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Fire destroys Penzance laundry and skating rink

Discussion in 'Constructions, demolitions and fires' started by Halfhidden, Jul 1, 2016.

By Halfhidden on Jul 1, 2016 at 12:38 PM
  1. Halfhidden

    Halfhidden Untouchable Staff Member Administrator

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    April 1914.

    A disastrous fire which resulted in the complete gutting of the skating rink and the laundry premises in New Street, occurred at Penzance April 17th 1914- The fire appears to have originated at the eastern end of the rink premises near New Street. When it was discovered by the inhabitants in adjacent houses, the interior of the eastern portion of the rink was well alight.
    About 8:30am an immense column of smoke was rising from the skating rink and drifting across the buildings towards the top Market-Jew-Street. Within a few minutes the flames had lit the inside of the rink from every window, showing that the building was practically gutted and a furnace of fire.

    A member of staff, who viewed the fire from Jenning's Street, remembers that when he arrived on the scene, the roof of the steam laundry had fallen in, and the whole interior of the building was a mass of flame. The joists and beams were blazing furiously, and the fire was circling the window frames as if some demoniac scheme of illumination had arranged. This fantasy was heightened by the continual dropping of the beams as they became detached through the process of burning. The Penzance fire brigade was pouring a continuous stream of water on the burning mass, but so great was the volume of the fire and so widespread in the area that it made little or no impression. It was evident that at this juncture the fire was master of the situation so far as the laundry premises were concerned.

    The building was lined with bamboo and woodwork of various kinds, and in few seconds the place was a roaring inferno. The iron work was twisted like thin copper wire, the glass flew in every direction under the intense heat, and when the maple floor got alight it was impossible to stand anywhere near the premises. The fire brigade was quickly on the scene, but owing to the narrow entrances and the hold which the fire had already obtained, it was found impossible to cope with the flames.

    At the time a stiff breeze was blowing from the S-E-, and attention was at once turned to the Laundry premises occupied Mr. W. S. Boase, the rear portion of which adjoined the skating rink.

    The fifty girls at work there had in the meantime evacuated the buildings.
    Owing to the wind, the flames spread with alarming rapidity, and despite all efforts, caught the laundry premises, passed through the engine house, and then took firm hold of the eastern side of the top storey which was used as a drying and ironing room, and was filled with machinery and furniture, mainly of wood work. Within a quarter of an hour the fire entered the top storey, and swept right through the building, and owing its elevated position was exposed to the wind and blazed more fiercely than the rink premises had done.

    The firemen scaled the houses adjoining, and despite the intense heat, gallantly continued to pour streams of water into the flames. This was all to avail, however, for the whole of the interior of the building was a roaring furnace.

    The glass in the large windows at the top bent, and warped and flew out across the narrow street amongst the hundreds of spectators who filled the thoroughfare. Dense volumes of smoke made the work of the firemen on the northern side extremely difficult, but with wet handkerchiefs wrapped around their mouths and noses, they stuck to their posts, and rendered all the assistance they could against overwhelming odds.

    The massive wooden beams in the roof were blazing furiously, and the corrugated iron became white hot, bent and crumpled like paper, and finally fell in with a loud crash.

    Meantime the work of the salvage of the property in the office had been proceeded with by a number of willing helpers, and the fire brigade turned all their attention to save this portion of the building, but it was impossible to do so , within half an hour the whole premises were completely gutted. Fortunately, there was a narrow passage on the northern side of the laundry, which ran into Jenning's Street, and this saved the houses adjoining. Had it not been for this passage the great probability is that the whole of that side of New Street would have been involved.

    How the cottages on the eastern side of the Rink, and connected with the laundry on the southern side, escaped is almost miraculous.

    The entrance to the Rink was a narrow opening just the width of ordinary passage way in a house between these cottages. The wind was blowing somewhat, in the direction of the backs of these cottages, and the backs some of them wore badly scorched.

    A feeling the utmost alarm naturally took possession of the inhabitants a great many instances

    The skating rink was formerly occupied by the West of England Hand Knitting Co. At that time the upper part was used by the girls and their knitting machines. Afterwards, when it had changed hands, the lower part was used as a skating rink and the upper floor a picture theatre. The ceiling was lined with ornamental matting, and there was amount bamboo and wood flooring with numerous amount of electric lights all over the ceiling of the skating rink. The floor was a fast one for skating, made of polished wood blocks, and there was fine organ which provided the music. There was also a refreshment bar and tea room adjoining.

    The cause of the fire was never known, but typically fires like these were common place throughout the country at the time as unstandardised electricity was installed in to buildings. Very nearly all electricity supply companies were privately owned and operated, this meant that the owner decided on the voltage and current they would supply, that meant that there was no standard as we know it today. Poor insulation of electricity cables played a large part in fires as the insulation was often made of paper or woven cotton. There was no standard in Ampere or voltage in those days, so an electrical fitting brought from one town probably wouldn’t fit the current of another.
    Soon after the 1914-1918 war, the UK Parliament appointed an Electrical Commissioner who established the “Central Electrical Generating Board” They set out to standardize electrical supplies and between 1927 and by 1933 the beginnings of the national grid was created. Only by then was the present current of electricity standardised throughout the UK to 50Hz and 200-250V.
     

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Discussion in 'Constructions, demolitions and fires' started by Halfhidden, Jul 1, 2016.

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