Yorkshire Diary: Kirkgate Market - The fateful day

THIRTY-five years ago this week, on Saturday December 13, 1975, Leeds experienced one of its biggest ever disasters, when fire all-but destroyed Kirkgate Market.

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.

Oz call for help with school pals

Your letters

AN old school friend of mine, Lawrence Brownlow, who lived in Bramley and now lives in Australia, has asked me to find out anything I can about some of our old school pals.

It was during the 1950s and their names were: Kenny Leeming, Alan Spurr, Michael Padgett, Barry Young, Margaret Sanderson, Connie Best, Carol Pinder, Nancy Smith, Reg Thomson, Arthur Darnborough, Jim Maples, Dennis Stead, Alan Myers, Brian Myers, Graham Henderson and Kenny Miller.

Anyone who would like to get in touch can contact me.

Ken Woodhead, Alwoodley, Leeds, email: ken.woodhead@talktalk.net, tel: 0113 2673727

WITH reference to the recent correspondence about St Stephen's School in Burmantofts, I was interested to see the photograph of the rugby-cum-football team (Yorkshire Diary, September 25).

The teacher in the photograph is Stan Broster, whom I fondly remember teaching history at Brown Hill School in the early 1950s prior to his move to St Stephen's.

When I worked for Leeds City Transport he occasionally caught my bus on Shadwell Lane. Sadly, I remember seeing his obituary in the YEP a few years ago.

Harry Heyworth, Brown Hill Terrace, Harehills, Leeds

REFERRING to the Yorkshire Diary (Summer of War, August 28) and Squadron 609 station at Yeadon, I have an autograph book with two signatures dated 1946/47. These were Peter Thompson, DFC, DFM, Flight Lieutenant and Ron Langstaff, 609 Sqdrn Yeadon, 1947. My father John Leonard Coleman was with the medical staff during this time. As I was only 13, I wouldn't know much about these gentlemen, but wonder whether they are still alive or if there are any relations?

Mrs Jean Jagger, Dacre Top, Harrogate.

Guess the year

This week's question: The idea of creating an underground railway system in Leeds has been around since the 1930s. As long ago as 1887, two engineers proposed a rail system linking New Briggate to Roundhay, proposing the whole link be raised up on pillars, similar to a system in New York. The plans for an underground were drawn up in detail and proposed seriously by Leonard Hartley, vice chairman of the Leeds Association of Engineers, at their annual dinner, but in what year? Answer next week.

Last week's question: Guess the year: Scammonden Dam is the largest rockfill dam in the United Kingdom. When it was built, it presented engineers with unique challenges, working as they were in extreme climatic conditions and having to overcome unparalleled physical problems. The dam sits 1,000ft above sea level, its embankments are made from part of the 12m cubic yards of rock which had to be removed from the motorway cutting in the Pennines. Scammonden Dam is 240ft high, 2,100ft long, 1,220ft wide and used some 52,000 tons of clay, brought from Gildersome, in its construction. In what year was the dam completed?

Answer: 1971.

Did you know?

Did you know that according to legend, a fire at the Chequer's Inn, at Slapstones, near Osmotherley, on the western edge of the North York Moors, has been burning constantly for over 200 years. The former drover's inn, which in more recent times, was a four-star bed and breakfast lodge, is 300 years old and stands some 800ft above sea level. The village nestles in a cleft of the Hambleton Ridge, with the Cleveland Hills rising majestically in the east and Cod Beck dashing down the valley from Osmotherley Moor. The inn is on the steep moor side.

EP 11/12/10

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