Owner of fire-ravaged Leeds family business tells of loss

Hills Furnishings store is demolished after the recent fire.
Hills Furnishings store is demolished after the recent fire.
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The owner of a furniture shop which was run by her husband for more than 60 years says it was “traumatic” to see it destroyed in a huge blaze.

The remains of Hills Furnishing Stores, on Kirkgate in Leeds city centre, were demolished yesterday after the fire on Friday evening.

Audrey Noble, owner of Hills Furnishing Stores.

Audrey Noble, owner of Hills Furnishing Stores.

Started by a group of Second World War veterans in 1946, the business was taken over by Gordon Noble in 1954.

He ran it until his death two and a half years ago at the age of 88.

Mr Noble’s widow, Audrey, of Barwick in Elmet, had been in charge since.

She said: “My husband was a workaholic. This was his life.

“It has been traumatic. My daughters are really upset – it’s like losing a bit of their father.”

Mrs Noble had closed the shop at about 3.45pm on Friday and had a phone call less than an hour later to tell her the building was on fire.

She said she kept up with updates on the radio and television as the city centre was gridlocked by traffic after the area was cordoned off.

“They were showing the flames going up. It was really distressing,” she said.

“Everything has gone, I don’t think there’ll be anything left.”

Fire investigators and police have been working together to determine what caused the blaze, which started in the derelict first floor of the building.

But it is not thought it was suspicious.

Mrs Noble said she was trying to remain positive, adding:“I have the attitude if you can’t change it you have to move on. I’m calling my customers and trying to make arrangements for stuff that is outstanding to be delivered I would love to start it up again but I can’t afford to take on a city centre shop with the rent they charge now.”

Meanwhile, adjacent businesses are still waiting to find out if their premises will be affected by the fire.

Couple Dawn Wood and Andrew Clark run social enterprise Fabrication from a workshop in a 17th century part of the building which shares a wall with the furniture shop.

Mrs Wood, a textiles designer, said: “We are in limbo at the moment. The demolition could take the gable end of our building down.

“It’s a very uncertain time. The thing that people don’t necessarily understand with small independent businesses is that it’s your whole life.

“There’s so much that we have accumulated and we are asking ourselves what we do now.”

She added: “We are just extremely lucky that no-one was killed.”

Mrs Wood appealed for anyone with possible alternative premises to contact her.

Leeds City Council is continuing to monitor the area.

City and Hunslet councillor Mohammed Iqbal said: “The building was left in a very fragile state. For the safety of the public and other businesses the surrounding area has been cordoned off. We are doing everything we can to reduce the risk to the public.”