Suffragette Outrage

Posted On April 12, 2014
April 12, 2014
by Clare

Fire that gutted a house on the corner of Chalfont Lane on 4th April, 1913 was the work of suffragettes. The arson incident was widely reported nationwide.

A copy of a newspaper article passed on to us by former house owner Bob Arthy covered the nature of the fire and the response of the local fire brigade in great detail…


Within a few weeks of the disastrous fire at Croxley Green Station, Hertfordshire has been the scene of another outrage on the part of the Suffragettes. This time a fine country mansion known as Roughwood House’ on the bend of the Chalfont Road, Chorleywood has been the subject of the attack.

About 1 o clock on Friday afternoon , two men working at Beechcroft , a house not far away, noticed smoke issuing from the house in question. In a few minutes, it was apparent that the house was on fire and a telephone message was immediately sent to Messrs. Davis of Rickmansworth, who are the owners. Word was at once taken to the Rickmansworth Fire Station and within ten minutes the motor conveying the hose was rushing to the scene. In a few minutes more the Fire Brigade, with the engine, were hurrying off having turned out with commendable promptitude. Having arrived they found that the hose had already been attached to a hydrant in Hillside Road which is a considerable distance from Roughwood House. A connection was then made at the farm (pond) close by where there was plenty of water. What went wrong is uncertain but no water was forthcoming. Try as they would their efforts were unsuccessful. In the meantime the house was burning furiously and it seemed out of the question that the efforts of the firemen would ever check the rapid progress of the flames, fanned as they were, by a strong wind.

After fully an hour had passed the first jet of water was played on to the burning house, which by this time was practically gutted. The great heat had melted the plate glass windows, while the tiles were cracking and bursting in all directions, making it exceedingly dangerous to approach too near.
As the flames worked backwards against the wind, they eventually reached the kitchen. The door burnt away and then was noticed a great flash, accompanied by clouds of smoke, showing that large quantities of petrol had been used to saturate the floor. There was no doubt that all the ground floor was treated in this way and probably if the kitchen had been saved, some clue to the methods of the incendiaries might have been discovered. As it was, however, this was impossible, the whole of the floors, and in fact every particle of woodwork was reduced to ashes, and all that now remains of what was a fine country mansion are the walls and chimney stacks.
The usual Suffragette notices (cards nearing the words Votes for Women) were found between the house and the stables. There were three postcards published by the W.S.P.U, each bearing the words ‘Votes for Women’ together with the references to Mrs Pankhurst and other matters. These are now in possession of the police at Chesham. The stables were not in any way injured, but the rest of the building is a total loss, and much sympathy is expressed with Messrs. David Bros of Rickmansworth, the owners. The house contained eight bedrooms, a lounge hall, three reception rooms and extensive offices and had only just been renovated: It has been unoccupied since before last Christmas, the last tenant being Mr J.B.Ball.

Of course, it is difficult to judge how the perpetrators of this outrage laid their plans. It is quite possible that they had previously looked over the house on the pretext of wishing to take it, and made their plans accordingly. The house is surrounded by a thick belt of (30ft high) fir trees, and at the rear, is ample cover for anyone wishing to remain unseen. It is gratifying to know that the building was fully insured in the Norwich Union Fire Offices. It was built about six years ago by Messrs. Davis Bros, Messrs Swannell and Sly being the architects.

During Sunday large crowds visited the spot, coming to Chorleywood by train and there were innumerable motor cars, motor cycles, carriages and bicycles conveying people from long distance.

A further report in the London Evening Standard on 5th April, 1913 mentioned that the house was insured and valued at between £2000 and £2500 and that the Roughwood Estate was jointly owned by Mr. Davis, of Rickmansworth, and his nephew. Mr. C. B. Sutton, of Whetstone. It also made reference to the fact that tenant Mr. Ball was an engineer of the Great Central Railway and the property was shortly to have been occupied by Mr. Sutton.

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