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News > College News > The Chevron fire of 19th May 1954

The Chevron fire of 19th May 1954

Almost 70 years ago, the College suffered what could have been a devastating incident, when the roof of Chevron House caught alight.
Inside the dorm
Inside the dorm

The newspaper report of the day, extract below, makes for interesting reading, not least of all because the hero of the moment who took control of the situation and ensured the boys in the dormitories evacuated from the building promptly was not a member of staff but the School Captain, Peter Hordern.

Stewart Lenton (Chevron - 1958) remembers the event well:

"I went to Hurst at the age of almost 14 in the Spring term of 1954 and was in Chevron under Frank Florey as housemaster.  That particular term was noteworthy as there was the fire in the Chevron dormitory.  I remember that particularly well since, as a new boy, I was at the very end of the junior dormitory, and was rather slow in getting moving at 2-o-clock in the morning. I must have been one of the last to leave the dormitory and went to enter the changing room to get a sweater and was confronted by a wall of flame. I left a little more rapidly after that, and the rest of that term was spent living in the sanatorium over the Headmaster’s accommodation. In 1956 I went as one of the founder members of ‘Eagle’. "

With thanks to Stewart for the two photos below:

The charred timbers can still be seen in Chevron to this day:

Newspaper report:

Scholars marched from fire

Two hundred and thirty boys at Hurstpierpoint College were marched out at 2.30 am on Thursday by prefects and masters when fire broke out in the roof of a wing containing two dormitories.

There were 45 boys in the two dormitories. Roused by the 18 year old School Captain, Peter Hordern, they left the wing, Chevron House, with flames leaping more than 20 ft from the blazing roof.

They were hardly out of the building when pieces of burning wood and hot plaster fell on their empty beds.

Damage was estimated at hundreds of pounds, but none of the boys was hurt. Three firemen received minor burns and Fireman Cramb, of Hurstpierpoint, was knocked unconscious by a tile.

The Headmaster, the Rev R C Howard said: “Hordern got the dormitories in his charge cleared in two minutes, and the rest of the school was paraded, as on fire practice, within a few minutes. After the fire was brought under control by the brigades all the boys went back to bed, about 20 of them being put up in the school sanitorium.”

The fire is believed to have started in an electric airing cupboard in the bathrooms adjoining the dormitories. The cupboard was reduced to a pile of ash, the walls were charred and blistered by intense heat and the roof timbers were burned completely away. From the roof above the bathrooms, the fire spread quickly to the main roof of the dormitories.

When fire brigades from Hurstpierpoint, Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath – summoned by the Headmaster – arrived they found practically the whole roof of the wing ablaze.

Div Officer G R H Payne, East Sussex Fire Brigade officer in charge of operations said : “My lads did great work. They held back the fire to the area it had reached when they arrived.”

The biggest fear of the 30 fire-fighters was that they would be unable to prevent the blaze from spreading to the adjoining Chapel. They stopped the flames after an hour’s intensive work, just as they were licking at the eaves and wall of the Chapel.

While the boys of Chevron House moved to the reading house and library, converted into an emergency dormitory, the firemen threw burning bedding out of the first-floor windows of the school lawns.


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