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Stonehouse Court Fire - As reported in the Stroud News.
GREAT FIRE AT STONEHOUSE COURT : early hours of 30 May 1908
HISTORIC MANSION DESTROYED
ORIGIN OF THE OUTBREAK
DAMAGE ESTIMATED AT £10,000
The list was further added to on Saturday morning when Stonehouse Court was practically burnt out in spite of the heroic endeavours of three Fire Brigades to save the historic pile.
It was at 6.40am that the two Stroud brigades were called and never had a summons been answered more smoothly. The men were at their posts in a few minutes, the horses were harnessed to the engines and dashed through the town at breakneck speed, creating a great deal of excitement amongst the many pedestrians who were just on their way to work. Evidence of the alacrity with which the men responded to the call may be gathered from the fact that at 7 o’clock the hose had been laid and water was being poured into the burning building. Despite their brave attempts, however, and material assistance from a Gloucester Brigade, the fine old mansion was doomed, and in a couple of hours the gaunt walls with a smouldering heap of debris inside were all that remained of one of the most interesting and picturesque 16th century residences in Gloucestershire.
It was only two years ago the Mansion was purchased by Mr Arthur S Winterbotham, son of the late Mr A B Winterbotham (formerly MP for the Cirencester Division of Gloucestershire). Since he has become the owner of the property, Mr Winterbotham has spent a small fortune on the building, the interior of which had been almost entirely reconstructed.
The old oak beans, etc., had been left and these dry with age, quickly caught fire and rendered the effects of the firemen futile. The house had been furnished in a most costly manner, but practically all was destroyed. The strong iron safes were fortunately reached and so it was possible to save valuable documents and family jewels, things of great mementoes to the owner. At the time of the occurrence Mr & Mrs Winterbotham were away at Westward Ho! in Devonshire and the greatest sympathy has been expressed with them in the irreparable loss they have sustained. A Stroud News representative was on the scene almost directly after the outbreak was discovered, and his interesting description of the progress of the flames is appended.
A short history of the building has also been supplied by a special correspondent who is well acquainted with local antiquarian subjects.
THE SCENE AT THE FIRE
Our Stonehouse correspondent who was on the scene within a short time of the outbreak writes:
Not since the total destruction of the dwelling house near the village green some ten or twelve years ago have the parishioners of Stonehouse had that arch fiend (when uncontrolled) fire let loose and ravaging property in their midst until Saturday last. During the tenancy of the late Mr E R Salway of Stonehouse Court a fire broke out in his study and went, so far as to burn a large hole in the floor, but Mr Salway a practical man, set about the matter in a prompt and business like way and soon checked the progress of what he admitted would then have been a disastrous fire at the Court.
When dispatched from the Stonehouse Post Office about 6 o’clock on Saturday morning to take delivery of letters, Vivian Stephens, the son of Mr Edward Stephens of High Street made his first call at the Court. He was acting as assistant letter carrier; his proper vocation was telegram boy. On going down the drive to the Court which forms a graceful curve from the entrance adjoining the main road leading to the Midland Station and Eastington, Stephens noticed an unusual quantity of smoke issuing from one of the chimneys, and not only from this proper channel, but it was also creeping out from under the stone tiles.
This was not right, of course, and finding the servants not astir he endeavoured to arouse them. He tried the electric bell, but could not hear the bell ring as usual. He shouted and whistled and at last was able to make the servants acquainted with the fact that something was wrong. To their terror the women found that the smoke seen by Stephens was only the index to far worse conditions and they scarcely had time to snatch up a few things, and attired in their night habiliments to rush out of what was then the burning house, the seat of the fire appearing to be just underneath them.
In the meantime, Stephens ran back to the Village and gave the alarm at the Police Station, with the result that telephone messages were sent to Stroud and Gloucester for the Fire Brigades. The volume of smoke quickly increased, and a man named Bond, mowing grass in the church yard adjoining the Court, heard two or three explosions and the ominous crackling usually connected with fires. Further away men going to work observed the smoke and soon formed the opinion that something was wrong at the Court. The alarm soon spread, especially on the arrival of the Fire Brigades from Stroud just before 7 o’clock. From that time onwards all roads led to the Court. Factory hands and others (male and female) decided instantly to “lose a quarter”.
