1901. Fire in the High Street

Susan Chambers.
The year 1901 was a bad one for Neston regarding fires – in February Little Neston’s Royal Oak was destroyed, and a month later Stringers’ shop in the town centre met the same fate.

Stringers was the left one of the two similar High Street houses, Neston House and Church House currently both estate agents, standing almost opposite to the parish church, built before 1850 possibly on the site of an earlier building. There was a vaulted cellar, showing the bedrock and sandstone blocks used in the construction, no tunnels though (I’ve been in the cellar).

At around 3pm on Thursday 7th March, Mr Stringer who ran a hairdressing business on the ground floor, was upstairs fixing shelves for his wife who had a drapery business there. He knocked over a paraffin lamp – with disastrous results despite trying to quell the resulting flames with his coat. The Neston Voluntary Fire Brigade were called, the men having to be summoned from their usual places of work.

Water pressure was poor and there were defects in the hoses, so water was leaking into the street resulting in little success on a relatively high building. The flames roared on and it was finally decided to call the Birkenhead Fire Brigade at about 5pm. Some administrative permission had to be obtained as the request was coming from outside the Birkenhead Borough so it was 5.50pm by the time they arrived in Neston – with their steam fire engine which could produce a much greater water pressure than Neston’s manual machine.

The contents of Staffords, ironmongers and furniture dealer, on the left (later Prentices ironmongers, then Peters, then site of Barclays Bank, now an office,) were removed in case of the fire spreading, and members of the large crowd that had gathered were busy taking boxes of nails, dolls, pictures, cases of china, furniture and so on across the road into the churchyard just as the roof and front part of Stringers’ collapsed. Mrs Barrett’s house, the one on the right, suffered no reported damage; she was a well-known figure in the town, the widow of Rev. Barrett, and she was often mentioned as providing piano accompaniments for numerous concerts and entertainments. She had a garden to the right of her house.

By about 7.30pm the fire was finally extinguished and the Birkenhead men could return home as their job was done. Mr Stringer’s shop was completely gutted, but was covered by insurance.

Within a couple of months plans for a replacement building were submitted, very similar in style to the original but with Ruabon red brick, and a shop-front window. Church House on the right had a shop-front installed in 1931.

The building was later Nicholsons haberdashers for many years and then Sykes Waterhouse estate agent, whilst the right-hand side (Mrs Barrett’s) was Gittins Carpets with a dental surgery upstairs.

(I have spent a long time on trying to date the building of these two properties with various maps etc. with no luck, so any information will be welcome. )
Images – black and white map 1849, coloured plan is the 1901 rebuild plan. The railings are Mrs Barrett’s garden. There don’t seem to be any.