CHESTERFIELD’s Crooked Spire church fire made headlines around the world after the Derbyshire Times’ intrepid former reporter and renowned journalist Ron Eyley was one of the first on the scene.
Always hungry for a scoop, Ron had already begun a round of morning calls with emergency services when he got a tip-off about smoke billowing from St Mary and All Saints’ Church, off Church Way, on December 22, 1961.
The then 20-year-old cub reporter recalls tracking down DT photographer Reg Smith and the pair ran to what was potentially one of the biggest stories in the newspaper’s history.
Ron said: “The firefighters were in action when we got to the churchyard. Reg was handicapped by having to run with a heavy leather case for his big, glass-plate camera and we could see flames shooting through the roof of the church’s north transept.
“My immediate impression was that we would need a special edition next week because we feared the whole church would be burned to the ground.”
Ron, 70, told how the Archdeacon, the Ven T. Dilworth Harrison, was in the churchyard praying as a fire hose ran near his feet and nativity figures from the Christmas Crib lay on the ground.
Reg urged the Archdeacon to stay in place as he captured the moment, but Ron cannot remember if this picture was used in the paper.
The Ven T. Dilworth Harrison told the Times he feared the Grade I listed building could have been lost forever.
Ron went on to cover another terrible blaze at St Laurence’s Church, Bolsover, just weeks later.
Both fires captured the imagination of a US news agency who signed Ron up to write a piece with background on their renovation for the pink Rock Springs Daily Rocket.
He added: “My story appeared under the worst headline I’ve ever seen in my life. It read, ‘Adversities Spur Beautification of Edifices’.
Ron, who became Sheffield’s Centre for Journalism Studies director and ran Peak Media Services, kept the Rock Springs’ newspaper cutting for many years and used it in training sessions for budding journalists as an example of how not to write headlines.
For more stories about the Spire fire see this week’s Derbyshire Times.