By 7.15 am a considerable crowd had gathered on the lawns surrounding the house some hundreds of cycles having been brought into requisition. The whole of the Students from Wycliffe College, with their masters were present, as well as parishioners from Stonehouse and the surrounding districts. Sergeant Hale and P.C. Coldicott were early on the scene and later were reinforced by Supt. Biggs and men from Stroud and Cainscross but the crowd caused absolutely no trouble. Everyone was anxious in no possible way to hamper or hinder the work of the firemen.
A LURID SPECTACLE
Viewed from the lawn in the front of the house the scene was appalling. Every window, large and small revealed a fiercely burning and vividly bright fire and fanned by a gentle breeze from the direction of the park, the flames gradually but surely gathered in force and eagerly devoured the roof above. The interior was practically a seething mass of flame resembling a veritable furnace of tremendous dimensions. On the side nearest the Church, the building for a time was more or less hidden by huge volumes of smoke, but as the flames secured the mastery the premises were gradually lit up by a lurid light.
Up to this time the fire had had no opposition, in fact, all was in its favour – a gentle breeze, much wood work, and paint and varnish comparatively fresh. The Fire Brigades, which by the bye, received the call at 6.35 were actually working before “THE DUKE” struck seven. “THE QUEEN” and “VICTORIA” were stationed by the side of the Canal and fortunately here there was no lack of water as had been the case in other conflagrations in the district. The hose was taken through the gateway used by the residents at the Court to get into the Churchyard. The volunteer Brigade under Captain Phillip H.R. Ford commenced to play on the south part of the house, while Captain Jesse Tanner and his men went further round in order to deal with the front parts. For some time however there was practically no effect as the result of their efforts. The water simply hissed against the red hot stonework, and the volunteers confined their operations to saving the adjoining greenhouses. The Urban Council brigade turned their attention to the wing where the drawing room and the other chief rooms were situate. Previously it must be said that some of the parishioners early on the scene, forced entry into the drawing room, and practically cleared it of the contents including a grand piano. They had however some difficulty in doing so owing to the narrowness of the window frames. Some of the servants, both indoor and outdoor, made an effort to clear some of the choice flowers out of the greenhouse, but one poor girl was too much terror stricken to be of any service. There were hundreds of people who would no doubt have willingly rendered assistance in saving the property and furniture, but all were helpless. None should approach the building, and even the firemen had to keep a certain distance away owing to the continued falling of heavy stone tiles which, gradually loosened by the flames fell heavily to the ground. The arrival of the Gloucester firemen brought fresh opposition for the fire, but the Gloucestrians could only assist in playing on the unconquerable flames, with a loud bang a portion of the roof would fall in in one part and very soon a casement in another part would give way.
It was noticed, however, that the firemen seemed to make little impression at the east and, where it was stated the most valuable possessions of the family were situate. All the hose available was brought to bear on the wing and from the three directions, but the premises were too well alight to be saved.
In the space of about three hours the historic court was a heap of ruins the exterior walls stood out gaunt and ugly, while the interior was composed of nothing but a mass of smouldering timber, etc., There is no doubt that the gas greatly assisted the fire, being laid all over the house and it was sometime before the supply could be cut off from the house.
The staff of servants keenly felt the responsibility laid on their shoulders consequent on the absence of Mr & Mrs Winterbotham. They appealed to policemen, firemen and friends for advice, but beyond advising them to telegraph to Westward Ho! Where Mr & Mrs Winterbotham had gone, and await their arrival nothing could be done. Mr & Mrs Chandler, at the Court Farm, invited them to take shelter there for the time, but they could not keep away from the burning building. One servant possessed a cot, but this poor animal must have perished in the flames. About eleven o’clock, the grounds were cleared and only privileged persons were allowed an entrance. Notwithstanding some hundreds visited the spot, viewing the premises from the roadside during the day, while on Sunday the visitors numbered some thousands.
