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THE WEB CHARMOUTH SITE
Miss Gundry`s Bridport School Fire in 1906
Miss Gundry`s School was opened in March 1838 and stood between West Street Mill and The Court.Sir Frederick Treves writes in his Highways and Byways of Dorset in June 1906 :Another building of interest is the infant school, because it so well fulfils any conception of what a seat of learning for country infants should be like. It is an ancient cottage with a thatched verandah, where the infants can take the air when resting from their studies. The playground is an old fashioned garden by the side of a stream. This charming little academy is the village school of a child’`s idyll. It and the Castle Inn (now the Museum) are the two most delightful features in the town.
An early photograph with the children standing in the playground with a group of towns people looking over the Bridge at them.
West Street Infants School Bridport November 12th 1906. Miss Gundry`s Infant School Fire. The school was adjascent to the Court Works in West Street. The infant school with a residence for Miss Dale. The pupils had left at 12. At 12.45 Miss dale was told of the smoke coming from the roof.
The Merryweather Engine shown here was bought by the Fire Brigade in 1902 in commemoration of King Edward VII coronation in that year. It was originally horse drawn, but later pulled by a Damiler Car. It was replaced in 1926 and was then sold. It was later salvaged from a Birmingahm Scrap yard. In the 1980s it was rescued from the vandalised glass case at West Bay on the green near the George. It was deteriorating and was taken to the fire station in South Street where it was restored. When the new fire station was built in Sea Road South in 1996, there was nowhere to put it. The district council gave it to the museum and then it was placed on long term loan to the Highlands End Holiday Park in Marftins Bar, where there is a wonderful display of fire engine memorabilia including the 1936 Leyland Fire Engine which was later used by the Bridport Fire Brigade.
A large crowd watch on from West Street soon after the fire commenced. The tall Gundry Factory building still stands to this day.
The Fireman are seen here hosing the school at the height of the fire.
Another postcard showing the burnt out school after the fire
The Fire engine is seen here behind the Town Hall. The wooden building on the right is where it was kept.
"The old Fire Brigade was reformed in 1896, and has since been bought up to date by the purchase of additional hose, a hose-reel, and a fire escpe, and in commeration of the coronation of King EdwardVII., a splendid steam fire engine was bought - partly by subscription and partly by the Town Council. The members of the Brigade are regularly drilled, that part of their work being entirely voluntary. They are paid for attendance at fires. The engine has recently been used for the first time - at a fire outside the town - and proved itself eminently satisfactory". (Mates Illustrated Bridport 1903)
The Mayor, Alderman James is seen here with the top hat. On his left is E.S.Reynolds and L. Whetahm to the right of him.

19th May 2015 Bridport News:
AN HISTORIC fire helmet will remain in west Dorset after being donated by a former firefighter.
Wilfred Edwards, 92, donated the helmet, thought to have been used during the 1920s and 1930s to Bridport Museum. The museum has loaned the helmet to Martin Cox at Highlands End Holiday Park - where it will sit next to an engine used in Bridport dating back to 1902.
Mr Cox is one of the original four firemen who 'rescued' the steam pump from its badly vandalised glass case on The Green outside The George in West Bay in the early 1980s.

The Highlands End Holiday Park Marftins Bar’s walls are covered in fire engine memorabilia with the 1936 Leyland Fire Engine and 1902 Merryweather Steam fire engine on display.Martin Cox writes “Sometime in the 1980s it was rescued from the glass greenhouse down at West Bay on the green near the George. It was deteriorating so we took it to the fire station in South Street. When the new fire station was built in Sea Road South in 1996, there was nowhere to put it. The district council gave it to the museum and then it came up here on long term loan.”
A view looking across West Street and the bridge towards Gundry`s Car Park, where the school originally stood.
The view today on the other side of the bridge with the stream, Garden and Gundrys Car Park on the other side of the hedge where the school originally stood, before the fire of 1906.
