Wallasey Mishaps

Fires At The Tower

There had been four fires at the New Brighton Tower grounds since it first opened in 1898. The last, in 1969, being the most destructive which led to its final demise.

The First Fire At The Tower

Builders were still working on the higher portion of the tower structure even though the Tower grounds had just opened in 1898. To protect the crowds below the workmen had placed wooden planks around part of the building to prevent injury from falling bricks etc. On 1 April 1898, shortly after 10 pm, Wallasey Fire Brigade were called out who rushed to the scene to find that the wooden planks 172 feet up were ablaze. Their Manual Pump was not powerful enough to reach that height so the Birkenhead and Liverpool Fire Brigades were asked to attend with their Steam Pump.

Birkenhead Fire Brigade agreed to attend but firstly had to obtain permission to leave their Borough from the Council and Liverpool had to wait for the Luggage Boat to steam up. Whilst both Brigades delayed in attending, the Wallasey Firemen had already climbed onto the planks and were tackling the flames.

Tragically a young Volunteer Fireman, Jim Shore, a brickster from Seacombe, fell 80 feet to his death after losing his footing while attempting to reach the fire. By the time the other Brigades had arrived after midnight the fire had burnt itself out.

Measures were taken to improve the Fire Service after the death of the Wallasey Fireman. It was decided that the Manual Pump would have to be replaced by a modern Engine and an order was placed for a new Shand Mason Horse-Drawn Steamer.

The Second New Brighton Tower Fire

The second fire happened on Thursday evening on 20 January, 1955. Fire broke out in the cafe on the third floor and, protected only by a wall, nearly spread to the large ballroom. The fire was reported by the Ballroom Manager, Cyril Isherwood, at 7.25 pm and, with the watchman, John Williams, tackled the fire with a mobile extinguisher until the Fire Brigade arrived. The Wallasey Fire Brigade arrived within minutes and fought the blaze that was over 60 foot from the ground. The flames rose to 25 feet whilst the firemen tackled the blaze from two sides of the building. Three Appliances poured water through the office window and after fifteen minutes the fire was under control. The Catering Manager's office was destroyed.

The Chief Fire Officer, Joseph Holt, said "If the fire had not been discovered when it was, the whole Ballroom would have been involved and the flames might have spread up the building, as well as below, if they had reached a lift shaft nearby. This would have acted as a flue".

The Third New Brighton Tower Fire

The third fire at the New Brighton Tower, which had broken out in the Social Club and spreading to the Ballroom, was reported by the general foreman, Alex McIntyre, at 7.30 pm on 17th August, 1963. After raising the alarm, Mr Intyre lowered the theatre's safety curtain and asked the early dancers to vacate the ballroom. The Amusement Park was also cleared. As many as 26 Appliances and 160 men from Wallasey, Birkenhead, Cheshire, Liverpool and Lancashire Brigades were involved in tackling the fire.

For four hours the firemen tackled the flames and prevented it from spreading to the ballroom but the clubroom and balcony were destroyed. Deputy Fire Chief, Frank Fradley, who directed the operations said, "At one stage it was touch or go whether the entire building would become involved but everyone did a magnificent job".

The Final Fire At The Tower

On Saturday 5 April, 1969, a call was received at 05.08 am that a fire had erupted at the New Brighton Tower. The night before, the manager and staff had left the building at 8.30 pm after a routine check but the stage area, which is believed to where the fire started, was not included.

The fire brigade were soon on the scene and were met with large bellows of smoke pouring out of the windows and sections of the building collapsing. With the collapse of the wall it exposed the Ballroom and theatre to the open air and it allowed the flames to reach other parts of the building. Matters were made worse by the fact that the Tower Boating Lake had been drained so the Fire Brigade had major difficulties in obtaining water. Three relays had to be used to pump water from Marine Lake which was some distance away.

With the lack of water it was soon apparent that the Ballroom would be a complete loss. Parts of the roof began to collapse and there was two blasts on the fifth floor as compressed oxygen and dissolved acetylene cylinders were exposed to the fire. Luckily no one was hurt. Firemen had managed to get into the building from the south to the staircase but could go no further due to falling debris from the collapsed roof. Soon after 7.00 am, less then two hours after the alarm had been raised, there was 25 pumps at the scene of the fire and relief crews were being called in from Birkenhead, Liverpool, Chester County and Lancashire County with over 150 firemen being at the scene with 20 pumps and four Turntable Ladders.

The Chief Fire Officer, Mr E.E. Buschenfield, sent for five more Pumps but it was obvious that firecrews lives were in danger as the blaze became far too serious to tackle so a decision was taken to allow the building to burn. It was the end of the Tower.

In all, 1191 Firemen and 37 Officers had fought the fire. There were 25 pumps, four Turntable Ladders, a Snorkel, a Heavy Water Unit and a Control Unit at the scene.

An examination of the burnt out remains was not possible due to the condition of the remaining walls. The Deputy Fire Chief, Alec Dean, said: "A thorough investigation of the cause of this fire was made by the fire department in consultation with the Home Office forensic department and the Cheshire County Police. After the elimination of the possible causes it seems that this fire was due to unauthorised entry to the building and subsequent vandalism or accident in the ignition of the stage area caused by vandals. There could have been no other cause. Electricity and gas had been cut off so these were eliminated and there was no other source. There was a lack of direct evidence to pinpoint vandals but it is the only source that was left".

Steps were soon taken to have the charred shell of the once proud New Brighton Tower building demolished.