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35 year anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Market

December 14, 2010

It’s now 35 years since the Market was destroyed in a fire.

Here is an account from Yorkshire Evening Post

Yorkshire Diary: Kirkgate Market – The fateful day

A serious fire all but destroyed Kirkgate Market on December 13, 1975
A serious fire all but destroyed Kirkgate Market on December 13, 1975
Published Date: 13 December 2010
By Neil Hudson

THIRTY-five years ago this week, on Saturday December 13, 1975, Leeds experienced one of its biggest ever disasters, when fire all-but destroyed Kirkgate Market. 

The cause of the blaze remains uncertain to this day – there were suggestions either of an electrical fault or an overturned paraffin lamp. Either way, the flames spread quickly through Europe’s largest covered market and some 150 stallholders fled for their lives.

Two people who well remember that year are Angie and Trevor Birkinshaw, who were due to marry on December 20 and had ordered their wedding cake from Leeds Market.

Angie took up the tale: “In those days it wasn’t uncommon to order things like wedding cakes from the market. The market was where you went for everything and I think we ordered ours from a store called either Halfords or Hagenbach.

“We were due to collect it on Saturday December 13 and me and Trevor went down there and paid for it. It was a two-tier cake, because we couldn’t afford a three-tier one and we actually had it in our hands until Trevor said, ‘This is silly, we’ll never make it to the taxi before we get jostled and drop it’. So, we asked if they would deliver it and they said they would.

“That night, I can remember coming out of our house on Burley Road and seeing the sky towards Leeds centre glowing orange.

“It wasn’t until the next day we were up at Trevor’s mothers sitting around the table talking about how awful it must have been for the traders when it suddenly hit us – we’d lost our cake, too!

“The next day I rang their head office, which I think was in Bradford, and they told me not to worry, that they would have a cake for us; and they did and it was better than the one we’d ordered in Leeds!”

Retired English teacher, Angie, who has three children and three grandchildren, added: “I thought it might be a bad omen for us at the time but we’ve been happily married for 35 years.”

The fire came at an important time of year for traders, many of whom had built up their stock for Christmas. All of their hard work was destroyed, along with two-thirds of the market.

The following day, disbelieving crowds gathered to stare at the steaming piles of twisted metal and charred wood.

But the fire could not kill the spirit of the market or its traders, many of whom were back on their feet within days.

Determined not to be beaten, traders crammed into whatever space they could find in undamaged sections of the market, mainly on the Vicar Lane side.

Trader-of-18-years Alan Brown summed up the sentiment when he declared on Tuesday December 16: “Kirkgate Market is really a very exclusive club. Its members have a reputation for helping each other and today everybody is doing just that.”

Stallholders received a further boost when Prince Charles paid an unannounced visit on Wednesday December 17.

He praised their fortitude and resillience.

G W Jameson, chief contracts manager with Leeds City Council, said: “The Prince was amazed how quickly we got part of the market open and praised everyone concerned.”

By Thursday of that week, a temporary market had been set up in Leeds Corn Exchange.

The site was cleared and a new hall built by July 1976.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. David permalink
    April 21, 2012 11:05 pm

    From a different perspective a a recently appointed firefighter attending his first major fire it was a terrifying experience yet at the same time an exilarharting one. I remember entering from what was the chicken inn entrance as I knew it then, being a Leeds person we had nicknames for things like the different entrances this was where the No ! Chinese is now, I entered wearing breathing apparatus and progressed through what i thought to be the fish row, without realising it I had become totally disoriented and really had no idea of my location within the market. Eventually I came out at exit where the outside market is nowbelieving that I had my way back to the entrance I made way in through. this is just one of the many memories I have from that awful night, a night burnt in to the history of leeds as the great fire of London is for Londoners.

  2. May 9, 2012 9:47 am

    This is another memory of that night sent to us by Becky Moore –

    I was only 11, but the evening is burned into my memory. There was a phone call to the house and a sudden flurry of activity. You see, all the buildings surrounding the market were in danger of catching fire, and my father was called to help save stuff from the offices of the Communist Party – in Westminster Buildings, where the Citizens Advice Bureau is now. I was a bit frightened, imagining dad being caught up in the fire. It seems that by the time he got there, it was clear it was unnecessary, but one of the other people helping had his Super8 cine camera with him and took footage of the fire. My dad then rushed him to the train station to get the film on the train down to London for the late news.

    What I do remember, which is interesting considering how young I was is how upset I was about the fire. The market was definitely part of the life of Leeds, and there was a general feeling of loss in the city at the time.

  3. Nick Spink permalink
    February 8, 2013 7:09 pm

    We lived in seacroft village at the time , it was my birthday and we were having a party , I remember all the sky glowing orange over the city , all the dads at the party got in there cars and drove to town to see what it was , I was 5 years old and I still remember the glow in the sky , long live Leeds

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