Lightfoot Street Fire
The First Fire
On 24th October 1996, one of Chester's worst fires ever engulfed Pickford's storage warehouse and led to the destruction of much of Lightfoot Street. Pickford's was never rebuilt and the site is presently occupied by a development of flats named Thomas Brassey Close after the railway engineer.
The fire seems to have started around midnight, and many local residents at first thought that the bangs and pops as the roof of the warehouse caught fire were fireworks. Shortly thereafter, the bangs became louder and more frequent at least one resident thought that a local newsagent (who sold fireworks) must be on fire. However it soon became clear that the fire was at Pickfords and many residents telephoned the local emergency services. Thanks to their prompt action no-one was badly hurt.
Pickford's warehouse was a large storage facility and was packed with furniture and other inflammable materials. No-one is quite sure how the fire started and the newspapers of the time carried speculation about causes ranging from electrical faults to arson. The fire quickly became was well established and may at its peak have achieved significant but localised firestorm effects. The heat of the fire was so great that at least 18 dwellings on the opposite side of Lightfoot Street were set alight and many others were badly damaged. Fortunately, many of the residents were able to escape to the rear of their properties (or be rescued that way) and the licensee of a local pub (the Beehive) opened her doors to provide shelter to the victims. At least 20 appliances attended the fire.
The following morning, as the Fire Brigade were damping down the last small fires, the full scale of the devastation was apparent to anyone travelling through Chester Station. Pickford's warehouse was gone, and Lightfoot Street looked like something out of the Blitz. Everything was black and grey with the only splash of colour being a burned out removal van still bearing the words 'Pickford's The Careful Movers'.
In the aftermath of the fire it became clear that the warehouse was, at the time of the fire, housing the records of the Waterhouse Inquiry into child abuse. As a consequence of the destruction of documents the scope of the inquiry was somewhat reduced:
- "The Waterhouse Inquiry were unable to examine all the records of Bryn Alyn Community Holdings Ltd relating to children and potential witnesses due to an unfortunate fire. The fire occurred at the Pickfords Secure warehouse based at Hoole, Chester while the Inquiry was underway. This meant that files relating to potential witnesses - the children who had been resident as the Bryn Alyn homes were now gone along with care records. " - Waterhouse 'Lost in Care Report', Dept Heath, Reports to the Welsh Office of alleged physical abuse, Section 21.79 Page 332
The subsequent Macur Inquiry stated that there is no evidence available to assert the 1996 fire was arson but the circumstances remain unclear.
The Second Fire
On 2nd December 2010. The Chester Enterprise Center burned down. The cause of the fire was evidently a heater left on overnight during what was a notoriously cold winter.
Lightfoot Street Litigation
Lightfoot Street is named after John Lightfoot (licensee of the Ermine, Flookersbrook, from 1818 to 1820). He died leaving everything to his son, but was not aware that his son had pre-deceased him by a few days. The consequent litigation dragged on for years, complicated by the fact that Lightfoot had sold land on which much of Flookersbrook had been built. When the matter was finally settled, many years later, the original deeds of the houses in Halkyn Road and nearby record a huge number of signatures to put the matter to bed.
Sources and Links
- Memories of the 1996 Fire (link is broken due to Council website redesign)
- another theory... (that the first fire was a convenient way to "lose" some records in a police investigation - the blog has since been deteted.)
- some Lightfoot History
- Fire Service History in Chester;