‘The great fires of Camden’: Blazes devastated Camden’s markets in 2008 and 1980
23:29 19 May 2014
As traders and residents watched huge plumes of smoke billow from the burning Stables Market in Camden Town tonight, it will have been a haunting reminder of similar scenes during the so-called ‘Great Fire of Camden’ of 2008 and a huge fire the devastated the Stables Market in 1980.
Great fire of Camden, 2008
On the night of Saturday, February 9 a substantial fire that took more than 100 firefighters to control devastated the Canal Market in Camden Town - which lies opposite the Stables Market where fire broke out tonight at 8pm.
The 2008 fire left residents homeless and businesses in ruin.
The Ham&High reported at the time that the alarm was raised at 7.10pm and within minutes the first fire engine was on the scene in Camden High Street.
But the flames quickly became a raging fireball fuelled by gas canisters.
More than 100 people were evacuated from their homes while police, security guards and firefighters drove a crowd of nearly 500 people away from the market.
The train line between Camden Town and Kentish Town West was closed and the gathering crowds could only watch as the flames engulfed the portion of the railway line behind the famous Hawley Arms pub.
Police sealed off the surrounding roads as people were ejected from nearby pubs and moved back from the danger area, where plumes of flames reached heights of 30 feet, blowing out glass from windows and scattering debris.
Over the next three hours the blaze grew and spread to a number of shops and flats and engulfed the back of the Hawley Arms.
By 10pm the fire was surrounded on all sides by firefighters, but it was only finally brought under control the following morning. Officers stayed at the scene throughout the night hosing down deep-seated pockets of fire.
Val Shawcross, the chairwoman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority at the time, said: “London’s fire brigade demonstrated outstanding professionalism in bringing this difficult fire under control, preventing it from spreading further without a single casualty.
“Considering the fierce fire that crews found when they arrived at the incident we should recognise what a good job they did in bringing it under control so quickly.”
The Stables Market fire of 1980
The Ham&High’s coverage of the 2008 disaster included a look back at a previous fire in the market area almost 30 years before.
A blaze in October 1980 caused widespread destruction and wiped out numerous small traders.
No lives were lost during the night-time fire but the financial costs to those involved were estimated to be substantial.
Camden historian Jack Whitehead, aged 92 in 2008, recalled the drama.
“There was a large industrial building which had previously been Gilbey’s bottle store,” he said.
“It occupied a triangular site on Commercial Place, between Camden Lock and the railway lines - near the Interchange building where the TV company is now.
“When Gilbey’s left Camden Town it was used for storage and individual craftsmen had workshops and stalls there.
“It was a building with a huge wooden floor supported by iron girders.
“When the fire started at night, the sprinkler system failed to work. So fireman were reduced to dowsing the flames from outside and dowsing neighbouring buildings to stop it spreading.
“Because the girders were made from cast iron, they expanded in the heat and pushed the walls out. The roof collapsed and the whole building came down.”
After the 1980 fire the site remained a derelict wasteland for years, until eventually it was redeveloped and became what is now the Stables Market.
Mr Whitehead recalled much speculation over the fire’s cause and great anger from those affected.
“This was a time when there were quite a lot of suspicious fires - very often people wanted to clear areas or claim insurance money,” he said.
“Nothing was ever proved about this fire in 1980, but people believed this sort of thing to be the motivation. The fact the sprinklers didn’t work only added to complaints.
“The individual craftsmen who had their workshops there lost everything.”
* For coverage of the fire in Camden’s Stables Market tonight, see the Ham&High’s latest news report