The Great Fire of Hurstpierpoint



By Christopher Maidment

On Friday 27th January 1882 Hurstpierpoint witnessed one of the most dramatic days of its history. The building known as Holdens, now the Nationwide Building Society, and the three adjoining houses were extensively burnt down. This was Walter Fitch’s General Grocery, Drapery Store and Warehouse. The scene over the next few days was reported in the Sussex Daily News. These reports were collated by Ian Nelson and are abridged here.

At 5.15am in the morning a carpenter named Windus and Mr Waller, an ex-policeman, raised the alarm. Flames were already bursting out of the east windows of the store and warehouse and threatening to burn the North House, property of Lawrence Smith, a retired lawyer. North House is now divided into the three properties that are The Odd Corner, Chichester House and Bielside.

‘By the time the inmates of the surrounding houses and the employees at the shop could be roused, the fire had obtained such a hold as to defy the ordinary means of extinguishing.’

Besides the grocery and drapery goods in Mr Fitch’s store, there were quantities of wines and inflammable spirits in the cellar, along with oils and 8lbs of gunpowder on the first floor! Little could be done to save it, so efforts centred on saving Lawrence Smith’s house to the east, and Bank House to the west, the latter, now West End Cottage, belonged to Mr Pierce.

At the time, Hurst had no fire brigade. Brighton Police, who ran the Volunteer Fire Service, and Burgess Hill Waterworks were sent telegrams! A contingent of the Volunteer Fire Brigade caught a train to Hassocks, and horse drawn engines arrived soon after them.

[An excerpt from page 10, August 2019’s Hurst Life magazine]