Sunday, 14 May 2017

A Most Destructive Fire - Sheffield 21st December 1893

"I came across this newspaper report dated 22nd December 1893 which detailed a fire that occurred earlier the previous morning at the premises of  Messrs. G. R. Hovey and Sons, Drapers and House Furnishers. The buildings were at the corner of Angel-street and Castle-street in Sheffield City Centre


One of the largest fires ever known at Sheffield broke out yesterday morning at the establishment of Messrs. G. R. Hovey and Sons, drapers and house furnishers, Angel-street and Castle-street. The caretaker saw that all was safe at 11 o'clock on Wednesday night. He, the housekeeper, and about 60 assistants slept on the premises. About 4 o'clock in the morning they were all awakened by shouts of " Fire," and, without dressing, simply throwing cloaks or rugs over themselves, they hurried from the building.

One young fellow, named Ralph Cole, was missed, but he was afterwards rescued by means of the fire-escape. Later on another male assistant, named Victor Parsons, of Sheffield, was missed. He was seen running along the corridor in the upper-storey at the time the alarm was given, and was also noticed knocking at the doors of the assistants in order to awaken them. From that moment he was not seen again, and it is believed that he was overcome by the smoke and perished in the flames.

The fire spread with alarming rapidity. Piles of masonry commenced to fall, and in a very short time the premises were completely gutted. Several adjoining blocks of buildings were destroyed, and others were greatly damaged, including the Imperial Hotel, on the opposite side of the street. The flames could be seen for many miles. The fire was not put out until late in the afternoon, and last night the firemen were still watching to prevent fresh outbreaks amongst the great mass of smouldering ruins. Six business establishments were completely gutted and 12 other shops extensively damaged. The cause of the fire is unknown, but it is beyond doubt that it originated in the basement or on the ground floor of Messrs. Hovey's shops. Messrs. Hovey and Sons estimate the damage to their premises, stock, and buildings at about £80,000, and, with the amounts estimated by the owners of the adjoining property damaged, the total loss sustained is put down at nearly a quarter of a million."

The following day 23rd December, 1893 another report appeared giving readers an update on the aftermath of the fire

Fire at Messrs. Hovey’s Sheffield
Progress of the Work

The  work  of  clearing away the debris from the scene of the fire at  Messrs. Hovey's premises  in  Angel  street, and Castle street, is being carried out today with as much despatch as possible. The barriers preventing the public passing up and down Angel street were removed this morning, but  locomotion  in  Castle  street  is  still  prohibited.

Hoardings have been erected around the site of the destroyed building,and the firemen are  still  playing  on  the debris which continues to smoulder.  Early this morning, while the work was going on the men came  across  a tin box to one of the assistants, which contained  remains of clothing and other articles. No traces of  the missing assistant, Victor  Parsons,have yet been discovered, and it is now universally believed that  no further  light will be thrown upon his fate. 

The relief fund inaugurated for assisting Messrs. Hovey’s employees has received substantial support,
and to-day each assistant has received the sum of £1 10s. out of the £56 odd in the hands of the treasurer and it is  intended to make further distributions as the subscription list  increases  The dangerous position of the gable wall between Messrs. Hovey's premises and the adjoining property still causes some anxiety, but its height is gradually being diminished by several  steeplejacks in the employ of Mr.W. E. Harrison, who are busily engaged  in knocking it down brick by brick, and although this piecemeal work isslow it is considered more safe than attempting to pull down the large pile as a whole. The crowds of  spectators passing along Angel street are greatly interested in this work, and it is a difficult matter to walk along the thoroughfares

At today's prices, the damage to Messrs. Hovey and Sons premises, stock, and buildings was estimated to be in excess of seven million pounds whilst the the owners of the adjoining properties sustained estimated in total losses of twenty-two million. So overall the total cost of the blaze was nearly thirty million pounds.

It would be 47 years before that figure was exceeded in the Sheffield Blitz of December 1940

There are photos of the premises before and after the fire on the Picture Sheffield site 


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