From the Exeter Flying Post
10 April 1878:
"At Chulmleigh on Sunday a whole street, numbering 26 houses was destroyed in the course of a few hours by a fire which broke out shortly before noon. It appears that the thatched roof of a house occupied by James Longman, painter, was ignited by a spark from a chimney. It was at once discovered and measures taken to extinguish it, but the wind was blowing about half a gale at the time, and the houses in the neighbourhood being most of them covered with thatch, the fire spread from roof to roof with alarming rapidity.
The whole of the row from Longman's to the Lamb and Flag Inn at the end caught one after another and were soon reduced to a heap of smouldering ashes. A small square of houses behind Fore Street, and in front of Longman's, were also soon ignited and rapidly destroyed; the boarding school of Mr. Brook's at the end of this square and the adjoining house, occupied by Mr. Slater, late of the Inland Revenue, being covered in slate, were saved.
The fire was then found to have broken out at the bottom of New Street and in a short time the whole street was in a blaze, destroying the houses occupied by Mr. Woolf, Mrs. Ridd, the Grape Vine Inn, Letheren, machinist, Mr. Wexford, butcher, John Western, tailor, Thomas Western, thatcher and several others in about two hours. So rapidly did the fire burn that twenty six houses were completely gutted and twenty two families rendered homeless.
The town engines were wholly insufficient to to cope with the fire and at one time the whole town appeared in danger of destruction. A messenger was sent to South Molton for help, and the large engine was at once despatched by the Mayor, with a portion of the fire brigade, arrived about four o'clock. By that time the fire was fortunately well nigh exhausted. Most of the houses destroyed were occupied by labourers and small tradesmen, and the fire burned with such rapidity that they were able to save only a very little of their property. Very few of the owners or occupiers were insured, and the loss is consequently very heavy.
Earl Portsmouth and Mr. James Melhuish Tanner, his agent, were quickly on the spot, and directed provision to be provided in the Market house for those who were burnt out. Among those who rendered active help were Miss Bethune (* daughter of the Vicar), who carried water up ladders "like a heroine", the Rev. Mr. Blathwayte, Mr. Hannaford, Mr. J. M. Tanner, Superintendent Wood and the police.
A committee has been formed to raise subscriptions for the destitute and arrange for their temporary accommodation. Earl Portsmouth has headed the list with a contribution of £100."