October 6th, 1854 – The Great fire of Newcastle and Gateshead


The Great fire of Newcastle and Gateshead was a tragic and spectacular series of events in which a substantial amount of property in the two North East of England towns was destroyed in a series of fires and an explosion which killed 53 and injured hundreds. There is only one building still extant on the Newcastle Quayside which predated the fire.


On the Gateshead riverbank, a few yards downstream of the old bridge, stood the splendid new mill premises of Messers Wilson & Sons, worsted manufacturers. This large gaslight-lit building had been erected after a fire which destroyed their previous premises, on the same site, three years before the events of this great fire.

At half past midnight on Friday October 6th 1854, the mill was discovered to be on fire; the cry was raised and immediately the streets crowded with people hurrying to the scene of the growing conflagration. The fire being confined to the upper stories of the building, efforts were made to salvage stock on lower floors; but the great quantities of oil in the premises, used to treat wool, added fuel to the fire and quickly curtailed the attempts. Despite the prompt attendance of the North British and Newcastle fire engines, within an hour the building was one mass of flame and within two the roof fell in and the building was a total wreck.

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The night was spent in terrible anxiety and extraordinary human effort. The fires, from hour to hour progressed rampantly, irresistibly bearing down everything which came within range of their power, checked only providentially. The authorities moved, throughout, with all speed at their disposal, directed by the two Mayors, with assistance from men of the councils; members of the Board of Guardians; two fire brigades, and officers and men of the local garrison.

As soon as the area’s telegraph wires, damaged by the explosion, could be made good, calls for assistance went out to the surrounding towns and cities. Fire engines were sent by the most expeditious means from Durham, Hexham, Carlisle, Morpeth and Berwick. Floating fire engines from Shields and Sunderland were dispatched, as were another three engines from the latter town. Owing to the serious injury to the military of Gateshead, detachments were sent from Tynemouth, Sunderland and Carlisle, which arrived by the earliest trains. This combined effort through the early course of the day appeared to be checking the progress of the flames.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


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