Tuesday, November 18, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 18: In memoriam, again

It's a month of slightly grim anniversaries, it seems... Was walking past one of the memorials at King's Cross this morning, which was cordoned off, and remembered it was the anniversary of the King's Cross fire in 1987.  I was at college at the time, and friends were visiting London; thankfully, they'd left before the fire started, but we stayed up for a long time listening to the radio...

In all, 31 people lost their lives underground at King's Cross that day, passengers, LUL staff and first responders among them. 100 others were injured, many of them seriously.



In some ways it feels like another era despite only being 27 years ago.  Wooden escalators, for one thing. People smoking on the Tube for another. Smoking on the underground sections of the Tube had been banned for two years, and on the trains themselves for three; but smoking in the ticket halls immediately next to the escalators was still permitted and the escalators themselves were a bit of a grey area. The investigators concluded that the fire had been caused by a match falling through the side of the escalator and onto a build-up of litter and grease below; as well as by a completely new phenomenon in fire research, a flashover later termed the trench effect.

The King's Cross disaster helped to increase the safety of public transport; smoking was banned throughout the network three days after the fire; the escalators took just a little longer (the last wooden escalator was removed from Greenford station on 10 March 2014).

There are two memorials at King's Cross; the first went up in the 1990s.  Later, a clock appeared above it with the upper plaque which says This clock has been given in memory of those who lost their lives in the fire at King's Cross station on 18th November 1987.  From all the underground staff at sub-surface & tube stations.


The later memorial (also in the ticket hall, in the corridor which leads to St Pancras) gives the names.  All the names.  One victim stayed unidentified for 17 years after the fire and, after much searching including a forensic reconstruction and tracking down of the origin of a metal stent in his skull, identified as a 73-year-old homeless man from Falkirk; I'm always moved when I look at the plaque that time was also taken to carve his name in afterwards.


I'm often irked at King's Cross - at the moment, there's a hugely convoluted contraflow because the escalators replaced after the fire are being replaced again, and access to the central line is often controlled at peak times. Walking past both memorials every day should remind me of what happens when health and safety fails, and often it does.

I haven't given up completely on NaBloPoMo, but it does seem to have fallen somewhat by the wayside! Will post as I can...


3 comments:

Mairead Hardy said...

My overriding memory of the Kings Cross fire is the mistakes made by inadequately trained staff. Trains that could have been used to move people away from the danger of the fire continued to disgorge passengers which obviously made matters worse as they had no way to leave the station.

I didn't know about the unidentified man, and I agree that it is lovely that his name has been added to the memorial.

Rosie said...

My (then) husband travelled home from King's Cross each day, so I was waiting at home as a nervous wreck (no mobile phones! In fact, no 'phone in the house, either). Happily for us he wasn't involved and made his way home via Euston, Watfords and a branch line to St Albans.

I also remember the heartbreaking bungling but not the unidentified man; that's very moving.

Daisy said...

I'm so glad you posted that - it was one of the first things I remember being on the news (I would have been about 8?), and I was mesmerised by the unidentified man thing. I didn't know they'd eventually managed to trace him.