Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Another brewery fire

I'm starting to believe that just about every brewery has been ravaged by fire at some point. And that's despite many of them having their own fire brigade.

Of course, there are lots of hot things in a brewery, fires, steam. Then there's the malt dust, which can explode in the right circumstances (that's what happened at Barclay Perkins). Not to mention maltings. They seem to have been a major cause of fires.

A fire at Maclay's Thistle Brewery was particularly dangerous, given its position in the narrow streets of the town centre. And its proximity to George Younger's Candlerigg's Brewery.


The most alarming and destructive fire which has taken place in Alloa since Springfield Mills were burned to the ground some 14 years ago occurred early on Sunday morning. During the previous evening a disagreeable smell was felt in various parts of the town but although the circumstance was remarked upon by more than one Mill Street merchant and by the Constable on duty in the central part of the burgh, as there were no evidences of smoke coming from any particular direction nothing more was thought of the matter. Shortly after midnight a messenger from the East Vennel called at the Police Office and informed the Constable in charge that fire had broken out in the Thistle Brewery. No time was lost in summoning the Brigade and getting ready the two steamer fire engines. When Fire-Master Mackie and his men arrived it was discovered that the seat of the outbreak was the mash-house, a two-storey building situated immediately to the rear of the firm's large counting-house, closely adjoining the tun room and hop store, and in the very heart of valuable property - the back premises of several Mill Street merchants being on the north side, and buildings connected with Messrs Younger's Brewery and Messrs Paton's factory being on the south and west sides. The flames had secured a firm hold of the mash-house, and at an early stage it was feared that a very extensive area would be involved. Fortunately, there was no wind to accelerate the outbreak, but in spite of that the flames shot up high into the air, and with continuous showers of sparks the district was lit up for miles around. Two sets of bore pipes from Messrs Paton's factory and one set from Messrs Youngers' brewery were brought into operation from the south side of the burning building, while the seven sets of hose attached to the two steamers were worked from the north side. Not withstanding the strenuous exertions of the Brigade to confine the fire to the seat of the outbreak, the flames spread to the adjoining three-storey building, which comprised tun room, coolers, maltings, hop store, engine room and boiler house. The firemen were, however, successful in preventing them from reaching the properties on the north and west sides, which included the oil store of Mr A Cairns, ironmonger, as well as the buildings on the south side, and the other work's departments in the brewery yard. It was fully two hours before the firemen mastered the flames, and by this time the mash-house and the adjoining three-storey building were completely wrecked, and all the valuable plant. machinery and engines destroyed. The damage caused is estimated between £20,000 and £30,000. There is no question that but for the strenuous exertions of the firemen in preventing the flames from extending beyond the fire area the result would have been very much more disastrous. In this connection mention ought to be made of the invaluable assistance rendered by the fire brigades of Messrs Paton and Messrs Younger under the direction of Mr W T Proctor (one of the partners of Kilncraigs) and Mr W G Storrier (Manager of Messrs Younger) respectively. Although the outbreak occurred at an early hour in the  morning hundreds of people flocked lo the scene, and the Police Force, under Chief Constable Johnston, had no little difficulty in keeping back the crowds. Mr Fraser (the proprietor of the Brewery) was telephoned for, and arrived by motor car from Dunfermline when the fire was at its height. It was not known definitely how the outbreak occurred. Throughout Sunday the firemen poured water on the smouldering ruins and from morning till evening an almost continuous stream of people visited the scene of the disastrous conflagration."
The Alloa Advertiser, 16th July 1910, page 2.
There's a great Dutch word for people who flock to look at disasters: ramptoeristen ("disaster tourists"). I guess nothing draws the crowds like a tragedy. It's as true now as it was then.

This time the fire broke out in the mash room. I'd love to know exactly how, because it's not the biggest fire hazard in brewery. Though if it was really the brew house then it would have contained the coppers as well. They are a much more likely source of a fire.

It's no surprise that people from George Younger's brewery should have helped fight the fire. It was right next door. Self interest, really. And naturally there would be plenty of water in a brewery.

£20,000 to £30,000 seems a reasonable estimate for the damage, considering the brewery was totally destroyed. When Maclay became a limited company in 1897 the brewery buildings and fixed plant were valued at £13,000 and the moveable plant at £7,000.

You can tell that we're entering the modern era, with the owner being alerted by telephone and arriving by car. 

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