Bayly Map of Bridport 1776 showing Building as part of West Mill
Ordnance Survey Map of Bridport in 1904 showing Infants School
Map of Area today
Aerial View Today showing Gundry`s Car Park on site of School
Fire in West Street - A School destroyed.Western Gazette 17th November 1906
Shortly after noon on Monday flames were seen to issue from the roof of the Infants School in West Street, formerly known as “Gundrys School”. The Fire Brigade were summoned, and under Chief Officer E.S. Reynolds, and with their steam fire engine, were quickly on the scene of the conflagration. Fortunately it was the scholars dinner hour, so that there was no danger of panic amongst the youthful scholars, and the school furniture was removed without difficulty. The roof of the building is composed of thatch, which attains, in some parts at least, to a thickness of nearly three feet. The stream which works West Mills flows past the school premises and abuts the street, so that a copious supply of water was handy. It was soon seen, however that there was little, if any, chance of saving the building, and the Fire Brigade used their efforts, and successfully so, mainly in preventing the fire from spreading to adjoining premises. Crowds of spectators lined the street on either side to watch the burning of the school, which, despite the efforts of the Brigade, continued all night and well into the next day. The building was insured. It was the only thatched edifice in the Main Street, and had, it is computed, been standing between two and three centuries , so that by its destruction the town loses one of its links with the last. Temporary accommodation for the school has been obtained at the Gospel Hall, at the entrance to St. Michaels Lane, where the school was returned on Tuesday, so that the scholars lost but little time from their studies.

Bridport News November 16th 1906

Not only in Bridport, but in many distant parts of the world, will be the deepest regret be felt at the destruction by fire of the West Street Infants School, more generally known as Miss Guidry’s School, for it was one of the most picturesque buildings we possessed and was an interesting link with the past history of the borough. Most visitors to the town have been attracted by its situation, almost surrounded by a mill-stream, and by its old time whitewashes rubble walls and deep thatched roof, reaching down to within some three or four feet from the ground. The block included a comfortable looking cottage under the same thatched roof, but standing at right angles at the further end of the main building and facing the main thoroughfare of West Street. So quaint was its appearance that it called for a passing word of appreciation from Sir Frederick Treves, BART., in his evidently hurried visit to Bridport when gathering material for his “Highways and Byways in Dorset”. Indeed, everybody looked upon it with affection and now that it’s gaunt walls and blackened rafters only remain one feels as though an old friend has gone from amongst us. The same feelings will stir the breath of scores of Bridport men in all quarters of the globe,many of whom probably learned to lisp their alphabet within its walls. It is interesting to note, too, that it was the first public day school in town, and probably, the first elementary school in the county.
As to the age of the building, there is no doubt that it was the old malt house referred to in connection with the Malt House and Brew House Charity, and if so it must have been close upon 300 years old for alluding to this charity, Hutchins gives the following record:
“In 1650 the Corporation of Bridport laid out £180 in the purchase of certain premises, comprising the malt house and brew house, with the appurtenances situate on the north side of West Street, in Bridport, but from what source the whole of the money was derived is unknown, although the following entry in the old record book of the corporation, dated March 9th, 1751, will account for a portion therof”.
Then follows particulars of the bequest of £100 by Mrs Jane Napier, daughter of Sir Nathaniel Napier, Knight, to be employed in stock or way of trade for the benefit of the poor of the town.
In the course of time the premises ceased to be used as a malt house, for records have come down to us that they were at one time used as pawn stores, weaving sheds, and for other purposes. For some time after 1830 they were occupied by Mr. Henry Curme, father of the present Mr. Curme, of South Street who carried on the business of a cabinet maker there.
It was first opened as an infant’s day school on the 26th March 1838, 600 handbills being printed and circulated to announce the event. The following extract from the minutes taken at the time will show the first committee of management.
“At a meeting at the Bull Hotel 3rd May, 1837, a committee was formed to open an Infants School, and to this committee money already collected by Miss Mary Grace Gundry and Miss Shuchburgh was handed over: Mr Joseph Gundry (president) Mr Joseph Hounsell, Mr Samuel Bennett, Mr J.P. Stephens, Mr J. Jefford, Mr Sam Tucker, Mr I Hussey, Mr. E. Nichole TTS, Mr. W. Swain, mr John Barnicott(secretary) and Mr. Silvanus Steohens (treasurer).
The first teachers were Mr. bishop, who had. Little school in King of Prussia Lane, and Mrs Hardy. Before taking up the work, Mr. Bishop went to London for Special training to fit him for the position, and Mrs Hardy took charge of his own school until his return, when both entered upon their duties as master and mistress of their new infant school, the religious difficulty being met by one belonging to the nonconformists and the other to the Church. Mr Bishop was succeeded by Mr. Hoskins, who lived in St. Michaels Lane. The school was carried on under the same management until 1856, but on the 11th of August of that year the accounts were closed, “when the new school premises in East Street were occupied”, this evidently referred to the General Schools, which were erected in 1853.