When the fire was at its height several thrilling incidents were witnessed by those present. The band of willing helpers who had unceasingly for a couple of hours, were busily engaged in a room on the ground floor removing articles of furniture when they heard a crash. They immediately made for the window and upon looking round found that the door of the room had collapsed and that the flames were pouring in. A fireman was called, and hose in hand he entered the room and commenced an unequal contest with the fire. Meanwhile a ladder had been procured and the owner’s brother, Mr H D Winterbotham, J. P., of Cam, who had arrived in company with his cousin, Mr Frederick Winterbotham, of Moore Court, Amberley, entered the room from the window of which suffocating smoke was already belching. As he disappeared from view those watching from below held their breath. He soon showed himself at the window, however, carrying a piece of furniture, which he handed out. Time after time he dived into the smoke, his reappearance at the window being greeted with cheers. He had again made his way into the room when a cry was raised that the roof had caught fire, and a warning shout brought him back, but nothing daunted he said that he would make one more journey. He had scarcely spoken and re-entered the room than there was a crash and amidst sparks and blinding smoke he rushed to the ladder only just in time to save himself from being overwhelmed by the falling roof. To approach within a few yards of the building was exceedingly dangerous as the following fact will indicate. A reporter was making his way to the back of the premises on the West side, and in doing so was bound to pass within a few feet of the room in which the fire originated. He heard a shout and jumped under the archway of a door. A second larger piece of masonry and tiles weighing quite a ton fell on the spot upon which he had been standing only a moment before. The falling of such masses of debris was of repeated occurrence and the fireman had to constantly keep their eyes aloft to escape injury. The heat too was terrific, the water directly it touched the stones hissing and boiling as if in a cauldron. There is no doubt that the gas, which was laid all over the house, materially assisted in preventing the extinguishing of the blaze. It was impossible to turn it off, and the gas escaping from the broken pipes exploded and set fire to those portions of the building which the firemen thought they had successfully dealt with. Fresh alarm was continually occasioned by the collapse of either a part of the roof or a beam eaten through by the fire, which after each successful onslaught seemed to crackle up more brightly as if rejoicing in the terrible mischief it was doing. At 5 o’clock the fine old mansion was smiling in the rays of the rising sun and the birds were carolling in the neighbouring trees. Three hours later all was changed; like a flake of snow melting in the hand, the whole structure undergone a transformation. Frightened by the din the birds had departed, while the building dismantled, blackened and totally ruined spoke of the desperate and hopeless struggle it had waged against the most dreaded of foes, who as a servant is invaluable, but as a master is ruthless and pitiless. The only portion of the building which seemed to have escaped the general destruction was the porch over which the inscription “E.R. 43, 1601” is legible. All the morning the firemen continued to play on the smouldering mass and were successful in preventing any fresh outbreak. The crowds continued to increase and Supt. J.B. Biggs found it necessary to give instructions to prevent them invading the grounds. A word of praise is due to the Superintendent for the promptness with which he despatched a number of special constables to the scene, who rendered admirable assistance.
The day was not to pass without a serious accident. It was about 1 o’clock that Fireman Ford, accompanied by Henry Adams and John Richins, made his way to the back of the building with the object of getting at a safe which was in a lower room. They had just got to the entrance door and were preparing to make an attempt when some heavy stonework fell on the party. Richins was in the middle and received the full weight of the fall, the other two men being only sprinkled with mortar. Assistance was called and Richins was extracted. Engineer Albert Ashmead rendered first aid and Doctor J.G. McLannahan quickly arrived on the scene. The suffered was laid on a stretcher and upon the Doctor’s advice was removed to the Stroud hospital in Mr F Winterbotham’s motor car, where it was found that he had sustained severe injuries to his back and ribs. Richins, who is a general haulier residing in High Street, Stonehouse, has we understand been employed for some time at the Court, and on this occasion had made himself exceedingly useful in assisting the firemen. All the afternoon the two local brigades were at work, the brigade from Gloucester returning home about noon. It was late in the evening before the Stroud men returned to headquarters, two of their number being left on duty all night and the succeeding day. Stonehouse Court was the centre of interest on Sunday, hundreds of people undertaking pilgrimages to the spot to view the ruins which were still smouldering. Comment has been general throughout the district at the sharpness and intelligence displayed by Vivian Stephens, to whom undoubtedly the occupants of the house owe their lives. He seems to have taken in the whole situation at a glance and acted with a smartness and coolness which augurs well for his future career. He has always been quick at his duties in the Post Office, which is exemplified by the fact that on this particular morning he was entrusted with the delivery of letters to the Court. The damage sustained by the owner is estimated at about £10,000 but of course from an antiquarian point of view this is an under estimate. The House can be replaced but not the historical associations, which have been lost forever, whilst the antique furniture it contained has been destroyed, and irreparable loss to Mr Winterbotham, who took the keenness pleasure in beautifying and adding to the artistic effects of his lovely home.
