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100 years ago in Salford: Three burned in epic Cadishead oil refinery fire ‘seen for miles’

Described as “the most serious fire in 50 years”, the New Mana Cadishead oil refinery fire still lives long in local memory.

Three men, including the refinery manager, suffered such severe burns in the fire that it would change forever the way that blazes were responded to in the district.

It was only the lack of wind that particular night that helped the volunteer firefighters keep the blaze confined, but there were major injuries too.

The Eccles and Patricroft Journal reported that at 6.30pm on 8 October 1915, Police Sergeant Ware received an alarm call from a concerned local resident who saw flames shooting into the sky over Cadishead.

He immediately called the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) Works Fire Brigade – a volunteer force of 25 men from the huge employer who were the only emergency response to deal with blazes in the area.

Large crowds were drawn to the scene of the fire and had to be held back at the perimeter by seven police constables.

The team made their way to Hayes Road on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal, followed by Captain Bainbridge of the Eccles Fire Brigade, in charge of a relatively new motorised fire engine and five men.

It’s worth noting at this point that horse-drawn fire engines were still in use – nothing like the fast responders you may see arrive within minutes of fire breaking out today.

14 water jets were soon turned on the fire, which it was thought started by a spark hitting a benzine tank in the refinery’s extractor house.

A storage tanker filled with highly flammable ‘benzoline’ – a volatile inflammable liquid produced by fractional distillation of crude petroleum – “was a grave source of anxiety”, reported the paper, as it could have left this part of Cadishead a smoking hole in the ground.

Both this and the works’ store rooms were well alight and soon completely engulfed in flames.

The blaze threatened to spread to the main building, which held valuable machinery, and a nearby cottage where lived the manager Mr Dalby with his young family.

Mr Dalby “risked his life while the fire was raging” and ran into the storerooms to turn off the tap, suffering severe burns in the consequence.

Two other workmen, Benjamin Ellis, 21, a fitter from Dixon Street in Irlam, and Thomas Snowden, from Ardwick, also suffered severe burns in their attempts to stay the blaze.

Capatin Young of the CWS Fire Brigade fractured his leg when he fell through a down and had to be taken home on a stretcher.

But it was the motorised fire engine from Eccles which would bring the blaze to a close, pressing 750 gallons of water a minute onto the fire. This made the handmade pumps look like trickles of water.

In total the incident cost the company a staggering £3,500 – some £360,000 in today’s money – but was covered by insurance and given the strength of the fire is “much less than at one time seemed likely”.

After the blaze it was judged that the fire defence was inadequate and the Eccles Fire Brigade took over responsibility for the Irlam and Cadishead area.

It was not until November 1923 that Irlam would have its own fire brigade established, with crews buying a 16 horse power Morris Guy fire engine at the cost of £1,228 and 14 shillings.

This is astonishing really, given the general growth of industry in the area and the potential (flammable and inflammable) dangers it brought with it.

Main image: The nearby Irlam Steel Works, which opened in 1910 – © Salford Local History Library

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SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.