Cathedral fire that shocked Sheffield

The catastrophic fire at Notre Dame Cathedral that so stunned the world has brought back memories of a devastating fire in Sheffield’s own Anglican Cathedral in July, 1979.

By Sally Burton
Monday, 29 April, 2019, 20:53
The Sheffield Cathedral bells ring once more after the fire. This picture shows (from left) Helen Sparks (12), Lucy Johnston (12), Mr Ron Johnston, Mr Herbert Chaddock and Mr David Munday, as they ring out the first chords. Fire damage can be seen on the walls and in the roof timbers, July 26, 1979

Thousands of pounds worth of damage was caused in parts of the building, that dates back centuries.

Among several treasured items that were  lost was a two-foot high bell that dated right  back to the sixteenth century.

Sheffield Cathedral fire July 17, 1979 A fireman surveys the damage in the tower after the fire

Fortunately, the organ control unit,  worth tens of thousands of pounds, was unscathed.

The Captain of the Bells at the Cathedral, Herbert Chaddock, 73, was reported afterwards to have been  choking back tears as he viewed the ashen remains of what had been the Ringing Room, where all carefully kept records of the Sheffield bellringers were destroyed.

The shocking July 17 event saw an urgent arson inquiry launched, with forensic experts called in to survey the damage and draw what conclusions they could.

A man had telephoned the Star newspaper late the previous evening on two occasions, warning he had set fire to the Cathedral.

Sheffield Cathedral fire July 17, 1979 Fire damage inside the ringing chamber after the blaze

On the first occasion at about 10.30pm he said: “I’ve set fire to Sheffield Cathedral.” 

Then around midnight, in his second call, he told a Star journalist that the fire was “going in the Belfry.”

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But firemen had carried out a detailed inspection and found no sign of a fire after the first call at 10.30pm.

It was 2am when a policemen passing by spotted flames and smoke in the building’s main tower that was almost 600 years old.

More than 35 firemen fought the blaze and worked to try and prevent the fire reaching the 160 foot spire.

They eventually halted the spread of the fire in the clock room, a level higher.

Division Street fire crews had been the first on the scene, and had hacked through a door with an axe in a bid to get to the seat of the fire.

The Provost of Sheffield, the Very Revd Frank Curtis, reported when he arrived at the fire ravaged scene in the early hours, that “the bell ringing chamber has been extensively damaged and water is pouring down in to the choir stalls from burst pipes.”

Work began straight after the fire on repairing the building as daily activit ies continued within.

A working cathedral since 1913, the building is Grade 1 Listed, with architecture from the fifteenth to the twentieth century, that includesTudor memorials and unusual stained glass.