The West Street school, however, was not altogether abandoned for it was felt that an in Infant school in that part of the town could do no harm to the other schools, and Miss Mary Gundry, who resided in the house now occupied by Mr. J. Suttill, West Street, and who was a great great aunt of the present Mr. Joseph Gundry, bought the building from the Bridport Charity trustees and endowed it as an infant school. It has passed on from generation to generation, any deficiency on the years working being made up first by Miss Mary Gundry, then by those who followed after her, and afterwards by Mr. W. colfox, Westmead. But since the coming into power of the new educational authorities there has been no reason for private help beyond the maintenance of the buildings, which remained the property of the Gundrys. Going back to the time when the school was first opened. It is interesting to know that there are still some living who were amongst the first 8nfants to toddle through its doors for their initial lessons. Among these is Mr. J.P. Cornice, of Perham Place, South Street, who distinctively remembers Mr. Hopkins and his practical methods. In explaining to the little 9nes how by the Gunpowder Plot it was intended to blow up the Houses of Parliament when the King and his ministers were assembled, he laid a train of gunpowder on a form and, fix8ng a tin can at the end of it applied a match at the other end. There was a flash and the tin can was blown off the form on to the floor with a rattle. He says the demonstration so impressed his young mind that he has never forgotten it. For scriptures the teacher had also a novel method. They had a pulpit in the school at the t8me, and they worked by a letter of the alphabet, commencing with A. The little one had to mount the pulpit, and give a text beginning with A. If he succeeded he would follow on and give one commencing with B. And so on, and when he failed he had to vacate his place in the pulpit and make way for the next. We should say that if any of the youngsters succeeded in getting the whole way through the alphabet with texts of that kind there were prodigies about in those days! There are pleasant reminisces which men in their seventies love to dwell upon.
On Monday, however, the dear old place was doomed, for the ravaging element of fire seized upon it and, spreading upon the thick thatch, there was no possible chance of averting the catastrophe. The scholars had been dismissed at twelve o clock, and the first intimation of danger came from some of the children, who ran into the school and informed Miss Dale, the Headmistress, that smoke was coming through the roof. This was about a quarter to one o clock, and Miss Travers, who was for many years in charge of the school, being near and hearing the lark, and realising the danger, she at once ran to call the Fire Brigade. Fireman Atkins, who works close by, was one of the first on the scene, but Chief Officer Reynolds, Second Officer Whetham, and other members of the Brigade were quickly on the spot. Mr S. Lloyd Whetham also gave assistance. Hose lengths were run out and connected with the hydrants, but the town water gave out and the steam fire engine was run down to the place by hand, the gradient of West Street facilitating his operation. When steam was up and engine set to work pumping and kept on with but little intermission all through the day and night until about one o clock the next morning. The mill stream gave an unlimited supply of water, but all that could be done was to prevent sparks from flying upon the adjoining premises. The fire was evidently caused through s9me defect in the ch8mney, as at that part it originated, working its way under the thatch, which was fully three feet in thickness. It was therefore, impossible to get to the seat of the fire 7ntil the inner plaster ceiling of the school was pulled down. The thatch was cut away on the adjoining house, and part of that angle was saved, but the immense streams of water caulk not get down to the fire for some time. The great thickness and weight of the thatch made it a very hard matter to deal with, but the Brigade worked steadily on, pulling away the thatch and making a way the fire as well as possible. Hundreds of people assembled in West Street and watched the progress of the conflagration and the knowledge that the destruction of this interesting old building was inevitable caused many a pang of regret. Fortunately, very little wind was blowing and with the constant playing of water by the Brigade, there was never any danger to adjoining property. The Brigade however remained on duty throughout the night and most of Tuesday, and even Wednesday the saturated thatch was smouldering.
On the first alarm of fire Miss Dale, the headmistress, removed the school registers, log book, and other things, and the piano, desks, etc, were also got out.
Most of the firemen rushed to the scene in their ordinary attire and were saturated before they could change into their uniforms, which were subsequently brought to them, and they retired to don their more substantial habiliments. The damage is estimated at between £300 and £400, and the building is insured in the Commercial Union. Chief officer Reynolds is of the opinion that the fire had been smouldering for some time, as when they cut through the thatch at the chimney of the cottage, they found the rafters already charred, showing that the fire must have travelled the whole length of the schoolroom and got to the point named before it was discovered. Practically all the underneath part of the thatch was a smouldering fire.
Miss Suttill, the corresponding secretary, called the ladies committee together and arrangements were made for temporarily carrying on the school in the Gospel Hall at the top of St. Michaels Lane. Mr. Spiller, the town crier, announcing this in the streets on Monday afternoon. Mr.B.R.Swift, secretary of the County Education Committee, Dorchester, visited Bridport on Tuesday, to confer with the members of the committee as to the temporary premises. Nothing of course has yet been decided upon as to the old school premises, and it is extremely problematical as to whether they will be rebuilt. Mr. E.C. Hare, East Street, managed to take excellent photographs of the scene, one of which we reproduce.