INTERVIEW WITH THE OWNER
On Tuesday a “Stroud News” representative had a brief interview with Mr Arthur Winterbotham, the owner of the destroyed mansion who was naturally greatly upset at the sudden destruction of the home upon which he and Mrs Winterbotham had lavished so much care and attention during the last few months, to say nothing of the great cost which the alterations and improvements had entailed. “All the work”, said Mr Winterbotham “was practically finished and the furnishings had been completed with the exception of a few minor details”. Asked his opinion as to the origin of the fire, Mr Winterbotham said he thought there could be no doubt had it was due to the ignition of the beam above the fireplace in the kitchen, which might have been smouldering for days without anyone being aware of the fact. It was of course, a matter of intense regret to Mr Winterbotham that he was away from the home at the time, and he mentioned that just before going away he completed arrangements for carrying out an elaborate system of which an ample water supply would have been available in every part of the house for use in case of fire, “so that if the conflagration had occurred a few days later and I had happened to be at home”, added Mr Winterbotham “much of the damage might have been adverted”. In conclusion Mr Winterbotham counselled all householders to lose no time in making an inventory of the furniture and contents of their houses and also to make arrangements for turning off the gas in case of emergency. As stated elsewhere the gas played an ominous part in feeding the fire on the present occasion.
HOW THE FIRE WAS DISCOVERED
From enquiries made by one of our representatives during the progress of the fire it appears that as early as 5 o’clock smoke was noticed issuing from the chimneys on the west side of the building. No notice was taken of this, however, as it was thought that the occupants were astir earlier than usual some mill hands passing just before 6 o’clock on their way to work detected the smell of burning wood, but attributed it to a bonfire in the vicinity. It was a post office messenger, named Vivian Stephens, who first made the discovery. In an interview he said that a few minutes after 6 o’clock, in the course of his duties, he visited the Court. The first thing he noticed as he entered the gate was a dense volume of smoke pouring from the chimneys on the west side of the house. This was unusual, and he forthwith rang the bell and shouted. Alice Bath, the cook, who was sleeping on the east side of the house, roused by the shouting, opened a window and enquired what was the matter? Stephens asked her if the chimney was on fire? She went to investigate and came back with the alarming intelligence that the place was on fire. The boy called Mr C Chandler, of the Court Farm, which is only a few yards away, and he was promptly on the scene. Leaving his pouch and belt in charge of Mr Chandler the lad next rushed off to the Police Station, which he reached in three minutes, and acquainted P.s. Hale with the facts. Mr C Chandler, in continuing the narrative, said he was looking in the direction of the Court from his bedroom window about 5 o’clock, but did not see anything to cause alarm. When the boy Stephens came to him he at once went to the house and found that the fire had already gained a good hold on the kitchen and was creeping into the other rooms. The four domestics, who were sleeping in the house, were by this time thoroughly roused. Three had succeeded in hurriedly dressing themselves, but the Parlour Maid, named Bessie Packer, was forced to leave her room in her night attire, for the flames had already invaded the room. The flames spread with a rapidity that was truly surprising, the men who had been called to render assistance found themselves powerless to stay the oncoming flames. They therefore devoted their energies to attempting to save the furniture, but the heavy oak beams burnt like tinder and the heat in the main hall was soon unbearable. P.s. Hale, in the course of a short conversation whilst taking a brief rest after several hours’ arduous work, said that he received information of the outbreak at 6.15. He at once despatched P.c. Coldicott to the scene and telephoned for the brigades. Within ten minutes of the alarm having been given he was at the Court. The flames were then gaining ground rapidly and the three windows on the west side facing the main ground were lit up by the fire, whilst flames were darting from the chimneys. Smoke had penetrated to every part of the house and the hall was also being rapidly involved. It was practically useless to attempt to prevent the spread of the fire, for within two or three minutes the whole of the hall was a roaring furnace. Before his arrival several men had gained an entrance by a window on the east side, facing the lawn, and were removing various articles of value. He subsequently directed the removal of a quantity of silver and the old family plate.
