100 years since Newquay pub burnt down - while firefighters turned hoses on each other
A HUNDRED years ago last Thursday a major blaze was left to rip through a historic Newquay pub – while two rival fire brigades turned their hoses on each other.
The clash at the 200-year-old Farmer's Arms pub in St Columb Minor has become a local legend, some reports suggesting one crew gained the upper hand by using dirty pond water.
To mark the centenary the Cornish Guardian teamed up with Phil Ellery, of the St Columb Old Cornwall Society, to dig up original newspaper and magazine articles on the fire.
Mr Ellery said it was his grandfather's cousin, a lad named Currah, who accidentally started the blaze when he threw a sparkler he was testing out ahead of Bonfire Night on to the thatched roof.
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It is understood a row broke out between the Newquay fire crew, first on the scene at 1.10am, and firefighters from St Columb who arrived 40 minutes later. Mr Ellery said: "The conflict is now part of modern folklore. It's an amazing story, and completely true."
The story appeared in the weekly paper John Bull on October 25, 1913. It stated: "Differences of opinion between the rival brigades led, first to heated words, and then to hostile acts. The combatants turned their hoses on each other, and it was not until every man was drenched to the skin that the white flag was hoisted.
"By this time the public house was gutted; the furniture had however been saved by the efforts of bystanders. "We trust the bellicose firemen, their warlike honours thick upon them, are proud of their day's work."
An article in the Cornish Guardian on November 17, 1913, shed more light on the duel, suggesting the St Columb men had the advantage by using water from a farm's duck pond, and that the crews, who took position at the front and back of the pub, trained their hoses on each other through the open doors of the gutted building.
"There was evidently some little friction between the two brigades and this culminated in a regular duel between the St Columb men in the front and one of the Newquay hose parties at the rear, each side deluging the other with water, through the front and back doors respectively." Crowds were kept back by police on the night, while the damage was later covered by insurance from the Norwich Office, the report stated.
Sean Taylor, today's watch manager at Newquay fire station, said it was unlikely a similar situation would arise again – although there was still friendly banter.
"We'd probably wind up St Columb saying we'd get there quicker than they would, but I don't think we'd have anything happen like it did 100 years ago," he said. "Thankfully we're a bit more professional now, and we don't have to use horse-drawn carriages."