Alexandra Palace 1980

Alexandra Palace – 1980

Alexandra Palace or “Ally Pally” as it is affectionately known, sits on of the highest points in North London. It is on J25 Hornsey’s ground, and can be seen from the fire station. The Palace was built in 1873 as a recreation centre and visitor attraction. It was destroyed by fire two weeks later when red hot coals fell from a workman’s brazier. The palace was rebuilt within two years. Another fire occurred on the afternoon of Thursday 10th July 1980, when workmen had just started work on restoring a famous organ, built by Henry Willis. The fire started in the organ loft. An area comprising the Great Hall, Banqueting Suite, and former roller rink together with the theatre dressing rooms were to be completely destroyed. Only Palm Court and the area occupied by the BBC, including the landmark television transmitter escaped damage.

The fire was first spotted by a police helicopter flying above Hornsey on a routine patrol. A call was made to the brigade control at Wembley at 14.34 to Fire, at Great Hall, Alexandra Palace, Alexandra Park, London, N22.

Appliances ordered on the initial attendance were:-
  • J24 Hornsey PE, 27 Finchley PE, C30 Holloway PE (By RT)
  • J25 Tottenham Turntable Ladder, G22 Stanmore Hose Layer (By RT)

All appliances were ordered to rendezvous at the West entrance.

A second call was received at 14.36, so J25 Hornsey’s pump was also ordered by RT. Eleven other calls were received at 14.38, 14.39, 14.40 and 14.41 followed by multiple calls coming in at 14.42, 14.48, and 14.50. At 14.38 immediately on arrival Sub Officer Bradley in charge of the first appliance, on seeing an intense fire in progress he sent the message “Make Pumps 10, TL required”

The appliances ordered were:-
  • J25 Tottenham PE, C29 Kentish Town PE, J28 Southgate PE, G26 Belsize PE
  • C23 Stoke Newington P, G25 West Hampstead PE, J27 Finchley ET (By RT), D27 Heston ET (By RT)
  • Control Unit
  • Fire Investigation Unit
  • 4 A.D.O.s, 2 D.O.s and a D.A.C.O

While the message to make pumps 12 was being sent crews were informed that several workmen were unaccounted for so at 14.42 the message “Persons reported” was sent.

The first actions taken by for a BA crew, armed with a jet to enter the main hall to make a search for the missing workers, but due to the rapid spread of fire they were soon withdrawn. Just as they made their exit the entire hall erupted into a sheet of flame. It was now discovered that those reported missing were accounted for. At 14.49 the message “Make TL’s 2” was sent, followed by the first informative message, which read “Exhibition building 400 x 200 metres, 50% alight. The TL for Kingsland Road was ordered on.

D.A.C.O. Bond now arrived and due to the severity of the fire, and due to the position of Alexander Palace being high on a hill, with the possibility of water supply problems, at 14.56 he sent “Make pumps 20. This was followed by “Make pumps 25, Hose laying lorries 2 at 15.03.

The severity of the fire could now be seen so a further informative message sent at 15.15 read “Exhibition hall 400 x 200 metres, 75% of ground floor and 50% of roof alight”. Because of its position at the top of the hill, it was difficult to get water up to the fire, so many of the 25 pumps attending were used to form a relay and were used to pump water from water treatment plants at the bottom of hill in the park.

With so much of the building alight attempts were focused on keeping the fire from the BBC television studios, and TV transmitter mast in the East wing of the palace. This was successful, but the fire consumed an area comprising of the Great Hall, Banqueting Suite, and former roller rink together with the theatre dressing rooms. Only Palm Court and the area occupied by the BBC escaped damage. This damaged area represented just under half the total building (143,00 ft sq. of a total 329,00 ft sq.).

The stop message was sent on the following day at 02.55, but appliances and crews would remain on the scene for 3 days, turning over and damping down.