Wallasey Mishaps

Newspaper report from
'Wallasey News'
19th February 1927

The Gandy Belt Company opened in Wheatland Lane, Seacombe, in 1895 and by the time of the fire four hundred men and women were employed at the factory.


Gandy Belt Works Gutted


£250,000 Damage


Employees Fly For Their Lives






The Gandy Belt Works, Seacombe, were completely destroyed by fire yesterday. Fortunately no lives were lost, but the financial damage is estimated at the huge sum of £250,000. This is, we understand, wholly covered by insurance. The fire was easily the fiercest and most destructive seen in Wallasey for very many years, the only previous outbreaks comparable to it being those at Buchanan's Flour Mills, and the New Brighton Tower.

At about ten minutes to four, the fire alarm in the works was sounded. Normally about 300 men and women are employed, but owing to slackness of trade, a proportion were on short time. Consequently, the building, which is well equipped with fire exits, were quickly cleared. Most of the people working on the ground floor made a hasty exit by the main gates to the works, opening out into Wheatland Lane; those on the upper storey, including most of the girls, descended the emergency escapes at the rear of the building, into Vernon's field.

Spread Quickly

Gandy Belt Fire, Seacombe, 1927Within less than half an hour of the sounding of the buzzer, the fire had made the most alarmingly progress. A strong breeze was blowing from the north-west; this fanned the flames to a terrific height and it was soon apparent that the middle of the building, from which the outbreak had appeared to start, was doomed. The middle of the back wall crashed down first, then the fire spread rapidly out towards each wing. The occupants of the houses on the left hand side of Vernon Avenue watched the progress of the flames with by no means unnatural anxiety. There is no space or entry between the backs of these houses and the works; had the wind been blowing in the opposite direction, nothing could have saved this property. As it was, the flames roared with terrific intensity a few yards from them, and the roofs of both the rooms of the works nearest to the avenue collapsed. So dangerous was the situation that tenants removed some of their belongings - including their pianos - out into the street.

In front of the works, in Wheatland Lane, a great crowd gathered at first, but in the narrow part of the road, just past the junction of St. Paul's Road and Wheatland Lane, the heat rapidly became unbearable, and the onlookers retired, leaving the field to the firemen and police.

No Water

At first there was great difficulty in getting any water from the hydrants, and even when a flow was started, it proved at many points quite inadequate to deal with the furnace that the heart of the building had become. the houses in Vernon Avenue were concentrated upon, and the firemen were successful in preventing the flames from getting a hold here.

It was from the waste ground at the back of the works that the full fury of the blaze could best be seen. The whole of the middle part of the wall had collapsed, the interior being revealed. This was a raging inferno. The flames leapt up in the air to a terrific height, and huge clouds of thick black smoke - oil smoke, apparently - were belched forth every minute or so. At frequent intervals, great thuds could be heard, which were attributed either to the bursting of oil receptacles or to the collapse of ceilings and floors. Gradually, the rooms at the very top of the building caved in; girder after girder came crashing down into the furnace below, and it became only a matter of time before the roof itself collapsed.

The Cause

The cause of the outbreak has not been officially stated, but it is believed to have been due to the fusing of a wire. The works are full of highly inflammable materials - oils for treating the leather belts, and so forth - hence the extraordinary spread of the blaze.

Walking Home

Thousands of workers were compelled to walk home owing to the trams being stopped. It was feared at one time that the overhead equipment would collapse and formers were placed across the road to keep the crowd out of danger.

Scenes After Dark

Although much abated in intensity, the fire continued long after dark, and the sky was lit up for miles around. Great crowds thronged the streets, and a barrier had to be put up in all the roads leading to the works, only police permitted to approach within thirty or forty yards of the building.

A Magnificent Spectacle

Viewed from the railway bridge at the bottom of Oakdale Road, across the full stretch of Vernon's land, the fire presented a magnificent spectacle. The walls stood up starkly against the glowing sky, encircling a huge floor of flame. Occasionally, great clouds of smoke were emitted. The fire smouldering for many hours into the night.

Gandy Belt Fire Aftermath of the fire, Seacombe
Spectators look on as the fire rages
Aftermath of the blaze

Shortage Of Water
(Official Explanation)

For at least twenty minutes after the arrival of the brigade, no water could be obtained.

When at last a supply was forthcoming it was almost inadequate to fill the hoses. It will be recalled that attention was directed to the state of the pipes in this district some eighteen months ago.

In September, 1925, Councillor Hall stated that the question of the water supply had been engaging the attention of the Gas and Water Committee.

As a result of an inspection they found 65 to 75 hydrants were "duds" and that the pressure in the neighbourhood of the Gandy Belt Works was insufficient to deal with a serious fire. The same applied, he said, to the Cottage Hospital, the Wesleyan Church in Claremount Road, and the convent at New Brighton.

Defective Pressure

Mr. J.B. Crowther, the Borough Gas and Water Engineer, stated last night that the Gandy Belt area was included in a number of districts which were to be dealt with for defective pressure, owing to the corrosion of the pipes. The area had not yet been tackled. The supply in the district had been off at periods during the week, but this only affected domestic supplies.

There was no reason, so far as he knew, why it should have been impossible to obtain a supply of water.

Mr. Crowther added that the blaze spread so quickly that he thought that no amount of water could have made much difference to the ultimate result.

Praise For The Firemen

Smouldering ruins of the Gandy Belt, SeacombeWithin two or three minutes of the alarm being raised and the brigade called. Wallasey firemen were on the scene, and at work under the direction of the fire chief, Inspector Constable (Mr. D.L. Barry) and Chief Inspector Ormerod directed all the available policemen who had been rushed to the works.

At the outset it was realised that it was utterly impossible to save the works from destruction, but with the assistance of the Birkenhead Brigade, the firemen fought the flames from points at which the heat was terrific and almost unbearable, in their effort to avert the destruction of adjacent cottages. In several cases firemen had narrow escapes from being injured by glass and crashing debris but they continued their work with commendable coolness.

The fire was still smouldering at a late hour last night.

Tragedy Of Unemployment

Although nobody was killed, or even seriously injured, the fire will have had tragic consequences, apart from the actual destruction of the property. A large number of employees - including many who, it is understood, were to have returned to work on Monday, after being on short time for a prolonged period, will be thrown out of work. It will, of course, be many months before work can be resumed.