GUNPOWDER EXPLOSION IN SOUTH STREET.
Today we have a very good Fire Service in Boston but it wasn't always so as you'll see from this almost farcical description from the Illustrated London News of a fire that occured in South Street In June 1844.
The six engines of the town were speedily on the spot along with hundreds of people ready to give help if they were needed, the tide was high so there was no shortage of water and it appeared the fire would be short lived and soon put out. It was only then that it was realised that all the engines except one had no suction pipes and the one they had was only 12 feet long and too short to reach the water!!!
Buckets were obtained from every direction and lines formed to supply the engines but by the time the engines were got into efficient play the fire had well taken hold and one house was a mass of flames which appeared to be rapidly extending to a sacking warehouse to the left of it and the Custom-House and other premises to the right.
The people with the buckets carried on their work through intense heat when suddenly an explosion of gunpowder took place and blew the whole of the front of the burning house out, some of the bricks being actually propelled across the river, and a mass of ruins and burning embers falling among the crowd, it was a miracle that no one was hurt in the explosion.
Then a false rumour started that there was an enormous stack of gunpowder in the building that the fire was rapidly approaching, the ignition of which would blow up half of Boston. The hardy workers at the engines looked terrified and it seemed for a moment that their efforts would be abandoned until they were positively assured that all gunpowder had already exploded and there was no danger from this source. It was reported that it was a meloncholy sight to see the poor effect that the town engines had upon the flames, the hose was full of holes and far more water was wasted than reached the fire.
Eventually the whole frontage extending from Custom House Lane to Spain Lane was a mass of fire, the Ship Tavern was rapidly consuming and the connection between that, the bond yard, the London Tavern, and the numerous tenements in Shrodfriars Lane presented an appalling aspect.
The flames now extended over an enormous area (at least 50 yards square) but were prevented from spreading to the other side of Spain Lane by an unceasing play upon them, although the windows broke and paint blistered due to the intense heat.
On the other side the greatest danger existed from the closeness of the Ship Tavern whose roof was in many places in flames and the out-buildings and stables of the London Tavern so an engine was sent round to the London Tavern yard and every well was quickly drained, a line formed and water conveyed in buckets from a pump in the stable-yard. This pump continued for an hour and half and the saving of all property in this area was attributed to it.