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From an account in the Western Morning News on 27 April 1936


The fire at Bishop's Nympton in 1936

The fire in Bishop's Nympton in 1936

Courtesy of South Molton Museum



"In two hours on Saturday morning, six cottages in the picturesque village of Bishop's Nympton, 3½ miles from South Molton, were destroyed by fire and 15 persons were rendered homeless.


The occupants escaped with only the clothing they were able to snatch up when they were aroused, some from their sleep. Most of their furniture was burned.


It was one of the most disastrous fires in the district for a considerable time. The cottages destroyed were thatched and it was only the fact of a slate-roofed cottage intervening, the roof of which was smashed in to form a gap against the fire that prevented the outbreak spreading to another group of cottages.


South Molton Fire Brigade connected with the Reservoir supplying the village, the capacity of which is 11,000 gallons of water, and after reducing this to a low-level, extra lengths of hose were used to reach the River Yeo in the valley at the bottom of the village.


Involved in the fire was the village reading room, a cottage which had been converted to the purpose some years ago. In this building, the billiard table was destroyed.



At about 6.0am, Mrs Warren of New House (opposite), looking from her bedroom window, saw smoke coming from the thatched roofs of the houses. She shouted a warning and Mr E. Warren, her son, the village postman, ran up to the cottage and roused the occupants and then telephones for the South Molton Fire Brigade.


The fire spread with terrifying rapidity and within a short while, the six  cottages were reduced to smouldering ruins.


The flames licked along the thatched roofs relentlessly and at time shot into the air.


The brigade made a very prompt response to the call, which they received at 6.20am and reached the scene of the fire at 6.35. In the meantime, the Bishop Nympton auxiliary brigade under Mr. C. Crook and Mr W. Trapp, did excellent work in keeping the flames in check as far as possible.



In this, they were assisted by the villagers who formed a human chain along which buckets of water were passed along and used to keep the fire from spreading to adjoining property. Constables Moore (South Molton) and Cowapp (Bishop's Nympton) were among those who rendered valuable assistance.


Among the helpers was Miss Sophie Stewart, the film star, who was staying in the neighbourhood. She carried buckets of water with other villagers and also assisted in the salvage of furniture.


The South Molton Brigade, on their arrival under Sergeant Rogers, quickly had four jets playing on the flames. By this time, the roof of the reading room had already fallen in and the remainder of the cottages were blazing furiously.


In two hours, the whole were completely gutted. All the furniture in the upstairs rooms was destroyed and some of that in the lower rooms.


The cottages situated in the centre of the village were occupied by the following:


Mr J. Rodd and his wife Mrs E. Rodd lived in one cottage and used the adjoining one for his bootmaker's shop. Their neighbour was Mr Edward Kingdon. Then came Mr William Seatherton with his wife and five children whose ages ranged from 13 to 3. The sixth cottage was used as the reading-room.


In addition, stores forming part of a grocery shop occupied by Mr W. Sampson were involved and a quantity of groceries were burned or damaged by water. Twenty fowls belonging to Mr Sampson were saved from the fire.


It is understood the household effects in most of the houses were insured, but not all. The occupants lost most of their clothing, having only that in which they rushed from the burning buildings.


The cause of the fire has not been ascertained but it is stated there had been a smell of what villagers had described as "like burning peat" for several days past, and it is thought  that the spot where the outbreak had occurred had been smouldering for some time."


Research shows that Sophie Stewart enjoyed an interesting career in the cinema between 1935 and the late 1960s. At the time of her visit to Bishop's Nympton, she was at the height of her fame - and her beauty. She appeared in major and minor roles in some of the leading films of the period with great success and often, her image seems to be the one chosen for  the publicity posters. In spite of the fire, she must have been the focus of the village during her visit.


Sophie Stewart, star of
Sophie Stewart, star of Abdulla (1939)


A Sophie Stewart film poster
James Mason played a small part in this Sophie Stewart film of 1937. Her leading man was Barry K. Barnes



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