Local History Society

 The Mill: 1861 Fire (Reading Mercury)


There are three known newspaper articles on fires at Arborfield Mill. This is from the 'Reading Mercury' on 28th September 1861.


At about two o’ clock in the morning of Tuesday last (24th September 1861), a fire broke out at the Paper Mills, Arborfield, occupied by Mr. A. Towgood which, we regret to say, quickly reduced the premises to ruins. From what we can learn it appears that a man, named Ford, remained on the premises on Monday night to keep up the fire, and at the above hour he was surprised by a roaring noise in the upper part of the building, at the north end, and on going thither he discovered a body of fire in the top drying room, an apartment 100 feet long and 20 wide. He at once hurried down stairs and immediately aroused Mr. Gwynne, the manager who resided near, and a alarm was also given to the owner of the mill, T. Hargreaves, Esq., who with other residents in the village went to the spot without delay, and used every exertion to check the progress of the flames, but, unfortunately, they extended with fearful rapidity along the building, and within an hour the destruction of the whole was certain.

The boiler contained a considerable quantity of water, and the fire, which was threatening to ignite all around it, must have generated steam that would doubtless have caused a terrific explosion, but Mr. Gwynne courageously rushed to the spot, and removed the safety valves, thus allowing the steam to escape. This praiseworthy act was, of course, attended with great risk, and was performed in the face of entreaties to the contrary.

The engines at Reading and the one at Wokingham were sent for, and three arrived at about five o’clock, but nothing could then be saved. The engines would have been present earlier had not the horse, on which one of the messengers rode, been restive to such an extent that it ran for some distance in a wrong direction.

The mills were built of brick and timber, and during the past twelve month a considerable sum had been expended: a new 20-horse power engine and a quantity of new machinery having been fitted up, while other portions were renovated: and it is stated that there was not a mill in the country in better condition.

The paper made at the mills was strong brown, of a peculiar description and there was, as usual, a large stock on the premises. Supt. O’Neill, of the Wokingham Division, and Supt. Crook, of the Reading Division, reached the place at an early hour, and with several constables rendered all the aid in their power.

The man, Ford, with much forethought and praiseworthiness, proceeded without loss of time to Mr. Hargreaves’ and cautioned the men to carefully watch the ricks, the sparks from the fire being carried in that direction. The property is, we hear, insured in the “Atlas” Fire Office. The cause of the conflagration has not been ascertained.

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