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The Destroyed Village of Chawleigh

From: The Architect; A Weekly Illustrated Journal of Art, Civil Engineering and Building, Vol II, July-December, 1869, London: p. 129

Prepared by Michael Steer

CHAWLEIGH, or Chawley, a village and a parish in Crediton district, Devon. stands on the river Dart, two miles East of Eggesford railway station, and two miles SE of Chumleigh. It is irregularly built, but very pleasantly situated; and has fairs on 6 May and 11 Dec annually. The manor and about three-quarterss of the property belong to the Earl of Portsmouth. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Exeter. The church is ancient, with a tower; has a splendid carved screen; and was recently in need of extensive repair. There are chapels for Independents and Bible Christians. Charities. This rare book was produced from a digital copy held by the University of Michigan Library that can be downloaded from Google Books. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

The quiet village of Chawleigh, situate next to Eggesford Station, on the North Devon Line, was almost destroyed by fire a few days ago. Twenty-one dwellings with other buildings were consumed, out of about ninety houses in all, sheltering some 800 persons, mostly of the labouring classes.

One account says that about seventy-five houses were in flames; if so, far more than twenty-one must have been destroyed. There was what sailors call a chopping wind; it veered round several times during the conflagration, so that the houses on either side of the street were alternately ignited.

The fire commenced at 2 pm, but not until 4 pm did an engine from the neighbouring town of Chulmleigh make its appearance- and then there was no water! What say the Sun and Royal Farmer's Insurance Offices to this neglect? The explanation lies here. In various parts of the provinces, the local companies only allow their water to run into the house cisterns during, say, one hour in the morning, and perhaps one in the evening; not the slightest provision is made against accidental fire, except at these certain times; and yet engines are constructed to pump away, householders are advised to flush away, and insurance companies to advertise for policy-holders.

Is not such conduct little better than insane? Two hours are taken to bring an engine a few miles, and then it is discovered that the great need is water!

Why did not the local company at once turn on its mains? Why did not Chulmleigh not hasten faster to the rescue?

Only on the supposition that all the inhabitants of this part are builders in want of contracts can we understand the simultaneous sight of a burning village, empty water pipes and no engines.