The Langcliffe Paper Mill Fire, 1940

 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Recently Mrs Jean Jelley found three photographs of the Langcliffe Mill fire which prompted a search for further information about the incident as follows. The paper mill was bought by the Roberts family in 1880, it having been used for paper-making since 1794, and it finally closed in 2010.

Stanley Potts
(Transcript from Bill Mitchell’s video of Langcliffe, June 1994)

I was courtin’t’ wife at the time. It was June. I had stayed down at Willy Wood where my intended wife was living with her parents. I wakened up on Sunday morning and there was bang, bangs going on and I said to th’intended father-in-law, ‘I think th’ Home Guard must be about’. Curiosity got the better of me and I pulled curtains and lifted window. Paper Mill was afire from t’ river to t’ road. So of course when I shouted , ‘Paper Mill’s afire’ I had to get back in bed sharpish for women folk to come to look. We had to shift furniture out of th’house and they were having to spray the house or that’d gone up. It smouldered for best part of a week.

Derek Soames (personal communication)
I was 10 years old when I saw the paper mill fire one Sunday afternoon. The Settle fire engine was there and the Skipton engine had arrived after 20 minutes.

Reg Trusler (personal communication)
In 1940 the part-wooden paper mill suffered a severe blow by being burnt down. This was allowed to be re-built during the war years and in 1943 was in full production with two intermittent board-making machines which produced lead-free (i.e. silver paper-free) millboard for the packing pieces in shells for guns.

Craven Herald and Pioneer (June 28, 1940)

Langcliffe paper mill gutted

Langcliffe paper Mill, near Settle, owned by Messrs. J. Roberts and Sons, was destroyed by fire on Sunday (June 23, 1940).

For close on ten hours water was poured on to the blaze from a number of pumps, and although the fire was practically extinguished by tea time, a considerable quantity of paper still smouldered and a watch had to be maintained on the premises for several hours longer. The main building of the mill - one of three storeys in part and two storeys in the remainder - was gutted by the fire, but the firemen managed to save the office block, although the interior was much damaged by water; also an adjacent house, where Mr Roberts, head of the firm, resides. Mr Roberts, who does not enjoy the best of health, was removed to a house in Craven Terrace for safety.

The damage to the premises was considerable, machinery and large stocks of paper being destroyed. The employment of 35 workpeople is affected.

The Settle Fire Brigade was assisted by units of the Skipton Fire Brigade and Auxiliary Fire Service, the first time the Skipton organisation has visited Settle in recent years, and the auxiliary firemen, many of whom were attending their first fire, acquitted themselves well and tackled the job in an impressively workmanlike manner. A point of interest also was the working of the regional fire fighting scheme, and throughout the operations the Skipton and Settle fire stations were in close touch with the Bradford Regional fire fighting organisation.

Mill Roof Collapses

The outbreak was discovered at 7.40 am by Mr Frederick Riley, of Church Street, Settle, engineer to the firm, and the Settle Fire Brigade, in (the) charge of Capt. J. Tomlinson, made a prompt turn out, and found that the fire had secured a firm hold. It was soon realised that to subdue the outbreak quickly and to make certain that it was completely extinguished before the blackout in the evening, assistance would be required. Accordingly, it was decided to obtain assistance from Skipton under the regional scheme. Shortly before 9am a call was put through to the Skipton Fire Station, and the first line pump with personnel was despatched at nine o’clock, the 18 miles journey being made to Langcliffe in about half an hour. Mr J. B. Longbottom had charge of the squad, which comprised regular and auxiliary personnel. On their arrival, the building was well alight, and the roof had collapsed.

The Settle Fire Brigade had concentrated on saving Mr Robert’s house, a task in which they were successful, and the Skipton men concentrated on the office block, which they saved, although damage was caused by water. Pumps, too, were directed on the main building, there being a plentiful supply of water from the river and the mill dam, and a second pump unit was summoned from Skipton. Later it was felt that a third pump from Skipton would be desirable, but although the squad arrived promptly it was found that the pump was not required, although the personnel acted as reliefs to the men who had been on duty from the beginning.

The pumps were at work continuously until 5.30pm, when the outbreak was practically extinguished. The Skipton squads concluded operations, but the Settle Brigade continued on duty longer to deal with any sporadic outbreak that might occur.

The damage was considerable and the amount is not yet known. The cause of the outbreak is unknown.

Craven Herald and Pioneer (July 5, 1940)

A Commendation

Mr E. H. Vant (Settle), chairman of the Fire Brigade Committee, complimented the fire brigade on the excellent manner in which they tackled the outbreak of fire at the Langcliffe Paper Mills the previous week. It was the biggest fire they had had in the area for some years, and the firemen did splendid work.