Extracts from the report in the Leeds Mercury, Thursday 26th July 1906:
Disastrous Fire in Leeds
Enormous Damage - Great Northern Hotel Burned Down
Large Warehouse destroyed.
The fire started in the warehouse of Hotham & Whiting on corner of Wellington Street and Thirsk Row. There was a row of woollen warehouses between Wellington Street and Aire Street marked on an insurance plan of 1886, showing the degree of fire risk for different premises. Hotham & Whiting was a warehouse for Manchester (household linen and cotton) and other goods. On the ground floor was a J Hepworths wholesale tailor shop. Next door were wholesale clothiers and manufacturers R B Brown & Sons.
The alarm was raised about a quarter past nine and the fire had soon engulfed the building.
“It was a magnificent spectacle, and at the same time deplorable that nothing adequate could be done to stay the advance of the flames.”
Although the arrival of the fire brigade improved the situation, it was clear that their water jets couldn’t reach the upper storeys of the building, which were used to store highly flammable materials such as linoleum.
“Floor after floor fell in, and the fire reared like a furnace. Explosion after explosion sent the crowd retreating in a panic.”
The report refers to a ‘raging sea of fire’:
“From basement to far above what had been the roof, the warehouse of Messrs Hotham and Whiting was a raging sea of fire, into which the debris of floors and walls fell at intervals with a dull crash, accompanied by vast showers of sparks.”
The fire brigade was not able to control the blaze because the upper floors stored flammable linoleum. The building next door, owned by Brown & Son, was saved because it had better fire precautions.
Sparks from the fire spread across the road to the roof of the Great Northern Hotel. One by one, the towers of the hotel caught fire and collapsed, with supposedly fireproof floors being destroyed. Guests were reluctant to leave the hotel and their belongings, according to a witness,
“a large number of people were congregated in the passages, and they seemed to have no comprehension of the danger they were in”.
The three top storeys of the hotel were destroyed, two firemen were severely burned by falling debris and taken to hospital. A collapsing chimney narrowly missed a group of firemen on a ladder. Interviewed afterwards, Mr Whiting told a reporter that he estimated the damage done at £50,000 – six storeys and two basements, employing 70 people.
“We have no idea how it originated. There is, of course, a lot of combustible material in the place.”
Lots of people gathered to watch the fire. This was really dangerous especially when the front of the warehouse looked as if it might collapse.
“People gathered on all eminences in Leeds to watch the fire. There were hundreds of people on Woodhouse Moor, and by ten o’clock all the suburbs were emptying into the city....”
Some people began looting shops.
“A man tried to escape the attention of the police and lift a piece of cloth, and the police stopped him.”
According to the Leeds Mercury 28th July 1906, two boys, aged 12 and 15, were caught pickpocketing in the crowd. One, ‘said to be one of the smartest pickpockets in Leeds’ was sent to Adel Reformatory for five years. (see Leeds Reformatory Schools resources on MyLearning).
Leeds Mercury 27th July 1906 published photos of the damage. Questions were being asked about the lack of water pressure which had meant the fire brigade hoses could only reach the lower floors of the hotel. Tributes were paid to the bravery of the firemen.
An account is also given of the state of the inside of the hotel, the ‘antiquated and altogether ineffective type’ of fireproof construction used, and the reasons why the next-door premises of Messrs Brown was unharmed. At this premises there was an automatic sprinkler system and modern construction with airspaces between the walls.
Throughout history fires have caused devastation. Major fires have caused changes to population sizes, village, town and city landscapes and people’s futures. Here are seven fires that changed history through rebuilding, reform and industrial innovation.
Can you find out more about what happened after each of these fires?
- The burning of the Great Library of Alexandria
- The Great Fire of London
- The Great Fire of New York
- The Great Chicago Fire
- Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
- The Reichstag Fire
- Cleveland's Cuyahoga River Fire.