Spectacular Fire At Wootton
Fernhill House, 1938
Known throughout the Island as the residence for half a century of the Brodie family, Fernhill House, Wootton, was completely burnt out in a few hours on Thursday 9 June 1938. The most fortunate aspect of the occurrence was that the house was unoccupied, as it had been sold to Mr A E Whatley of Redway, Merstone and Mr H Cooper of High Street, Newport, who were developing the estate. The Newport Fire Brigade made a very prompt response to the call which was made shortly after 3.45 pm, but the were hampered in their efforts by lack of water and eventually found themselves compelled to concentrate on preventing the spread of the fire to an adjoining cottage occupied by a workman on the estate, leaving the main building to its fate.
The fire started in the south end of the building and was due to roofing materials already heated by the sun being ignited by a spark from a bonfire made by workmen engaged in clearing timber from the grounds. Immediately efforts were made to smother the flames by men on the spot, but as misfortune would have it, the only available ladder was not long enough and they were unable to reach the fire, which spread rapidly gaining a firm hold, fanned by a strong southerly breeze.
In half an hour, in spite of very zealous work by firemen on the roofs, it became obvious that the whole main building was doomed. The roof of the former servants' quarters had already disappeared and greedy tongues of flame could be seen through the windows, spreading along towards the centre portion of the house. In a very short time the whole top storey of the entire northern end was involved. The reason for the spreading of the blaze was obvious when it was seen that the central portion was largely built of wood and plaster, tiled on the outside to represent bricks, and the large amount of timber in the construction, combined with the fact that extensive portions of the roof were felted, had proved fatal to any efforts to stay the spread of the fire. Lead from the guttering and piping ran like water and in the smaller ornamental windows glass melted and twisted into fantastic shapes.
By half past six even the more solid stone built north end was on fire from top to bottom and with a series of dull crashes, heavy beams and masonry crashed through the curtain of flames to the ground floor. When the breeze rose the front of the house facing east made a highly impressive sight, for every window had become a gaping mouth, from which roared solid tongues of flame, extending at times to a length of some 20 feet.
Probably one of the most interested spectators was Mr Plumbley, the 78 year old father of the occupant of Fernhill Cottage, who stood at the cottage door only a few yards away from where the firemen were working and was keenly interested in all that was going on, seemingly oblivious to any danger.
Members of the fire brigade remained on duty all night to ensure that there were no fresh outbreaks. Mr Whatley said that the house was insured but not for a large amount, and that there would be a very considerable loss on account of the valuable fittings, which the premises contained. There were finely carved marble fireplaces for which he and his partner had been offered hundreds of pounds and a very fine central staircase of which no trace remained. It had been intended to convert the house into smaller dwellings, and a considerable amount of work had already been done.
All that is now left of this once fine mansion are a few flagstones marking the spot where it stood, an old stone and brick wall skirting the garden. Two stone pillars. The old stables and coach-house, now converted into homes.
Fernhill - A short History by D G Wilson
Isle of Wight County Press, June 1938
Isle of Wight County Records.