EXACTLY 93 years ago, one of the area’s most famous hostelries was destroyed by fire after two local brigades had refused to attend the blaze because it was outside their boundaries.

Amazingly, there doesn’t seem to have been any criticism of the brigades of Richmond and Catterick Camp which allowed “Ye Olde Punch Bowl Hotel” at Feetham, near Low Row, to burn.

The Northern Echo:

“The flames spread rapidly owing to the primitive means available for quelling the outbreak, but heroic endeavours on the part of scores of helpers from the villages within a several miles radius of Feetham prevented the entire demolition of the well-known hostelry,” said the Darlington & Stockton Times.

The Northern Echo: Geoffrey Cox and Dr Joe Loughton outside the Punch Bowl in Low Row in 1981

Geoffrey Cox and Dr Joe Loughton outside the Punch Bowl in Low Row in 1981

The fire was spotted by PC Dunning doing his “customary nightly patrol” at 10.45pm on Thursday, January 24. It was seated in the old part of the hotel, which has the date 1638 over a lintel.

PC Dunning alerted the landlord, John Robinson, who was asleep with his family in a new wing of the hotel which had been built eight years earlier. They all escaped by a rudimentary fire escape out the back.

In 1929, there was only one telephone in the village, at the Post Office – number Low Row 1 – and The Northern Echo praised the “excellent work” of Ernest Bagshaw, the son-in-law of subpostmaster William Gill.

The Northern Echo: \"Mini-skirted\" Anne Gill outside Low Row Post Office in 1970 when, aged 19, she had become the youngest subpostmaster in the country. Her grandfather, William Gill, whose name can still be seen over the door advertising the non postal items that he

"Mini-skirted" Anne Gill outside Low Row Post Office in 1970 when, aged 19, she had become the youngest subpostmaster in the country. Her grandfather, William Gill, whose name can still be seen over the door advertising the non postal items that he sold, had been the possessor of Low Row's only telephone the night in 1929 that the pub burned down

“Telephone messages were sent to both the Richmond and Catterick Camp fire brigades, but as Low Row is outside their respective areas, negative responses were received,” said the paper. “Without hose pipes, the only thing that appeared possible was to let the fire burn out.”

As Reeth didn’t have a brigade, the villagers were on their own – although the fire was a great recruiting sergeant to their cause.

“Flames shooting ten feet above the building lit up the dale and people living on the other side of the valley came to give what assistance they could,” said the Evening Despatch.

“By the time they had been able to organise a fire fighting scheme, however the old building was well ablaze, and the only thing they could do was to concentrate on saving the modern portion.”

The Northern Echo: The Evening Despatch\'s photo was taken the morning after the fire when Edmund Coates\' ladder was still propped against the remains of the three storey Punch Bowl

The Evening Despatch's photo was taken the morning after the fire when Edmund Coates' ladder was still propped against the remains of the three storey Punch Bowl

A ladder was put up the front of the three storey building, and as much furniture was removed from the rooms as possible. Then Edmund Coates climbed to the very top, cracked open the roof slates with a hammer and “from his lofty and perilous position poured water on the flames”.

Under the supervision of police Sgt Ackral, of Reeth, a human chain of 60 people, including septuagenarian women, ferried buckets of water up to Edmund.

“The Swale is about half a mile from the Punch Bowl and this was impossible as a means of water supply,” said the Echo. “The firefighters therefore had to work from two cattle troughs and a small stream which runs down the hill by the side of the hotel.”

As the fire devoured the bar, “hundreds of bottles burst with loud reports which could be hear right across the valley”, said the reports. “It was like a miniature battle,” said an eyewitness.

However, by 4am the flames were out. “It was very hard and hot work, but I am glad we managed to save part of the place,” Edmund told reporters.

An amazing picture kindly sent in by Reuben Frankau, along with the newspaper cuttings, shows that the 17th Century building was roofless and gutted:

The Northern Echo: Reuben Frankau's picture of the aftermath of the fire at the Punch Bowl in Low Row. The 17th Century wing on the right has been gutted; on the left on the new wing, you can see the fire escape from the middle window down which the Robinsons made it

Reuben Frankau's picture of the aftermath of the fire at the Punch Bowl in Low Row. The 17th Century wing on the right has been gutted; on the left on the new wing, you can see the fire escape from the middle window down which the Robinsons made it to safety

The Echo concluded its report: “The Punch Bowl – or that part which has been destroyed – is a very old landmark in the dales. It is a very popular rendezvous for motorcycling clubs, many of which used it as a centre in hill climbing and reliability trials.”

The papers said the fire had done more than £5,000 of damage, and it had been caused by “the fusing of an electric cable”. Mains electricity didn’t arrive at Low Row until 1952 and so the Punch Bowl was probably lit by a petrol-fired generator.

  • With many thanks to Reuben Frankau

The Northern Echo: The view from the 17th Century Punch Bowl Inn in Low Row on March 13, 1970

The view from the 17th Century Punch Bowl Inn in Low Row on March 13, 1970