As we’ve mentioned in the blog previously, the world’s first organised Fire Brigade was founded in Edinburgh by James Braidwood in 1824. It’s just as well really, as when the Fire Brigade was only a few months old Edinburgh suffered one of its most devastating fires.
On the evening of the 15th of November 1824, at around 10pm, the cry of “fire!” was heard in the High Street. Clouds of smoke could be seen coming from the second floor of a seven-storey printing house on Old Assembly Close (just down the road from The Real Mary King’s Close). In the workshop of engraver James Kirkwood a pot of linseed oil had overheated, spilled and set fire to a stack of paper.
The fire quickly spread, within two hours the south side of the High Street was up in flames, the blaze destroyed the tenement at Old Assembly Close before taking over three tenements neighbouring tenements. Overnight the fire destroyed the offices of the Edinburgh Courant newspaper, and the following day some flying embers caused the Tron Church to catch fire. The terrible fire then made its way through Parliament Square and St Giles’ Cathedral.
The newly founded Fire Brigade struggled to gain control of the fire, as the firefighters had not yet received full training and the flames were relentless. Conflicting orders from city leader’s just added fuel to the fire (pardon the pun). The Great Fire raged for two days – taking another two to fully extinguish. 400 homes were destroyed, businesses were ruined, and 13 people were killed, with hundreds of others injured or made homeless. Building damage amounted to over £200,000, and the fire was responsible for the loss of some of the oldest buildings in Edinburgh.
As a result of the inquiry that followed The Great Fire Of Edinburgh, city fire masters were given full command of firefighting incidents – a structure which exists to this day.