New ‘Steamer’ engine averted major disaster when the Public Hall was gutted in 1907

One of the most disastrous fires ever experienced in Wrexham happened in 1907, when the Public Hall was gutted. Later the Hippodrome occupied the site. The Public Hall formed only the centre of a block of commercial premises which included a printing works, a sweet factory, a warehouse, the old Masonic Hall, the Exchange Club, a bonded store and several small offices. It was riddled with passages and was described as a veritable warren.

It is thought that the fire, discovered by some patrolling policemen in the early hours, started in the sweet factory, and when the firemen arrived smoke and flames were billowing across Henblas Street. A strong wind which was then blowing added to the difficulties. The greatest fear was that the blaze would engulf the shops and cottages in Bank Street, the walls of which were described as being “red hot”. Property in Hope Street was also feared to be in danger.

However, the fire fighters, with the help of the recently acquired “steamer” could confine the blaze to the central part of the block. Adjoining the sweet factory at the top of the building, was the print works, and this housed many heavy presses and many hundredweights of metal type apart from a mass of inflammable material. After a time, the floor collapsed, and the whole lot plunged into the bonded stores below.

Sparks from this source then set alight stage scenery in the hall. An observer wrote: “The last drama to be enacted in the old Public Hall, incommodious and uncomfortable as it was, can hardly be imagined. Tongues of fire crept round the roof and above the gallery and the ventilators were belching out flame until at last the rafters gave way and all fell into the body of the hall.” This fire was the first true test of the efficiency if the re-formed Wrexham Fire Brigade with their “steamer” fire engine.

But for their efforts the whole block of buildings bounding Henblas Street, Hope Street, Bank Street, and possibly the Market Hall area would have gone up in flames. The Public Hall took up the site of the old Birmingham Square, later to become Union Square. This site was acquired by a syndicate of Yorkshire traders as a market for their goods during the annual March Fairs and had a gallery around it containing shops, the space in the middle being left open.

The whole area was roofed in the early 1870s to accommodate 52 shops and it then took the name of Union Hall. In 1878, it was bought by the Wrexham Public Hall and Corn Exchange Company, and the building was converted into a hall which was ‘intended to use as a corn ex-change. However, it was not used as such, but became an assembly room for public meetings and a centre for theatrical and other entertainments.

At the time of the fire, the Town Council was seeking the help of neighbouring parishes in maintaining the brigade. It was stated that the Corporation was paying £52 per annum in retaining fees for horses alone.

Allington Parish Council had refused on the grounds that it was the insurance companies’ responsibility. “In our case,” argued one member, “if Wrexham refuse to turn out, Chester will probably do so.” Other parish councils were considering it, and eventually it was suggested at a meeting of the Town Council that the brigade should turn out only to fires in parishes which contributed to the service. However, an exception would be made in the case of owners of country mansions who had contributed to the ‘purchase of the “steamer”.

The scene after one of Wrexham’s biggest fires when the Public Hall was gutted in 1907. Only hard work by the firemen prevented the blaze from spreading to shops in the surrounding area.

Source: The Leader – Looking Back series. Alan Wilkinson.

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