Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Yet another brewery fire

Which brewery didn't undergo a terrible conflagration at some point? Not many, it seems. If I ever move to the 19th century I must remember not to live next to a brewery, however tempting that might be.

It must have been scary living in Edinburgh with all those breweries that kept catching fire. It can't have been helped by breweries having the fire-riskiest process, malting, on the premises. Most of the brewery fires I've read about started in maltings.

DAMAGE, £12,000.

Another addition to a somewhat heavy list of brewery fires in Edinburgh within the past few years was made in the early hours of yesterday morning, when a considerable portion of the Park Brewery in St Leonard's, belonging to Messrs Thomas Usher & Sons, Limited, was destroyed. The brewery buildings resembled in shape the letter H, the maltings forming two sides of the letter and the kilns and stores being the intersecting portion. Intimation of the outbreak was received at the chief fire station in High Street at four minutes to four o'clock, the first alarm having been communicated by the watchman on the building to the nearest policeman, and transmitted from Causewayside Police Office. Realising the gravity of the situation, Firemaster Pordege turned out the steamers at Causewayside and Torphichen Street Stations, and also one of the steamers at headquarters, besides the hose tender. The fire had apparently broken out on the floor of the eastern block of maltings near the kiln, and when the firemen arrived they found the interior so completely filled with smoke that it was hopeless to effect an entrance. The fire, however, was tackled from the brewery yard, while a detachment of men played on the building from the North British Railway line in St Leonard's Coal Depot. The fire, however, had got so firm a hold that it spread from top to bottom with a lightning-like rapidity. The proximity of the kilns to the flooring had reduced the wood to almost the consistency of tinder, so that floor after floor was speedily licked up by the voracious flames. The fire now began to assume proportions so alarming that the Firemaster deemed it advisable to send for the remaining steamer at High Street, so that the whole available appliances of the fire brigade were called into requisition. The buildings were somewhat difficult to approach, as they stood about 600 feet from the main thoroughfare of St Leonard Street, so that considerable, lengths of hose had to be used. Fortunately, it so happened that seven months ago a new hydrant was laid by the brigade on a 15-inch pipe in St Leonard Street, opposite Parkside Paper Works, so that from the start

was obtained. This fortunate circumstance happily proved the means of keeping the fire within fair limits, but the absence of a good water supply suggests possibilities too terrible to contemplate, as the brewery on the west side is bounded at no great distance by large tenements of working-class houses, while St Leonard's Church and the Parkside Paper Works are also within measurable distance. The heat from the burning building was most intense, and effectively served to keep in check the crowds of people who had been wakened from their slumbers and who turned out in all states of deshabille. The residents of the houses in Henry Place and Parkside Terrace were naturally greatly alarmed for some time, and there was great excitement in the neighbourhood. About six o'clock the roof of the northernmost portion of the eastern block fell in with a crash, sending up huge volumes of smoke, which hung over the city like a pall. The firemen had meanwhile been putting forth herculean efforts to prevent the spread of the fire towards the north and south, and for a long time they were successful in resisting the attack. Something in the nature of

however, passed over the block at the south end, travelling right beyond the range of the firemen's hose pipes. The southern portion of the building speedily became enveloped in flames, and in a short time the roof collapsed. Meanwhile a section of the men had been playing on the north end of the building, where there lay a danger of the fire spreading to the brewhouse and the offices. At this time a strong wind was blowing from the north, and this had the effect of arresting the progress of the fire in that direction. Attention was next directed to the south end, where the fire raged in close proximity to the whisky bonded stores. The well-directed efforts of the firemen soon put this building out of danger. Meanwhile, however, the wind had veered round, and was blowing in the direction of the western block of maltings. The fire spread into the intersecting stores, and also found a lodgment in one of the kilns, and both these portions were speedily consumed. It was well on in the forenoon before the fire was effectually checked. Great credit is due to the fireman for their pluck and energy. Owing to the dense volumes of smoke the men had to be relieved at short intervals. Fireman Purvis, of the Causewayside Station, got his face severely scorched while playing a hose at one of the windows. The back draught drew the flame through the window and burned his head and face. At first it was thought that the damage caused by the fire would amount to about £20,000, but a later and more careful estimate made by Mr Andrew Usher, jun., put the damage at £12,000, all of which is covered by insurance. The stores and maltings held all this season's stock, which has, of course, been totally destroyed."
Evening Telegraph - Monday 30 May 1898, page 2.

The fact that the entire Edinburgh fire brigade attended the fire gives an indication of its seriousness. It must have been terrifying for those unlucky enough to live adjacent to the brewery. You can see on the map how close Henry Place was to the brewery.

Considering the extent of the damage - most of the maltings, the stores which were presumably full of beer - £12,000 of damage doesn't seem that much. It sounds as if only the brewhouse and the offices survived.  Another newspaper report gave the damage as £15,000. Still quite a modest sum considering the devastation. Just as well they were insured, though.

No comments: