The Flood

Lord Sandwich, in 1916, installed a water sprinkler system which would, in case of fire, quickly go into operation. The nodules were cunningly hidden above pictures or in carved wooden bosses, such as those which decorated the ceiling of the family sitting room.

And now, when Lord Sandwich himself was an elderly man living in the Dower House, with Lord Hinchingbrooke in London, the house empty, on a freezing winter's night, the sprinklers went into action of their own accord. They ejected thirty thousand gallons of water. The old gardener, early in the morning, was the first to hear its frightening noise as it poured through ceilings and turned the fated staircase into a thundering waterfall.

We ran with Ted and Eleanor into the house but we were soon ankle deep in water as it swirled round the hall, the panelled inner room and the library. It was streaming down the bookshelves, now mercifully mostly free of books; bulges of water collected behind the Toledo leather of the surrounds and turned it into something like sodden cardboard. Worst of all, the moulded celing was ominously sagging. Then, inevitably, a large part of it fell, tearing into the oak floor beneath.

from Houseful at Hinchingbrooke by Mary Stuart