THE SERVANTS’ ESCAPE
Asked to given an account of her experiences Alice Bath, the cook, who was evidently suffering considerably from shock, said she hardly knew what had happened. She was roused from sleep by Stephens, and when she left her room she found the passages already filled with smoke. She called the maids and hastily dressing herself left the house by a side door. The fire was in the kitchen. When she retired to rest at 10.15 the previous night there was no fire in the range. During the day there had been a small fire there. She thought the outbreak was probably due to a beam in the chimney catching fire. Bessie Packer, the parlour maid, had a most miraculous escape. It appears that she slept in a room immediately over the kitchen. She went to bed at 10.15 and did not hear anything until she was called by Alice Bath at 6 o’clock. She rushed out of the room to join the others, but thinking that she had time to return to recover some of her belongings she went back, but found the room filled with suffocating smoke through which a lurid glare of the flames, which were breaking through the floor, could be seen. Forced to retreat she gained the open air only in her night attire. On the previous night about 7.30 she went through the house and fastened the front door and locked the safe containing the silver. Everything was safe then. The housemaid who rushed out of the house with the others could throw no further light on the question how the fire occurred. On Friday, she had been engaged in domestic work upstairs, but detected nothing amiss. Rosie Spiers, “mixed” said she was roused by the cries of the others and only just had time to dress and get out of the house. She had not been awakened by anything during the night.
SALE OF THE COURT IN 1906
The “Stroud News” of May 25 1906 in reporting on the sale of Stonehouse Court at the Stroud Subscription Rooms said: - “Mr Li. Champion, who conducted the sale in a few introductory remarks, said he thought the fact of there being so large a company present was of itself sufficient evidence of the value and importance of the property which he had the privilege of submitting to them that afternoon. Their chief attention would, of course, be directed to Lots 1 and 2 Stonehouse Court and the grounds and farm which were the leading features of the property. What had particularly impressed him about the property was the fact that architecturally speaking it had been and was absolutely unspoiled. One often found in looking at properties of that kind that they had been spoilt by modern wings, which had been added without any regard to architectural design. But here it was different, and they would find that the photographs, which were included in the particulars of the present sale, were identical in every respect with the old pictures and engravings which were to be found in historic records of Gloucestershire. The original character of the house had not been tampered with in the slightest degree and consequently, although the surroundings had changed, railways and motors had come and other modern things had arrived, the old walls of Stonehouse Court remained exactly as they were in days of yore, and he thought they were a monument to the architectural design and to strength and solidity of the structures erected in those days”. The sale was then proceeded with Lots 1 and 2 being offered together, Stonehouse Court and gardens and grounds, consisting all together of 17 acres, three roods, and Stonehouse Court Farm, consisting of farmhouse and buildings and a 178 acres, 30 perches of land, chiefly pasture. The bidding started at £8,000 pounds and increased by offers in additional £200 until the figure of £10,000 was reached, and at this price the hammer fell and the property passed into the hands of Mr Arthur S Winterbotham, of Cam, the auctioneer remarking upon the satisfaction which he was sure was felt by all at the fact that an old Gloucestershire name would continue to be associated with the property.
