“From The Marlborough Times and Wilts and Berks County Paper Saturday December 10th 1881”
“A calamity has befallen the neighbourhood of Everleigh, not only by the rapid destruction of this fine old mansion – but by the burning out of house and home of one of the kindest and best beloved of families, in whose residence here all around rejoiced, and in whose misfortune, all must deeply sympathize.
Everleigh House is traditionally the residence of the old Saxon King Ine, whose hunting lodge is said to have stood near the Sidbury encampment. The mansion just destroyed was probably built by Sir Ralph Sadleir, to whom the lordship was granted by Henry VIII. Sir Ralph was afterwards falconer to queen Elizabeth, and was so fond of hawking that when he was appointed custodian to Mary Queen of Scots, at Tutbury, he allowed his prisoner to participate in the sport, which brought on him the reprimand of Elizabeth. Sadlier’s portrait was still to be seen in the old house, which had passed into the hands of the Astley family, and at present belonged to Sir John Astley.
Another painting in the old mansion represented two duels fought on horse back by Sir John De Astley in the reign of Henry VI, one with a French man in the street of St. Antoine, in Paris; the other with a knight of Arragon in Smithfield. Everleigh House was the home of that Sir Francis Astley, whose electioneering exploits in 1818 took a conspicuous place in our Wiltshire Annalls, it was a commodious residence of early 18th century date, built of brick, with slate and ledden roofing and is of a domestic style of architecture. An older part of the building is a drawing room of grand proportions and ancient style, looking out on a superb Elizabethan lawn bearing fine yew and box shrubs,,cut in quaint form. Its romantic and picturesque surroundings give the place a charm which but few possess, and form a fine shooting and sporting estate. As stated, it is the home of the Astleys, but Sir John “of that ilk” residing upon his wives estate at Helsham Hall, Brigg, Lincolnshire, has let the house furnished to C W Curtis Esq head of the great house of Curtis and Harvey who has resifted there for some years. This gentleman spent £3,000 or £4,000 upon the house when he commenced his occupation.under lease, and his sona kept a most liberal establishment there, to the great benefit of the neighbourhood.
At nine o’clock on Thursday morning the house stood, solid and substantial as of old; at ten it was like a raging furnace. There is not the slightest suspicion of fire, neither smell nor smoke was discovered, till about nine o’clock, when Miss Curtis, who was dressing, observed smoke coming into her room from above. She at once alarmed the family, who were at breakfast. Mr Curtis was absent, forming one of a shooting party at Savernake House, but his sons, Mr Percy Curtis, Mr Eustace Curtis, in all six of his nine children with Mrs Curtis were present, and at once took the alarm. Fire was discovered raging, in one of the attics, which are stored with unused furniture and carpets and one or two are bedrooms for men servants. DenCe volumes of smoke issued along the corridors, and though a fire engine is kept on spot, which manned by Mr rercy Curtis and his brigade, has done gallant service in the neighbourhood, the clouds of smoke prevented access being gained to the seat of the fire.<
The fire bell at the top of the mansion pealed forth its alarming notes, and fast from every cottage around willing helpers came to the rescue.
Mr Eustace Curtis galloped for the Pewsey fire engine with such speed that he reached Pewsey in 20 minutes; finally horsed by a phoenix “unicorn team”, this efficient engine under the charge of Messrs Self and Inspector Maggs went by the hill at such a rate as to reach Everleigh in half an hour.
Another messenger went southward for the Netherhaven engine, which also responded to the call, but it was speedily apparent that the house was doomed, for it was one of those buildings which afforded remark as likely to burn “like a box of matches”. Oak Wainscotting lined the rooms to considerable height, indeed it was noted that in the drawing room this was a foot away from the wall and therefore a fierce draft fanned the flames. The volumes of smoke which rolled above the doomed building lessened and gave way to the fierce glow of the flames, which rapidly spread beneath the roof and descended to the first floor. Soon after ten the roof was in, and at half past the walls stood like a shell, while the intense glare of the devouring flames outrivalled the brilliant morning sun, and like the white light of a furnace necessitated a shading of the eyes even to look at. Smoke there was little, for the fire consumed it, the led boiled in a white head, and the timber crackled and yawed as it fell a ready prey to the all-mastering flames.
