London Fire Brigade

LFB150 - The 80th anniversary of the Crystal Palace fire

30 November 2016

As we celebrate our 150th anniversary we're looking back at some of the most significant and some of the more unusual incidents that have taken place since we were formed in 1866.

After the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park the Crystal Palace had been rebuilt in Sydenham, East.

It was an architectural masterpiece and tourists flocked to see the enormous glass structure with its two huge towers on either side of the building.

It held concerts and exhibitions and was regarded as one of Britain’s greatest landmarks.

A huge open space with no fire breaks

On the evening of 30 November 1936, musicians waiting to play in a concert noticed smoke coming from the floorboards.

The fire quickly spread through the dry wooden boards and the nature of the Crystal Palace – a huge open space with no fire breaks – meant that within a short time the fire was wildly out of control.

The local Penge Fire Brigade worked alongside members of the Croydon Fire Brigade to tackle it, but their efforts were in vain as the fire took hold, with flames rising to 800 feet in the air.




381 firefighters

London Fire Brigade came to help and the Chief Officer of the Penge Fire Brigade handed control of the firefighting over to the Chief Officer of London Fire Brigade, Major Morris.

Ultimately, London sent 61 pumps, more than half of the Brigade's pumping fleet and 381 firefighters to tackle the blaze.



100,000 people watched

People from all across London as far as Hampstead could see the orange glow in the sky.

It was estimated that over 100,000 people arrived in the Crystal Palace area to watch the fire.

Over 700 policemen were deployed to control the crowds while various VIPs visited the fire including the Duke of Kent and the Chairman of the London County Council's fire brigade committee.

The towers survived

The huge glass structure collapsed as the iron supports bent, ending with a massive explosion.

Only the two towers survived, which were later knocked down at the outbreak of the Second World War as they would have been too much of an obvious landmark for German bombers to target.