Were the Good Old Days really that different from today? There are always those who complain that “things ain’t what they used to be”, harking back to some unspecified halcyon time when the world was better, but was it really? Probably not. One popular view is that society today is more lawless than it once was, that young people, in particular, have no respect for authority and pretty much run riot, causing wanton destruction wherever they go. But other than anecdote, is there any evidence for this? We reprint here a report from 112 years ago on a case of juvenile arson that saw the destruction of valuable farm property and produce in Kingswinford, all the more shocking because the perpetrators were apparently only six years old.
The incident occurred on Monday, 8th October, 1900, and was reported in the following Saturday’s County Express: “On Monday a fire occurred at Kingswinford at the farm buildings of Mr Henry Webb’s Bradley Hall, resulting in damage estimated at £1,000 to the buildings and farm produce. At about 4pm a lady walking up High Street noticed two six-year-old boys in the yard at the back of the granaries striking coloured lights and putting them through the keyhole of the barn door. She immediately called the attention of Mr J. Webb to the fact. He hastened round, and found that the matches had already ignited the straw, with which the barn was stored. Raising the alarm, he ran for a bucket of water, but, on his return, found the flames already utterly beyond the control of the farm hands, and a telegram was sent to Stourbridge for the fire brigade. The flames spread with extraordinary rapidity over the barley-straw, and, reaching the roof, ate their way along the old and decaying rafters into the adjoining upper compartments of the buildings, likewise stored with unthreshed corn, and soon seven upper sections of the nine which form the block of buildings were in the grip of the flames, against which any local effort was powerless.
“Meanwhile all attention had been directed to getting the horses and cows from the stables underneath the store rooms, which was done with difficulty.
“When the manual engine arrived at about 5pm, the roof of one wing of the block had already fallen in. The steamer came up later, and the brigade, under the command of Fireman Payton, directed its efforts at first cutting off the fire from the two last portions of the block, consisting of malthouse underneath the granaries above. It was found the brigade couplings could not be connected with the Kingswinford mains, and a water supply had at first to be pumped from the duck pond. This was soon exhausted, and a villager bethought himself that the Kingswinford Council had just procured a supply of hose, and this was immediately sent for from the Council Chamber. On applying this to the main it was found that the pressure was excellent, exceeding that which the steamer itself could throw, and two strong jets were set playing on the flames.
“The unvisited parts were first rendered secure from harm. The rest of the block was a fiery mass. The brigade accordingly turned its efforts to checking the fiercest of the flames, and to seeing that no harm came to the other properties near the spot. In this manner the fight went on, till finally after half-a-dozen hours’ work it was deemed safe to allow the fire to burn itself out, and at 12.30 the brigade departed.
“Watch was kept all through the night, the fire being damped down, whenever fanned by the wind it assumed any threatening proportions. All through Tuesday the heaps of half-burnt corn smouldered, for when Captain Walker and Firemen Meredith and Lavender visited the spot on Tuesday afternoon it was again deemed necessary to play for a short time on the smouldering mass.
“Altogether five large compartments, which were stored with unthreshed barley, another stored with straw and hay, and the chaff-cutting room, in which were machines, were burnt out, together with all the stabling underneath.
“There were two or three narrow escapes from falling wood and tiles. Fireman Harward was struck by a beam, but, fortunately, did not sustain much injury.
“The loss of farm produce is covered by insurance.”
Perhaps juvenile delinquency was as big a problem in 1900 as it is today, but what is more noticeable is the difference that technology has made to our lives.
In 2012 we can rely on the rapid response of the emergency services; one telephone call can set into action the latest in fire-fighting appliances to, hopefully, arrive within minutes. It was very different with the Bradley Hall farm fire in 1900. Then, someone had to run from the farm to Kingswinford post office, then send a telegram to Stourbridge post office, which would then be rushed to the fire station. Around an hour after the fire started the fire brigade arrived, but only with a hand-powered pump; the steampowered pump arrived later. The fire brigade also had difficulties in connecting their equipment to the Kingswinford water main. The wonder is that the firefighters were able to save any of the farm buildings at all. Thankfully, such problems would not be encountered today.
Bradley Hall was built in 1596, according to the date stone on its frontage. Like many Elizabethan halls it was built on an E-shaped plan and it was noted for its wide-based chimney stacks, close upright timbering, overhanging upper storeys, large twostorey front bay window, and an elaborate oak staircase.
Farmer Henry Webb was the last occupant; the hall was sold at auction on 11th February, 1924, fetching £2,775.
The building was carefully dismantled and reerected as Bradley Lodge in Stratford-upon- Avon