SOME HISTORICAL ASSOCIATIONS OF STONEHOUSE COURT
(Special to “Stroud News”)
The history of Stonehouse Court dates back to a much earlier period than the year 1601 in which it was rebuilt in the form in which it is known today. Here was the ancient centre of the life of the parish, the seat through which centuries of its lordship and government. At the time of the conquest Stonehouse Court became the “manerium” of a Norman lordship, held in fief direct from the Crown as a royal “demesne”, or property reserved to the private use of the Monarch. Most manors were burthened with special dues or “customs” to the Crown, and it was to ascertain and record these that William sent Commissioners into each county, whose inquiries are preserved in Domesday Book 1086. A translation of the record of the Manor of Stonehouse reads:- “William de Ow holds Stanhus, in Blachelew hundred; Tovi held it in the time of King Edward (the Confessor). There were seven hides. In demesne there are two plow-tillages and twenty one villeins, and nine bordars, with twenty plow-tillages. There are four servi, and two mills of 17 sol and 6 den. There are two arpens of vineyards. It is worth about 81. This manor pays the tax”.
Villenage was of two kinds, the one being a state of servitude what some were subject to from birth called pure villenage, from whom uncertain and undeterminate service was due to their lord the other was villenage of tenure, by which the tenant was bound to perform certain services, agreed upon between him and his lord, of this sort the villain here mentioned are surposed to be. The “bordarii” were such as held a cottage or some small parcel of land on condition of supplying the lord with certain provisions for his board and entertainment as nearly as can be estimated, the size of the manor under Edward the Confessor (1042 to 1066) would be 1848 acres augmented at the conquest to 2200 acres, 200 of which were demesne, and the remainder divided among 21 villani and 9 bordarii. Estimating the value of money at that time as at 30 times its present value, the two mills mentioned at seventeen shillings and six pence would be reckoned £26.5s. Their position was doubtless somewhere on the Frome. The manor was in the possession of the Giffards, of Brimsfield in the reign of Edward I. They held it from the Bishop of Worcester, in whose diocese it was. The last male heir of the family was in arms against the King with the Earls of Lancaster and Hereford at the Battle of Boroughbridge in Yorke on March 16th, 1322, and was captured. He was taken to Gloucester, and he suffered the extreme penalty of being hung, drawn and quartered, while his estates were forfeited to the Crown. It was granted by Edward III to Lord Maltravers the same into whose custody Edward II was given after his deposition. Lord Maltravers moved the King from one Castle to another and on Lord Berkeley being added to the custody the unhappy captive was lodged in Berkeley Castle and there murdered on September the 21st 1327. Lord Maltravers escaped to Germany, found further means of doing service to Edward III than the murder of his father, returned, was pardoned and rewarded with the Manor of Stonehouse. Incurring the King’s displeasure by certain misdemeanours, his lands were once more ceased by the Crown, and Stonehouse was granted to Hugh le Despencer and Maurice Berkeley in 1338. It was held by them in “tenure de Marchacia”, by a rose per annum, but Lord Maltravers was subsequently restored to favour and his estates. The Earls of Arundel held the manor for several generations, and it was sold by the family in the first years of the reign of Elizabeth to William Fowler and William Sandford, the price being £1,092 16s 2d. By a deed of partition between the Fowlers and the Sandfords the former became sole Lords. It was by them that the Manor was rebuilt in 1601.
Local tradition has it that Elizabeth slept at the house in 1601, and as supporting this story attention is called to the stone tablet over the north porch inscribed “1601 – E.R.–43”, that is 1601, Eliz: regina, the 43rd year of her reign, and there is a similar inscription in the bedroom in which she is supposed to have rested. The inscription however, upon which the tradition appears to entirely depend, does not coincide with historical facts. The Queen came no further west than Winchester in that year. The tablet more probably records the date when the house was rebuilt by the Fowlers.
