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By Erin Beeston on

The great fire of Liverpool Road

The buildings of Liverpool Road station are one of the most incredible things about the site on which the Museum of Science and Industry sits—but a huge fire over 150 years ago almost destroyed these historic structures.

152 years ago this week, on 23 May 1866, a dramatic fire engulfed two of the buildings at Liverpool Road Station. Liverpool’s Daily Post reported that the warehouse fire was one of the most ‘extensive and destructive’ fires in Manchester history. The ‘great fire’ was reported in newspapers across the country.

The two buildings affected were Cotton Warehouse 1 and Cotton Warehouse 2, constructed in 1831. They stood opposite and adjacent to the 1830 Warehouse, which can be seen at the bottom end of our site, and all three buildings were connected by tramway bridges.

The Manchester Guardian reported that Warehouse 2 was the first to be ‘enveloped in flames’ with the fire spreading ‘in all directions.’ Once the fire was noticed, Superintendent Tozer of Manchester’s Chief Fire Station telegraphed fire brigades from the surrounding area for assistance with the blaze. 16 water jets were reportedly attached to water mains, although the firemen could not prevent the fire spreading to the lower stories of Warehouse 1.

The original 1830 Warehouse, constructed for the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, survived the fire because of the initiative of the Broughton and Pendleton volunteers and the Salford Fire Brigade who ‘made a gallant stand at the tramway bridge connecting No. 3 warehouse with the Western end of No. 1.’

The great swine escape

Lithograph titled ‘Sketch of the carriages on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway’ and subtitled ‘First Class and mail’ and ‘Cattle and Goods’, by W. Crane, Chester, c 1830

Despite the scale of the fire, there was only one human casualty, Henry Clarke, a fireman from Manchester, who was injured when a wall collapsed. As the fire took place in the early hours of the morning, it was quiet at the station, except for the busy Pig Station.

Liverpool Road had always been a point of arrival for incoming pig traffic for the city with a pig landing station on Charles Street (now Grape Street between the Museum and St John’s). The evacuation of the noisy animals caught the attention of local press. The Manchester Courier reported the following day:

Roof after roof, floor after floor, beam after beam fell crashing downwards into the fiery abyss below… The poetry of the scene was a trifle disturbed by a scurry amongst the pigs with which the spacious yard had been filled. With characteristic obstinacy they refused to budge an inch and force had to be used to eject the grunters, who seemed to prefer a little roasting.

The evacuation of the pigs was highlighted in the newspapers:

An additional element of excitement was occasioned by the transfer of some hundreds of pigs to safe quarters, which was achieved with the loss of only one animal.

Birmingham Daily Post, 24 May 1866

Whilst the pigs were rescued, the two warehouses collapsed. The following year, a new viaduct, which we nickname the ‘Pineapple Line’, was constructed, a Bonded Warehouse (now in St John’s) was built in 1869 and the New Warehouse was constructed between 1879 and 1882. The buildings we see at the Museum are now entirely different to the layout of the mid-nineteenth century goods Station.

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