Dengate Shop Fire

The Dengate furniture shop was started by Ernest Alfred Dengate (1857-1941) in Hastings, East Sussex. Ernest had moved to Hastings from Peasmarsh, his place of birth sometime, between 1871 and 1881 where he worked for the South-Eastern and Chatham Railway Company as a Carman.

 

Around 1887, Ernest went to work for S. Hermitage and Sons, a well-known Pianoforte dealer in the town, whom he remained employed by for 30 years. He was well known and widely respected in the town and was frequently called upon to help people with their pianos. Towards the end of the First World War, Ernest went into business himself as a furniture remover, eventually starting up a second hand-furniture business in Cornwallis Street. The Dengate shop in Cornwallis Street opened in the 1930s, and was such a success that larger premises were sought, so they bought a shop in Queen's Road, Hastings from Messrs Staite and Co. Ltd for the sum of £3,700 on the 17 February 1930. The cost of the premises was £3,000 for the shop and depository in Waterworks Road and £700 for 'the goodwill of the business of furniture storers carried on therein', signed by Ernest Alfred and his sons Cecil (1898-1950), Stan (1903-1986) and Leslie Dengate (1899-1984). Ernest's sons Cecil, Leslie and Stanley went to work for their father, eventually taking over completely when Ernest retired in 1935. The three brothers divided responsibilities; Cecil was in charge of shop trading, Leslie was in charge of the removal side and Stanley was in charge of the furniture side. The shop also employed several of Ernest Alfred’s grandchildren who served in various capacities before, during, and after the Second World War. Shops were also opened in Wickham Avenue and Sackville Road in Bexhill.

On Friday 31st October 1938 the shop was gutted in the biggest fire Hastings had ever seen, causing an estimated £11,000 of damage. The fire was so powerful that the shops on the other side of the road were also damaged by the flames, the upper storey’s of Halford’s actually catching light. The cause of the fire was never established. The video footage playing above was recorded by a Mr Wallis. The Hastings Observer, which ran an article on the fire wrote, 'The heat of the flames was so intense that shops and house frontages on the opposite side of Queen's Road were endangered. The premises of the Halford Cycle Co., Ltd., smouldered alarmingly and the upper stories caught fire.  The firemen had to turn their hose on the building several times to prevent a serious outbreak. Half of the shop-blind outside adjoining premises was burnt away and windows of this and a number of other shops opposite the blazing building were shattered.'

The shop was later completely refurbished, this time with concrete floors and a steel frame-work. The new store opened on Saturday 8th July 1939 and was described by the local paper as being ‘the last word in modernity.’ Because of its concrete floors, the new shop was used regularly as an air raid shelter when the sirens sounded in the town centre.

 

The shop continued to be a great success post-war, but due to high taxation the three Dengate brothers were forced to sell to the Co-op in 1948.

Click to see a short film of the Dengates shop fire

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