H11114c — Bear Hotel Fire, 1918

Box 11


Image 2: H11114B — Bear Hotel Fire, 1918


‘Escape from the Bear Hotel Fire’ — Mrs. Patricia Elliott, granddaughter of Mr Dulake, landlord of the Bear Hotel

Audio transcript at bottom of page


The centuries old Bear Hotel burnt down on 18th June 1918. The alarm was raised at 3.45 am. By 4.30 am the fire had spread to the buildings behind the hotel and across the river. The level of water in the river was too low either to prevent the spread of the fire or to use to put it out. The Newhaven Steam Fire Launch ran aground on its way to help.


The 300 year old Bear Hotel, located next to the Cliffe Bridge, burnt down on the 18th June 1918. The Chief Fire Officer for Lewes, Mr D Roberts wrote a very detailed report on the fire.


The alarm was raised at 3.45 a.m. with Mr Roberts arriving just 8 minutes later. The fire was spreading very quickly , by 4.30 the Bear Hotel and Garage, Stricklands Granary and Rice Brothers store were alight on the eastern side, and buildings on the western side were also alight including the Stevenson’s Granary and Stables and another granary belonging to Stricklands.The Lewes Fire Brigade with the help of the Brighton Fire Brigade and the Brighton Railway company steamer were able to bring the fire under control by 8 in the morning, unfortunately the Newhaven Steam Fire Launch ’Haulier’ had become grounded near the Gas works when it came to help.


The Sussex Express reported two days later that £50,000 worth of damage had been done. No one was seriously injured in the fire; the proprietor of the Bear, Mr Dulake and his family and guests escaped, 8 horses were saved from Stevenson’s Stables, the night watchman at the County Garage nearby fell from a ladder and was treated in hospital. A special mention was made in the report of the ’exceedingly valuable services’ of Trumpeter Hawkes of the Australian Provost Corps who were stationed in Lewes in the last few months of the war.


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“Thomas Lanaway Dulake and his wife Hannah run the Bear Hotel. The fire that burnt it down started in the early hours of June 18th 1918 when my mother Mary Ada would have been seventeen, her brother Tom Sowerby fifteen, and her sister Kathleen would have been twelve. All five of them escaped unharmed but with only the nightclothes they had on. I remember my mother telling me how she and her best friend went to Brighton to buy more clothes. They were all rehoused in the Crown Hotel Lewes which they then ran for a number of years.”