This factory fire in a worsted spinning mill in Keighley, West Yorkshire, took the lives of eight mill workers. The devastating blaze razed the 60-foot, three-storey building to the ground “in no time”, according to police at the scene.
The fire was caused by a blowtorch, which was being used to install hot water pipes on the bottom floor, that set fire to a rope. A Keighley News editorial at the time said:
“The fire spread with such terrific rapidity, and was so intense, that the activities of the fire brigade were hopeless at the outset.”
Ten brigades and 15 fire engines were called out.
An inquest found that the deaths were caused by the fact that there was no way of warning of a fire should one break out, as there were no fire alarms. Also, some floors of the mills did not have a fire escape, while on those that did the escapes were made of wood and led to doors that were fastened shut.
Most of those who died in the blaze were found to have been trapped behind a locked door. Norah Inham, a 44-year-old mill worker, was one of five who died in this way. A rail driver, Arthur Hird, who happened to be making a delivery at the factory at the time, was awarded a Daily Herald Order of Industrial Heroism, after he helped rescue three women from the inferno. Mill owners Robert C. Franklin Ltd were fined only £15, the equivalent of an average weekly wage today.
Following the fire questions were asked about fire safety regulations in factories across Britain. As a result a survey was conducted of 40,000 factory premises across the country, leading to a 1959 amendment to the Factories Act 1937 that made it compulsory for factories to be equipped with fire alarms and an adequate means of escape. The amendment also gave fire brigades new powers to inspect factories for fire safety and placed the responsibility for certifying fire escapes on the fire authority and not the district council. The Factories Act was rewritten in 1961 to consolidate the original document with the amendments.
During the debate on the new legislation, the FBU made submissions and argued for a clearer and expanded role for the fire service in fire protection and inspection. This included:
a) Fire service responsibility for assessing measures to reduce the risk of fire and fire spread;
b) a requirement to inspect premises for means of escape at least once a year;
c) satisfactory means of escape and alarm systems wherever means of escape certificates were required; and
d) a requirement to consult the fire service Fire Prevention Officer when building plans were submitted to local authorities (The Firefighter no. 163, February 1959).