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The Fire 1951

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Text (black print) taken from the "WAKEFIELD EXPRESS" Saturday, July 21,1951
Photographs from former pupils (captions in red text)

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TRADITION has it that most boys and girls dislike school and all that goes with it, but tradition was proved wrong this week by the pupils of Thornes House Grammar School, which was almost totally destroyed by a disastrous fire early on Sunday morning. Through their actions in standing by the staff and working like Trojans to salvage books and equipment from the ruined classrooms, the boys and girls have gained the admiration and praise of the citizens of Wakefield. As a result of their efforts hundreds of pounds-worth of valuable materials have been salvaged.




A view from the terrace the morning after.
The roses & the fountain remain




A fire appliance stands outside the main entrance.
The whole of the building behind the facade has collapsed.

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On Sunday evening while the school was still smouldering, the nationally-famous school choir went to fulfil a date in the burnt-out shell of St. James's Church, Chapelthorpe, to help the church's Restoration Fund. Many of the choir members had toiled throughout the day at Thornes House. As they sang and heard the Vicar (Rev. H. M. Doidge Harrison) speak of their joint misfortunes, some of the girls wiped tears from their eyes.

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Salvage work started at the school while the fire was still blazing. First member of the staff to arrive on the scene was Mr. H. C. Dixon, the chemistry and physics master, who lives at Milnthorpe Lane, Sandal. He was awakened by a milkman, Mr. J. Ingham, an "old boy" who had seen the blaze. Hurrying to the school, Mr. Dixon found the middle floor still intact. His immediate concern was 40 in cash, representing choir and school magazine funds. This was later found in the safe.


Some of the firemen were on duty for 19 hours on Sunday.



The Girls' Entrance ... everything above was completely gutted & has collapsed

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Seeing that the grand piano - the pride of the choir - was surrounded by swirling smoke with flames but a few feet away, Mr. Dixon, with the help of several other men, struggled through the smoke and pushed the piano to the end of the main hall. There they took off the legs and carried the instrument through the French windows to the rose gardens and safety.

One of the tragedies of the fire is that many of the personal reference and record books owned by the staff were destroyed along with hundreds of pounds-worth of personal belongings. Some teachers lost notes they had been making over the last 20 years. One schoolboy lost a valuable stamp collection, others lost caps, coats, satchels, and one girl lost her prized piece of knitting.

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The Music mistress, Miss Margaret Markland, probably suffered most. Apart from destroying her own music books and musical scores, the fire devoured a valuable collection of gramophone records. They included recordings of the school choir broadcasting and singing at various important events. Of special value was the record of them singing for Princess Elizabeth when she visited Wakefield two years ago.

The headmaster, Mr. C. C. Bracewell, said he had been able to salvage the school records from the wrecked building, together with damp but intact school reports. These would be sent out. Also recovered was a blackboard and several desks.




Firemen & appliances were working at Thornes House on Wednesday when timbers were still smouldering 3 days later.









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Another morning-after photograph. 
No room in the car for the desk !

Chief Officer K. Colam, of the Wakefield Fire Brigade, said it was obvious that the fire had been burning for several hours. The trees surrounding the school prevented the blaze from being spotted earlier.

One of the chief dangers for the fire-fighters was caused through molten lead dropping from the roof. Several firemen were hit by debris and Deputy Chief Officer E. Griffiths was struck on the back by a red-hot slate. He also received a cut hand.

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You would have thought it could have been restored looking at this wouldn't you?  Apart from any other considerations, even in 1953 it would have cost a fraction of what it cost to replace with  this ...

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Last revised: 23 February 2013