Clark & Butcher Mill

Big Blaze at Soham

Clark & Butcher Lorry Tipping Grain

It is ironic that, having operated throughout the war, Soham Mill would face destruction only weeks after VE day. At 2.00am on 12th July 1945 part of the mill was found to be alight. In a very short time the fire took hold and the mill became a raging inferno. Although employees were working in the building at the time, they were some distance from the seat of the fire. Directors, as well as staff were quickly on the scene, and many workmen were involved in the hazardous rescue of the fleet of ‘road transport vehicles’ from a covered yard adjacent to the burning buildings. The following extracts from the news report narrates the rescue.

The NFS (National Fire Service) was reinforced by pumps and crews from Cambridge and Newmarket. Ten pumps were in attendance and at the height of the fire seven were in operation at one time.

Pending the arrival of reinforcements, Mr Roger Clark started up the firm’s own trailer pump, and with the assistance of workmen quickly had a good pressure of water. They concentrated on the offices and flour store and by their prompt action saved this part of the premises and Mr J Clark’s house from the fire. Mr Jack Clark was also on the scene directing operations.

With the main building going away like a blast furnace the NFS .... Had a big job in hand, but by 4.00am the fire was surrounded and the situation was in hand. An hour later it was well under control and there was no danger of further spread.
The whole of the firm’s fleet of road transport vehicles housed in a covered yard between the mill and the flour store, were in danger of being involved in the fire, but they were driven to safety by the workmen, many of whom turned out & render valuable assistance. Among the vehicles was a trailer loaded with sacks of flour, and this was removed by Mr Roger Clark, Junior, by means of a tractor.

The loss of the mill and its machinery is a serious one, for the firm, since the beginning of the war, had been working at full pressure in the national interest under the ministry of food.

On viewing the ruins the following day, Jack Clark recalls that Mr Roger Clark said to him, ‘Out of evil may come good.’ They started planning for the rebuilding of the mill immediately. The foundations of the new mill were laid at Easter 1946 with bricks from Whittlesey, which Clark and Butcher hauled themselves. The new mill had the distinction of being the first to be built in Britain after the war, opening for business in July 1947 only two years after the old mill was destroyed.

Extract from 'A Master Miller Remembers - J P Clark's Story' as told by Gareth Adamson,
Printed by Hobbs, King & Parr, Soham. No longer in print but a copy is held at Soham Library

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