35 year anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Market
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
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.