(this fire started in the White Horse, and destroyed several houses at the top of Pound Street, and the house between the White Horse and White Hart. )

Exeter Flying Post Sept 11, 1838


It is with deep regret we announce the occurrence of a most destructive fire in the town of Moretonhampstead.  About one o’clock on Tuesday morning, the inhabitants were aroused from their slumber by the appalling cry of fire, which was succeeded by the violent ringing of the alarm bell, and so great a light thrown over the whole town as gave but too convincing evidence of the rapid progress of an awful conflagration.  The fire had its commencement in the White Horse Inn, kept by Mr Samuel Gray, and spread both right and left with fearful rapidity.  In the out premises of this Inn, we hear from several informants, that there was lodged in transitu a small barrel of gunpowder, to get at which, in the then state of the building,  would have been a work of the greatest hazard; as also that for a time it rendered persons very cautious how they approached this part.  The explosion, however, at length gave notice that no further danger was to be apprehended, from this source, and the exertions of the inhabitants were redoubled.  To the eastward, the fire communicated to the house and premises of Mrs Stevens, which immediately adjoin the White Hart Inn (Mr S. Cann).  To save the former was evidently impossible, the town engine therefore, the only one they had, was brought to play with great effect on the latter, and we are happy to add that by these means and the extraordinary exertions of the inhabitants this Inn was saved from destruction, although not without some injury to somas part of  the premises, but not so as to interrupt the business of the house.  Westward, however, the flames made terrible havoc, clearing the houses between and extending from the White Horse Inn into Pound-street, until checked in that street by a house covered with slate, the intervening buildings having been mostly if not entirely covered with thatch.  Nearly all the back premises also shared the same fate, nine houses in the front and these forming one mass of burning ruin.  With means so inadequate to subdue the dreadful fire that was raging, at the outset an express was dispatched to this city for assistance, and to whom every aid was given by our night police.  The officers and men of the different Insurance Offices also were in a surprisingly short time on the alert, and the West of England Engine, fully manned, and with all apparatus, and drawn by four horses; the Norwich Union, also fully appointed; and the Sun Fire Engine, were on the road for Moreton, which is twelve miles from hence.  This they reached at from about a quarter to half-past five o’clock in the morning.  Great fears were entertained for the houses on the opposite side of the way from Mrs Stevens’, and the White Hart, and also for the houses between  Pound-street and Court-street, being all covered with thatch, but by men being stationed on these and supplied with water, they were preserved.  We are happy to say that no lives were lost, but the destruction of property is very great, some having lost nearly their all.  We have not heard how the fire originated.

[The performance of the Exeter Fire engines]

In connexion with this calamitous event it may be mentioned that the express reached the station-house of the police, at the Guildhall, about half-past two o’clock; Capt. Back, and the men on duty for the night, as has been already said, immediately lent every assistance, indeed, all such men as the Captain had at hand  were dispatched to arouse the firemen, whilst the express was assisted to inform the principal offices of the respective Insurance Offices.   By these means, rather before three o’clock, the West of England Engine, with four horses furnished by Mr Cockram of the New London Inn, started for Moreton.  The Norwich Union, with four horses furnished by Mrs Street, of the Royal Clarence Hotel, started about half-an-hour afterwards; and at a quarter to four o’clock the Sun Engine, with four horses furnished by Mr George Pearce, of the livery stables, Bedford-Street, started in the same direction.  It has been already shown at what time these reached Moreton, but perhaps the journey was performed by with a speed (when the weight is considered) unparalleled in this part of the kingdom.  The distance is twelve miles in a hilly district, but the fleet yet strong and powerful horses furnished by Mr George Pearce, including in it four or five minutes that they waited on Exe Bridge for a fireman, went over this ground, with the engine, men &c, in one hour and ten minutes !!!   The West of England Engine met with accidents in two instances by the breaking of the traces, and thus was delayed considerably on the journey, yet still got in first.  Too much praise cannot be bestowed on all parties concerned in this matter; indeed, the exertions of all were extraordinary. 

[The pigs and the gunpowder]

(From our Correspondent).  I informed you briefly and hastily yesterday of the calamitous occurrence which had taken place here, and no doubt you have otherwise learnt many particulars.  I am sorry to say the loss of Mr Gray is very great; and among other property of his, eleven fine pigs were burnt to death.  The barrel of gunpowder that perhaps you may have heard was on his premises, was 56 pounds weight of rock-powder, which was lodged there but a day or two before, for a farmer in the country.  Mr Gray had a great objection to its being left at his house, and when he at length consented ordered it to be taken to the back part of his premises, and lodged in his slaughter house; and but for this precaution, the fire occurring, the consequences might have been much worse.  As it is, to this it  was most probably owing that the pigs were burnt, for immediately on the alarm, Mr Gray made it publicly known that gunpowder was there, and the place in which it was lodged, but the fire spread with a rapidity in that direction that forbad any one from going near it.  When the explosion took place, the concussion was sensibly felt, and the glass in many windows at a distance from the fire was shattered.  There are fourteen families burnt out, who are all great sufferers.