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Tuesday 22 December 2009

Alexandra Palace Fire 10th July 1980

Who would have thought  it was nearly 30 years ago?

 My son and I were sitting on our front wall just beyond Alexandra Park Road, chatting. I looked up and noticed a small dark smoke cloud drifting up above the rooftops. I pointed it out to Charlie, and although we couldn’t see the source, we both agreed it was probably the Palace, and we ran out to see.

I had previously seen Blandford House burn down in the Palace grounds only a few years previously. Curious, we jumped into the car, and drove part of the way up the hill where it became obvious that it was indeed the Palace on Fire. We left the car a safe distance away and went the rest of the way by foot.

We were among the first to arrive even before
 the fire engines were there.

We stood on grass by the steep slope, very close to the fire, and Charlie was so excited he wanted to run right up the slope to get closer still, and I had to haul him back as I was frightened he might be hit by falling timber or hamper the firemen, who were just beginning to arrive.

We moved back and they seemed like little ants rushing about. At that stage the fire had not really taken hold and they seemed to be getting it under control.

We could see the big window at the front of the Great Hall lit up with great orange flames licking out of it. At first it was hard to distinguish the flames from the yellow-red brickwork, but the intense moving colours soon drew our eyes.

There was scaffolding round the front of the building where workmen had been renovating that area.

I knew the Palace and Park well, from going to the Panorama Bar, courting there in my youth, working, taking my children to the ice rink, and generally roaming around. I used to work in the BBC Television Newsroom in the part where the BBC Television Tower is.

During the afternoon the flames seemed to have died down a bit, but later that evening I happened to visit someone who lived high up in a flat in Shepherd’s Hill, Highgate, with a clear view of the Palace, which was again completely engulfed in flames, and I believe it burned all night.

Oh, and by the way, there had been local wrangles all the previous year about who was to take over the Palace, and who was to pay for substantial upgrading and renovation.  Then came the fire, apparently started from an electrical fault whilst the renovations were being carried out, and there was a £3million insurance pay-out.  Was that handy or what?  Every cloud has a silver lining and this was quite a large cloud. Curious nimbus.

Here is a LINK to the BBC Television News Video Report in 1980.

And here is a LINK to the fire at St Andrew's Church, Alexandra Park Road, N10 in 2009.

And a LINK to the fire at Blandford Hall, Alexandra Park  on July 17th 1971.

And a LINK to a very detailed article dated 1993 about the history of the great organ at Alexandra Palace.

                          (Acknowledgement to I Barwell for the picture on the right)

And this LINK is to my POEM "The Fire at Alexandra Palace"


  1. Amazing pictures - I grew up in Wood Green and the history of the palace has always fascinated me. Thanks : )

    Lloyd Bennett

  2. Hi Diana
    I am looking for a photo to include in my memoirs of 34 working at the BBC. I was there on 10 July 1980. Would you mind if I used one of your's. They really capture the moment and i particularly like the vertical one. I might even have been in the crowd. This is not a commercial publication - just something to leave to the grandchildren. Thanks

  3. Hi
    I would love to use one of your pics of the Ally Pally fire for a book I'm compiling.
    Is this possible?


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