in 1983.

The old garage doors and shop window are still evident today. Image: Roger Guttridge

They have found ample evidence of the fire, including charred timbers in the roof and joists which told another story.
‘Because it was during the war, there were shortages and they ran out of timber,’ said Brian who, handily, is a roofer by trade. ‘The joists got thinner and thinner and more and more stretched out.’
‘Brian had to put timbers in to jack the roof up,’ Valerie added.
The couple also found some stored framed building paper that would have been used to block off the windows during the wartime blackouts.
Another relic of the building’s days as a garage is an AA sign, which tells us – with remarkable precision – the distances from Hazelbury Bryan to Sturminster Newton (four-and-a-quarter miles), Piddletrentide (six-and-a-half miles) and London (115-and-a-quarter miles).

A 1967 aerial view of the Mitchells’ garage and shop (centre) and the farm and saw mills next door (right)


The London distance makes me wonder if the sign-maker was having a laugh.
The top line of a second sign is missing but the surviving part reads: ‘…have been sworn in to apprehend any persons seen cudgeling, fighting or boxing.’
Cudgeling was obviously a problem at Hazelbury in those distant days.
The aerial picture above was taken in 1967 and shows the garage and shop (centre) complete with petrol pumps with Wonston Farm and saw mills, run by William Hutchings and Sons, to the right.
Most of the farm and saw mill buildings have now gone, with houses built on part of the site.

An old AA sign with its very precise distances to Sturminster Newton, Piddletrentide and London. Photo by Roger Guttridge

The Mitchells
A glance at the old Kelly’s Directories reveals just how central the Mitchell family was to life in Hazelbury. For Wonston, the 1931 directory lists thatcher Charles Mitchell, decorators, plumbers and motor engineers Joseph J Mitchell & Sons and Miss Laura L Mitchell, who ran the drapery store and post office and had the telephone number Hazelbury Bryan 1.
In the wider village, William J Mitchell Sr was clerk to the parish council and collector of taxes, William Mitchell Jr was a plumber, hot and cold water engineer and decorator, while Horace Mitchell is merely listed as a resident at The Bungalow.
One member of the Mitchell family even took the early 20th century picture opposite of the Wonston shop, with dog, bicycle and local resident outside.

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