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Top Storey Club Fire

Top Storey Club Fire – Bolton – 1st May 1961

On 1 May 1961, a fire occurred at the Top Storey Club in Bolton, Lancashire which resulted in the deaths of nineteen people. Fourteen died in the building and five were killed attempting to jump out of windows into the canal that ran alongside the building.

The owner of the club had converted the upper floors of an old industrial warehouse in the centre of Bolton to make a club venue. This club was situated on the top two floors and had been running for around a year. The lower floors were still used for manufacturing, and part of the building was being used to make kitchen furniture.

Shortly before 11pm someone entered the club and shouted “fire” but as people ran towards the exits, thick smoke was billowing up the stairs and was quickly becoming worse. Escape was impossible for the club goers and staff. The lights then went out and all that could be heard was the screams of panic from those inside.

Fire appliances from Bolton, backed up by others from Lancashire County and Bury Fire Brigade were soon at the scene. These crews tried fight their way up to the upper floors using the only staircase. This staircase would have been narrow and difficult to use but was involved in the fire and unable to be used.

The local fire brigade had issued the club with warning letters previously warning them of the inadequate staircase and lack of emergency exits. It had warned that should a fire occur on the lower floors, there was a strong possibility that people on the upper floors would become trapped. This fire stared on the ground floor.

Unable to use the stairs, a turntable ladder was brought into use, but tragically was too short to reach the upper floors. Firefighters could only watch in horror as they fought the flames as they listened to the screams from the club slowly fading away. It became apparent that those inside were now most likely dead.

Eventually the water jets of the firefighters extinguished the flames and once access was achieved into the lower floor area, it enabled fire brigade ladders to be bridged over the burnt out staircase and access to the upper floors to be finally gained. On reaching the upper floor level the dreadful sight of all the people that had been in the club could be seen. All were dead. Everyone of the 14 of those unable to use the stairs had died as a result of smoke inhalation, none were burned. The only people from this floor to survive had jumped from the upper windows, but 5 of those who had risked the 80 ft. leap from the building were also dead.

All the firefighters could do now is wrap the bodies with tarpaulins, then one by one remove them from the building via the burned out staircase that was still the only way out.

As a result of this awful tragedy the Licensing Act 1961 was brought into force, this enabled Fire Authorities to have greater powers over club premises under the act.