Fire in a small village which did not have its own fire brigade was always a memorable experience. Here Joyce Kemp recalls tales of fires from her youth, and Bill Elstow remembers his grandmother’s self induced firestorm!

Grandad Westbrook told us about his brother Towers as a boy being woken up in the night by their father telling him to get his pony out and ride into Alton to get the fire brigade. The hop kiln was on fire at Hodges Farm where they lived, when a farm worker dropped a lamp into the drying hops.

Luckily it was a moonlit night - you would wonder if there was any fire left by the time the fire brigade got there. No telephones in those days, of course.

Another fire which occurred in Froyle more recently when we were small children was when a mischievous boy set fire to hay ricks at Sylvesters Farm as my Grandparents were walking to Church one Sunday evening.

They had almost reached the Beeches when they heard a shout of “Fire”; it was a very loud shout from Jack Day who worked for them for years looking after the cows - he was a great favourite with us children as he told us all about the cats and kittens and gave them names.

My grandparents ran home across the fields to put out the fire.

The next day we heard how people rushed around letting pigs out, some of which were scorched, and opening chicken houses.

Auntie Grace was really an indoor person and not an animal person, but she thought of Billy, the big black horse still in the stable, and thought that the fire might spread that far, so she went to turn him out. She couldn’t undo his rope so she went back into the kitchen for a carving knife to cut it. Then she led him across the road calling to onlookers to open the gate into the field in front of the house and letting him free. We always thought this very brave of her.

The firemen had to take their hose pipe from the pond, through the house, along that long passage to the fire which left quite a mess on the floor. It isn't only the fire which causes damage on these occasions!

Joyce Kemp

Although from her teens she had always lived in London she had in fact been born only a few miles from Froyle in a village called Upton Grey, and it was as if returning once more to the country at the age of 63 had mellowed her. She was always laughing and had a wonderful sense of humour and could enjoy a laugh at her expense, as on the occasion of her own individual fire storm.

At the back of her cottage was a very large field that usually planted with a cereal of some kind. During the year it was her practice to put all her hedge cuttings over into the field to dry under the hedge and then once the corn had been cut and the sheaves collected she would have a bonfire. On this particular occasion it had been a very hot August and the cuttings were tinder dry. She raked them out with my help and into a pile and then leant forward to put a match to it. It was if she had put a match to a pile of gun cotton. There was a crackling whoosh, an immediate mountain of searing flame, which, before it leapt away into the air, swirled round and momentarily engulfed my grandmother. When she emerged her wispy white hair had been reduced to a brown crisp ash and her eyebrows had disappeared completely. What did she do?

She just dissolved into fits of laughter at her new, and to her, hilarious appearance.

Bill Elstow