This dramatic picture from David Howard’s collection of the attempt to save a row of cottages, with householders looking on in horror, must have been taken by Reg Simmonds. He ran a camera shop in London Street for many years, before moving to premises in the newly-developed Union Street in the late 1960s and his name is printed on the reverse of the photograph.

In every town and village, thatch fires had been all too frequent for centuries. Chimneys contained the soot-covered residues of the fires lit beneath them, and the smoke from wood or coal fires rising up through roofs of bone dry thatch was an on-going hazard. It only needed a stray spark or wisp of burning material to fly out of the top and land on the roof for it to catch light, perhaps smouldering for some time, before somebody in the street happened to catch sight of it. Then it took time to raise the alarm before help arrived.

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A volunteer fire brigade had existed in Andover from Victorian times but the means to call it out was archaic until after 1900. Somebody had to rush to the Guildhall and pull a rope that activated the fire bell, an act that relied on the relevant parties hearing it or being notified. Water in the town was only readily available after the formation of a local waterworks in the 1870s and even after that, it depended on the water pressure being raised sufficiently to deliver enough water to the hydrants. The 1938 Fire Brigades Act made county councils responsible for providing both a fire service and suitable equipment, but soon afterwards war-time circumstances saw the creation of local auxiliary fire services and also a National Fire Service.

The cottages were Nos 57, 59, 61 and 63 Winchester Street, the last in a line of houses before the entrance to Old Winton Road. An added urgency was the large Petroleum Board Depot, storing hundreds of gallons of fuel, that stood adjacent to the house on the right.

The houses were all thatched and it was thought at the time that a spark from a passing steam-driven wagon had fallen on the thatch of No 57, the home of Mr and Mrs Reginald Quarrier and a strong breeze from the south-east had fanned the flames and spread the fire to the neighbouring cottages. Ten-year-old Johnny Quarrier was the first to spot the flaming thatch on his family’s house and he ran inside to tell his mother who was having tea, that the roof was ablaze.

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Members of the Andover National Fire Service unit soon arrived with a pump escape vehicle. This was a fire engine that combined an extendable ladder and a water pump. However, by the time everything was in position, the roof of No 57 collapsed and the ensuing draught spread the fire across. Almost opposite was the police station (there until 1959) and the men stationed there helped to move as much of the furniture and belongings out of the burning buildings. Another fire unit arrived from Stockbridge and a salvage tender from Southampton and after about two hours the fire was brought under control, though the four families were rendered homeless – Mr and Mrs Reginald Quarrier, Mr and Mrs Henry Shears, Mr and Mrs James Alder and Mr and Mrs Frederick Burton.

Apart from No 63, all the cottages were demolished and not replaced. The Quarriers moved to Hedge End Road, while the Alders moved just a couple of houses down the street to No 53. Perhaps the end cottage did not suffer so much damage as the others; although it was several years before it was restored to a habitable condition, the Burton family who had lived there before the fire, did eventually return.

I can remember cycling up and down Winchester Street in the 1970s and seeing the old white house that was No 57, standing on its own with its ground-floor bay window supported on iron brackets, well proud of the house wall itself. A few people must have knocked into that over the years, especially perhaps if, on a dark evening, they had just left The Lamb or the Masons’ Arms, farther down the street.

Today, almost everything on that side of Winchester Street, apart from the former Lamb inn (now the Gin Palace and Andover Tap) and the shops at the bottom of the street, has been progressively demolished. Although not finally built until 1985-86, the original Town Development plans always envisaged the South Street flyover which links Eastern and Western Avenues, and the roundabout right in the middle of old Winchester Street, which allows traffic from the bottom of Winchester Street to reach Winchester Road. It is a pity that such streets that had remained in place for hundreds of years were, in Andover and other towns, literally carved up in this way – and there seems to remain a lot of wasted space on the peripheral areas where some of the old buildings once were that could, with better planning, have been retained.