15th November 1824

The Great Fire of Edinburgh destroys 500 homes

The Great Fire of Edinburgh broke out at ten o’clock on Monday evening and burned for five days, causing considerable damage to the city. It broke out at an engraving workshop which, within an hour, was burning out of control and already spreading to other buildings.

Fire brigade delayed

The Scotsman of 17 November reported that “from various obstacles, a considerable period elapsed before [the fire brigade] could be brought into action, and even then the fire, which appeared almost simultaneously in the third storey and the top storey, was in too high a situation to admit of their operating with much effect… about eleven [o’clock], flames appeared in the windows of the third flat, and spread with such rapidity, that before twelve, it blazed out in immense volumes from all the windows, and when the roof afterwards began to fall in, the building, with the exception of the ground flat, presented one most terrific mass of flame.”

The fire burned on through the night, destroying tenement buildings and, the following day, parts of Tron Kirk and Parliament Close. A second fire was discovered on the Tuesday evening in Parliament Close, perhaps caused by an ember caught on the breeze.

Fire spreads

The Morning Post of 20 November, quoting the Edinburgh Star, told how “some accidental sparks have actually communicated with the leads of the Tron tower, which is in a blaze. The scene is awfully sublime. We trust that the Church will be saved, of which the steeple is unworthy. It is remarkable that the Tron Church is situate [sic] about three hundred yards from the scene of the original fire, which may convey to our readers some notion of the fire-balls which have been scattered by the wind.”

Calling it the “most extensive and disastrous [fire] ever known in that city,” the Leeds Mercury of 20 November said that the firemen “seem to have been deficient in skill and organization”, and that “from the elevated situation of the High-street, the conflagration was distinctly seen in every part of Edinburgh and the neighbourhood, and a great alarm was produced, not more by the vast volume of flame which waved over the centre of the city, than by the thick showers of burning embers which rose when any part of the buildings fell in, and were carried by the wind to a great distance.”

Newspaper offices destroyed

The blaze destroyed the Edinburgh Courant’s building on the third day, but that wasn’t going to stop the paper from publishing. Its staff moved into a High Street shop vacated by Manners and Miller. Manners and Miller was already in the process of moving its stock to a new outlet at 92 Princes Street and, during the cross-over, the staff of the Courant agreed to field customer phone calls and take their orders while also receiving stories and advertisement bookings.

At this point the weather intervened. A rain storm helped douse the worst of the flames, but they weren’t out entirely until the Friday. Through a combination of the fire itself, and the need to pull down dangerously damaged buildings, up to 500 families lost their homes, and many important buildings were destroyed.



Other events that occured in November

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