This deadly blaze at Henderson's department store on a bright, sunny midweek afternoon claimed the lives of 11 people.
The old upmarket store, which opened in 1828 and had been bought by Harrod’s in 1949, was completely destroyed in just over an hour. Hundreds of staff and customers were in the store at the time of the blaze, which was caused by arcing on an armoured steel electricity cable
When fire crews arrived they found the upper section of the building ablaze, with dense smoke and flames billowing out. Firefighter George Taylor was among the first on the scene and one of the heroes of the hour.
Six people were trapped on a ledge at the front of the building. Climbing a turntable ladder, Taylor saved five of them but the sixth fell and was killed.
An extract from the chief fire officer’s annual report in 1961 called it “one of the most tragic and serious fire incidents for many years”. It went on:
“Due to the extremely rapid spread of fire, the whole of the building soon became untenable and it was necessary to withdraw very quickly all fire service personnel, some of whom escaped by first floor windows to the street. As a result of the damage which was caused to the building, the remaining structure became completely unsafe and demolition work was immediately commenced so that Church Street could be re-opened to traffic as early as possible.”
The store was rebuilt and reopened in 1962, changing its name to Binn’s in 1976, before closing again in 1983.
Significant changes to fire safety regulations resulted from the fire. The government brought in the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act, intended to extend workplace health and safety outlined in the Factories Act. Among its many provisions was to give fire brigades powers to inspect fire safety at offices, high street stores and railways.