London Fire Brigade

The 1964 Bishopsgate Goodsyard fire

04 December 2016

On this day in 1964, the Brigade faced one of the biggest peacetime fires in its history when a train depot went up in flames, killing two customs officers and causing millions of pounds worth of damage.

Forty fire engines and more than 230 firefighters were involved in tackling the blaze, which began at Bishopsgate Goodsyard, on Shoreditch High Street, at around 6:20am.

The depot, which had originally opened as a passenger terminal, had become a dedicated freight station since 1881 and served the busy ports of eastern England.

The site was extended in the early 20th century and it is thought more than 300 freight wagons and 60 motor vehicles were on the 11 acre site when the fire broke out.

The fire spread quickly across the vast depot. Source.

The site remained unused and derelict for 40 years. Source.

When the first crews arrived they saw smoke billowing from the first two floors of the depot.

Within ten minutes, the entire building was alight and firefighters we forced to break hose connections and reposition fire engines to prevent them being caught up in the fire as the flames quickly spread between the freight wagons.

Thick smoke engulfed the nearby streets and, due to strong winds, buildings to the south of the site on Quaker Street were increasingly at risk from the flying embers and the radiating heat of the blaze.

A number of loud explosions were heard from across the site as the situation worsened and a series of walls collapsed, increasing the difficulty of tackling the fire.

Make pumps 40

Shortly before 7am the message was sent to "make pumps 40" in an effort to stop the fire spreading and help protect a 2,000 gallon petrol tank.

The fire was finally brought under control by 10:29am but crews remained on site cooling the debris for the next 36 hours.

In total 21 jets and 14 radial branches were used during the fire. Source.

During the blaze there had been confusion as to whether there was anyone in the building. By the time it became apparent people may be trapped inside, that section of building had collapsed during the blaze.

As soon as conditions allowed, and despite the risks of debris and the instability of the building, a search was carried out for the two missing men and their bodies recovered.

Shoreditch High Street Station

The cost of the blaze was estimated to be at least £5 million. After the fire, the site was rendered unusable and remained derelict for four decades before a major demolition project made it safe in 2004.

The day after the fire. Source.

View of the Bishopsgate Goodsyard from above. Commercial Street can be seen running diagonally at the bottom, while Bethnal Green Road can be seen bending away to the right toward the top of the image.

In 2010, Shoreditch High Street Station opened on part of the former site, marking the full circle of the site, which had originally been called Shoreditch Station when it first opened in 1840.


Many thanks to Bob Wilkinson for providing information and images for this article. Source: London Fire Brigade History