'Oak Lea Fire Outrage, Barrow-in-Furness' 1913. Edward Sankey
© Sankey Family Photography Collection.
Oak Lea Fire Outrage
Written by Wendy Kolbe
Oak Lea, described as a beautifully situated mansion standing in the centre of Sowerby woods (Roanhead turnoff) had stood empty since the death of Mr. H.W. Schneider, Barrows’ ‘Ironmaster’, in 1887.
An alarm was raised on the night of 9th May 1913 as the occupants of the lodge discovered a fire, “One mass of flames”, and the whole building was destroyed, though Barrow Fire Brigade fought overnight to quell the blaze.
Arson was suspected when footprints corresponding to a female shoe were found in the house and arrows were noticed chalked on stones outside, leading to a copy of ‘The Suffragette’ being found in the grounds, wrapped around a piece of lead. Suffragettes were known to be active in Barrow with chemicals being put in pillar boxes and telegraph lines being cut in Dalton as part of a militant campaign.
Damage was estimated at £10,000 and Elizabeth Grew, secretary of the Barrow Branch of Suffragettes claimed responsibility, declaring herself to be a ‘rebel’ and saying that she was, ’Frankly pleased’, with the destruction.
The Rev. Edwin Mould, vicar of St. James’ Church and a supporter of the Suffragette movement was noted as saying of the event, “Men were often selfish beings and it was force and force only that would make them yield to the demands of right and justice”.
Following the fire there were lively scenes and hostility as a Suffragette meeting was held at the triangle of the Scotch buildings which stood in Duke Street. Elizabeth Grew, organiser of Women’s Social and Political Union, and others addressed 500 people but were forced to leave as stones were thrown and they were ‘rushed’ by Hindpool women.