[nlsubject]#A chance conversation with Nigel Stowe at the Boat Club 125 Celebrations reminded the Editor of the Boathouse Fire of 28 June 1951. An article about it should have appeared in 2001: here it is, two years late! The following appeared in the Bath Chronicle. We are grateful to Nigel Stowe for lending the pictures taken after the fire.[/nlsubject]
Damage estimated at over £3,000 was caused when Bath's 15th mystery fire completely destroyed a boathouse belonging to Monkton Combe School just before midnight on Thursday.
Mr W J North of Warminster Road, Monkton Combe, gave Bath C I D officers a description of a man he saw near the boathouse - which is below the aqueduct at Limpley Stoke - just before the outbreak. Eleven boats were destroyed in the flames. Only a few hours before, the school's rowing crew had left for Henley Regatta, taking with them the best craft - which would otherwise have been in the boathouse. A number of people raised the alarm. Mr L Love, a local farmer, saw the flames and rushed to the Warminster Road garage. Mr W Ross, the proprietor, had by then also seen the flames and Bath Fire Brigade were called. The school was also 'phoned.
Col. W H M Freestun, who lives at Bassett House, helped Mr North, Mr Ross and Mr Love, and Mr F Fursman, an employee of the school, to drag out other boats kept in an adjoining boathouse - which was only scorched in the flames. Together they managed to save all the boats before flames drove them back. Meanwhile, the Brigade had arrived. Water from the Avon was poured on to the blazing building. But the boathouse, which was constructed almost entirely of wood, could not be saved. Only the concrete foundations remained.
Mr W J North later told a reporter: "I went past the boathouse at about 10.30 pm. I had just been fishing."
"As I went round the canal corner, I saw a man keeping in the shadow of the trees as though he didn't want me to see him. I should say he was aged just under 20. He was wearing a brown lumber jacket and had dark hair. I thought at the time he was acting suspiciously. There were no flames at that time." Police officers took this description from Mr North.
Mr Ross said, "My wife saw the smoke but thought there must be campers down there. I said, 'That's not campers', and called the brigade at once."
Mr Love of Wood View Farm, Monkton Combe, said: "I thought it was one of my ricks going up, so I dashed to the garage to 'phone."
Three eights and eight fours were lost in the flames. They may take some time to replace. The school waited two years for its newest boat, which was taken to Henley.
The Headmaster (Mr D R Wigram) commented: "This is a very serious blow, and I fear we shall have to cancel some of the races in which we had planned to row." The 1st VIII was at Henley, where they went on to beat Portora Royal School and Tiffin, before being beaten by Bedford in the Semi-Final of the Princess Elizabeth Cup.