From The Totnes Times
Saturday 21 June 1902
DISASTROUS FIRE AT PLYMOUTH
GREAT DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY
"One of the most disastrous fires ever witnessed in the West of England occurred on Saturday night, when the main block of Messrs Spooner and Company's premises fronting Bedford Street, Old Town Street and Market Arcade, Plymouth, were burnt to the ground. From the alley leading to Chubb's Hotel bar down to the Bedford Street corner was a very handsome frontage, and all except one small tobacconist shop, kept by Mr. Reed, was utilised by Messrs Spooner. Rounding the corner into Old Town Street were Field's Telegraph Inn, the jeweller's shop of Mr. A. L. Rohrer jun., Byne's tobacco shop, a branch office of Messrs Mortimer's dyeing works, and then came Spooner's, in which was exhibited a vast amount of decorative material for the Coronation* festivities, and in which the outbreak actually originated.
Adjoining this were the confectioner's shop of Mr. W. E. Cornish and Kennett's jewellery and watch making establishment, then the mantle and costume department of Messrs. Spooner's, a large five-storey building , and the two sides of the square, about an acre in extent, were completed by the fine building known as Chubb's Hotel, the whole forming one of the finest business areas in the town. Except Chubb's Hotel, which though damaged by fire and water, escaped destruction, almost the whole of this extensive range of business premises has been entirely destroyed. On the west side of Spooner's Alley, Spooner & Co. have their Piazza and other large premises, but these being separated by the narrow alley from the burning block, happily escaped. The flames set alight Browse's clothing stores, but this extension was soon extinguished.
The fire, which broke out at about twenty-five minutes past eight o'clock, originated in one of the shop windows of No. 4 Old Town Street. This window had been gaily dressed with Coronation goods, and the assistants were at the moment engaged in removing the flags and other articles. One of the shop assistants accidentally dropped a lighted taper, and in a moment the whole of the material in the window was in a a blaze, and with startling rapidity, the flames spread through the shop and up the stairs into the first floor which connected to the millinery department. Stored with straw hats and other inflammable material, the millinery room speedily became converted into a roaring mass of fire, from which flames spread in various directions with a swiftness that seems almost incomprehensible. There was no time to save a thing or even close a door. The whole place from end to end was nothing but a fiery furnace ten minutes after the outbreak. Right through from Old Town Street to Bedford Street and across to Spooner's Alley the fire had a firm grip on the whole place.
Three hundred shop assistants and other employees were got out without accident, and fortunately several hundred employees, who worked in the upper part of the premises, had left a short time before the outbreak. In the counting house, a sum of about £300 was at the time being counted up, but the money had to be left behind. From various points of vantage all round the block streams of water were poured into the burning mass. When the Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport Brigades were at work, with three companies of Royal Artillery and their reels, twenty-one hoses were brought to bear in different positions, but for a space of nearly three hours, the fire raged with terrific fury, and the heat emitted was so great that it blistered the paintwork and cracked the plate glass windows and enamelled sign boards of the shops immediately facing the doomed buildings. Chubb's Hotel, which was somewhat recently reconstructed at considerable cost, was in imminent peril between 10 o'clock and midnight, and no less than eight jets were being concentrated on the hotel at one time; six of the Plymouth jets, and one each from Stonehouse and Devonport.