Fire at St Mary’s Church

http://st-neots.ccan.co.uk/
The inside of Eaton Socon Church – before the great fire of 1930

The carved poppy heads on the pews were very well known and people from far and wide would visit the church to see them. The church was badly damaged in the great fire of 1930.

The original 15th century church burned to the ground on February 8, 1930, after a fire started in the stoke-hole filled with coke to heat the building.

'Inside' after the fire
‘Inside’ after the fire
Inside the church after the renovations (2014)
Inside the church after the renovations (2014)

“Ron and Peggy Barringer, of Great North Road, Eaton Socon, who were children at the time, witnessed the events that evening – in particular, an act of bravery by Mr Barringer’s father, Jim.

Mr Barringer, 92, who lived opposite the church in Ackerman Street, recalled the moment his father first saw the flames: “He went downstairs and put his coat on. Then I remember dad saying ‘quick, quick – the church is on fire – all put your coats on.”

Later he went into the burning building.

Mrs Barringer, 85, who witnessed the fire from her house on the Great North Road, continued: “They were standing under the trees watching the fire when one of the church workers came running out saying the Bible had been left inside. Jim ran into the fire, fetched it, and took it to the vicarage for safe-keeping.”

To this day the Bible remains opened on the same page it was on when rescued from the church.

Two fire crews, who pumped water from the River Great Ouse, battled the flames which melted one of the church bells and cracked the others.

“I remember the sound of the bells falling,” Mr Barringer added. “I was only a little boy at the time, but I remember.”

The blaze was eventually brought under control at 3am on Sunday, February 9, and the true extent of the damage was revealed. The church was completely destroyed inside. The stained glass windows disintegrated and the organ was reduced to ashes.

Unperturbed by the previous night’s events, 2,000 parishioners gathered for an open-air service later that day.”[1]

“Following a meeting between the vicar, Rev Edgar Higham, and church officers, it was decided the church must be rebuilt.

At a cost of £18,500, the new building took shape over the next two years and the re-dedication service – described as “unforgettable brilliance” – took place in June 1932.

It really was a sign of the times they actually decided to re-build the church after it was burned down – a definite act of faith,” St Mary’s vicar Tim Robb told The Hunts Post. “[1]

Reminders from the fire…

http://st-neots.ccan.co.uk/
Eaton Socon Church – Medieval painted glass that survived the 1930 fire
http://st-neots.ccan.co.uk/
Burnt bible retrieved after the 1930 fire

Renovations

http://st-neots.ccan.co.uk/
1930s sculpture in the church showing the architect and builder involved in rebuilding the church after the 1930 fire
Austin James Barringer in the garden at River Cottage, 32 Ackerman Street, around 1935. Note the carved stone from Eaton Socon Church after the fire.
http://st-neots.ccan.co.uk/
Bringing down the bells after the great fire
http://st-neots.ccan.co.uk/
New bells sitting in the churchyard ready to be hung, after the 1930 fire

[1] http://www.huntspost.co.uk/news/80th_anniversary_of_st_neots_church_rebuild_after_it_was_destroyed_by_fire_1_1416294

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