But all this while none had been idle. The Rev Aylmer Astley Rector of Everleigh, was one of the first arrivals, and mastering his grave distress at beholding the destruction of his birth place, and the home of his fathers, take that Mr Percy Curtis, and the resident family, an active part in directing operations. It was marvellous how, in such a sparsely populated neighbourhood, so many persons were speedily collected together, and this set to work with a will, none working harder than the women, to clear out the furniture – generally speaking, the contents of the ground floor was saved with but slight damage in removal. The plate was conveyed to a place of safety under the charge of the police and the massive furniture of the suite of rooms opening there on speedily rendered the old lawn a scene of confusion, indeed lawns and gardens all around were heaped with the multifarious effects of the luxurious residence of a wealthy man. Of course much above was destroyed the stored attics and some of the bedroom effects on the first floor. On the other side of the mansion the library shelves were emptied of their contents, Mr Curtis’ papers taken care of, the hall and reception room cleared. The family pictures were all reserved with one exception. It was a family portrait of a gentleman on horseback, surrounded by dogs, of early 18th century date, and being on the staircase could not be removed.<
Built on to the house, but like wings under another roof are on one side the Orangery and Conservatory, on the other a laundry and servants apartments, both considerable buildings. To save this from destruction the efforts of the workers with the fire engines were successfully directed. A Netherhaven engine took up a favourable post with its suction hose in a large rain water tank, and fought the flames on the laundry side, the result being that this was preserved. The Pewsey engine was stationed beneath the glass of the conservatory, and getting into play at ten thirty, kept up a powerfull stream of water the whole day.
Five water carts plied to-and-fro to a large neighbouring pond, and here too the progress of flames was stayed. But the house itself was burnt to the ground, and as the day wore on and the flames, as though satiated began to subside, nothing but a blackened heap of ruins remained within four bear walls. The glory of the drawing room was a splendid and massive white marble mantlepiece, with oak above carved in deap relief. By dint of great excersion this was cut out, but it was only “loves labour lost”, for calcined by the heat, the whole crumbled to pieces.<
There was stated to be five hundred pounds worth of wine in the cellars, and some adventurous helpers went down though the fire was coming through one volt from above, and commenced its removal, but this was wisely forbidden.
At nightfall the engines, whose services were retained throughout Thursday night, commenced to play on the burning debris in order to save contents of the cellars.
Mr B Nuth of Everleigh, made his way to Savernake to apprise Mr Curtis of the disaster, but that gentleman had left the house with the shooting party, and did not return till four o’clock, to find his home a heap of ruins. The family took refuge at the Crown Hotel.<
It is impossible to appraise the actual loss, mounting to some thousands of pounds. Mr Curtis (who is a director of the Guardian Office) is insured. It is not yet known whether Sir John Astley was insured; some cottages on his estate, recently burnt, were uninsured, and this argues against the supposition.
Superintendent Pierce, Inspector Maggs and a large staff of police, were present during the day and night, and the whole countryside exerted themselves to the utmost. The origin of the fire has not, and probably will not be ascertained. It is conjectured by the family that a paraffine lamp might in some way have been the cause; another theory is that some woodwork may have caught from one of the flues, The report that fire was smelt or heard the night before was without foundation.<
The fire is must to be deplored on account of the loss to the county which would be entailed by the enforced removal of Mr Curtis and his family. A more kind hearted, sympathetic, benevolent man could not sojourn in any neighbourhood. He has a great acquisition to the county bench, and a warm supporter of every institution. It is fervently hoped he may be retained in the. neighbourhood. He has another residence at Folkstone, from which the family only returned after a long stay a fortnight ago. It is useless to conjecture whether Everleigh House is to be rebuilt, if not Everleigh would soon become a “deserted village”.
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