The fire at Wellington Mills, Halifax : 1873

The 6-storey Wellington Mills in Lower Wade Street, Halifax, were built for Samuel Cunliffe-Lister, of Manningham. They were variously used for wool combing and silk-spinning.

On Wednesday, 3rd December 1873, problems with the gas supply at the Mill were reports to Halifax Corporation plumbers.

On Thursday, 4th December 1873, the valves were found to be too stiff to turn off the supply completely, and the plumbers began to carry out repairs with a plug to seal the pipes, and with the supply still on. The pressure blew the plug out.

About 10:00 am on Thursday, a violent explosion set off a fierce fire which completely destroyed Cunliffe-Lister's Wellington Mills Lower Wade Street, Halifax.

The explosion occurred as a gas meter on a lower floor of the Mill was being repaired. The gas pressure forced out a temporary wooden plug, and escaping gas ignited.

To escape the flames, many of the workers – men, women and children – rushed down the staircases, and others threw themselves from the windows of the first, second, and third stories.

Many of the Mill's 120 workers were injured. Five girls were reported missing and their bodies were found later:

The Corporation fire brigade and the steam fire engine of John Crossley & Sons attended the blaze, and the fire was prevented from spreading beyond the first Mill.

The damage was estimated at between £25,000 and £30,000.

On 11th December 1873, the funeral cortège left Halifax Infirmary with 5 hearses and 22 mourning carriages carrying the families and relatives of the deceased, and was accompanied by a procession of factory girls, managers, cashiers, clerks, and overlookers employed at the destroyed Mill.

There were 20,000 spectators and others lining the road to the borough cemetery, several thousands of whom went into the cemetery.

The funeral service was conducted by the Rev Dr Enoch Mellor, and the dead were buried in a single grave at Stoney Royd Cemetery.

On 20th April 1874, a monument was erected over the grave, bearing the names and ages of the deceased and those of their parents.

In February 1874, the case of The Commercial Union Fire Insurance Company vs Messrs Lister, heard that the gas was supplied by the Corporation of Halifax who were liable for the damage, and Lister's brought an action against them.

The insurance company moved for an injunction to restrain Lister's from bringing an action for more than the insurance company could recover against the Corporation.

On 6th May 1874, Halifax Town Council agreed to compromise an action brought by Cunliffe-Lister for damages caused by the fire for £27,500 in full satisfaction of his claims, including costs, for which sum Lister was to settle with the insurance companies, and indemnify the Corporation from all claims or proceedings by them.

The total loss by the fire was said to be £56,000 and Lister was insured for about £30,000.

John Crossley made a temporary advance of the amount of compensation to the Corporation.

Jane Ann Hodgson wrote a poem for those who died in the accident

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 13:03 / 24th May 2021 / 5929

Page Ref: QQ_6

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