The estate passed by marriage into the hands of the Smythe family of North Nibley towards the middle of the 17th century, and a few years later, also by marriage, to that of John Bull, of London. At that time the 24 acres of park where beautifully wooded with a 150 elms, and a spacious avenue of portions of which are still standing formed a vista from the north porch of the mansion to Oldends Lane opening out upon the drill grounds or riding fields. Another avenue, also of Elms, three deep, stretched from the Court as far west as the road into Bonds Mill. From the north point to the road was an open court yard, to the west were the wine yard and the wine and cherry orchards and to the east a small avenue of trees from the road to the churchyard separated the But Hay from the Buryfield, the Manor House and the Church being within the enclosure. It was at the Court that the famous Rear-Admiral Sir John Alexander Ball, K.C.B., was born. He entered the Navy at a very early age and during the stirring times in which his lot was cast rose rapidly in the service, obtaining the rank of Post-Captain when only 26. He was in command of the “Alexander” (74 guns) one of the small squadron under Nelson and into the Mediterranean in the Spring of 1798 in order to ascertain, if possible the object of the great expedition which at the time was fitting out under Bonaparte at Toulon (?). While in the Gulf of Lyons in May a terrible gale sprang up at midnight and carried the main-topmast of Nelson’s flag ship, “Vanguard” over side, the mizzen top-mast following soon afterwards. The ship was saved by Captain Ball’s seamanship and courage there had previously been a coolness between Nelson and Ball, but from the time of the gale Nelson recognised Captain Ball’s extraordinary qualities and a firm friendship sprang up between them which lasted during the remainder of their lives. The “Vanguard” was refitted in St. Pietro harbour in four days and carried Nelson’s flag into the battle of the Nile, in which glorious action Captain Ball in the “Alexander” engaged the French Admiral’s ship “L’Orient” which burnt and blew up as the result of the English fire. The brave lad, Classbiance (?) immortalised by Mrs Hemans, perished in the flames. After driving the French out of Malta, Captain Ball was made Port-Admiral and Governor of the Island, and was promoted to Flag rank in 1805, he died in Malta four years later and there lies buried, the Maltese regarding his memory with love and veneration.
NOTES BY THE WAY
Widespread sympathy is felt with Mr & Mrs Arthur Winterbotham in the irreparable loss they have sustained as a result of the lamentable fire at Stonehouse Court. Since the purchase of the manorial property some two years ago Mr Winterbotham had lavished endless care and money on the renovation of the house with its interesting historic associations, and the heavy task had only just been completed when Saturday morning’s catastrophe razed the fine old residence to the ground. There seems to be no doubt that the fire originated in a heavy beam above the kitchen fireplace, which had probably been smouldering for days. The old oak timber so freely used throughout the house formed ready material for the progress of the fire fiend, and from the first the building was doomed. The material damage is estimated at some £10,000 but no amount of money can replace the historic associations that have been destroyed. It is of course too early yet to speak of Winterbotham’s intentions with regard to the restoration and rebuilding of the Court, but seeing that the outside walls are still standing it would, presumably, be possible to retain its ancient shape, though, in any case, the shell would be robbed of the kernel that gave it its peculiar value. It is a matter for congratulation that no loss of life incurred as the result of the fire, though, as will be seen from the full report elsewhere, there was several narrow escapes.
From the particulars which were published at the time of the sale some two years ago, we learn that this typical, old, gabled, Gloucestershire residence was erected early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth by William Fowler, who together with William Sandford, purchased the Manor of Stonehouse from the Earl of Arundel in the first year of the reign of Elizabeth, A.D. 1558. Queen Elizabeth visited the house in 1601, during one of her progresses, this interesting event being commemorated by a Royal Crown being carved over the front entrance porch, which the initials “E.R.” and the date below. The bedroom in which she slept was also identified by the Crown, Rose and initials “E.R.” carved in the centre of the handsome stone Mantelpiece in one of the rooms, with the motto, “Rosa sine spina” below and the initials of the owners, “D.F.” and “I.F.” on either side. In the hall the raised floor (or dais) still remained and on the massive stone mantelpiece were inscribed the words, “A Dieufay,” “Aux Amis Foyer”. An interesting history of the Manor of Stonehouse will be found on another page.