Incident directory

1977 - The Crypt Restaurant

27/03/1977

Country:

UK

  • Building Fires

Severity:

Description

Date and event

27th March 1977.

Time of event

Approximately 02:49 (INITIAL CALL). Time of Turnout at Dover Fire Station - 0249 hrs - stating “Fire at the Crypt restaurant in Bench Street” - [Voice call from KFB Control received at Dover by Fireman GF Gash] (Gash, 2017).

Name of premise

The Crypt Restaurant.

Location

Bench Street, Dover.

Service area

Kent Fire Brigade (KFB) now Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS).

Nature of incident

Fire.

Property type

Restaurant, bar & dwellings above.

Premise use

Restaurant and bar with dwelling accommodation above.

Construction type and materials

Assumed to be mainly brick & stone with timber flooring. Medieval (circa. 900+ years old) basement and semi basement area used as a restaurant with ground floor used as bar and restaurant.

After changing hands several times, in December 1971 the complex was purchased by Rabb Inns. By this time, due to extensions and alterations, the building facing Bench Street was four storeys plus the Crypt basement. At the back, facing York Street it was three storeys plus a semi basement plus a range of single and two storeys annexes. Inside was a rabbit warren of corridors and staircases. The lower levels were occupied by bars and restaurants and the upper, residential accommodation (Unknown author, 2014).

Occupancy

The normal lower floor occupancy was for restaurant purposes. The manager and his family, wife and three children lived in the upper floors. On the night of the 26th March there had been a family party – [shown on the calendar in the manager’s office] so there were additional members of the family staying in the premises overnight. The wife and two of her children died in the fire (Gash, 2017).

Fire source and location of fire

The inquest was conducted by Wilfred Mowll, with the cause given as ‘a mains switch to a fryer being left on leading to overheating of fractured wiring’ (Unknown author, 2014).

Synopsis

Brief synopsis

On the 27th March 1977 a Leading Firefighter (LFf) died of injuries resulting from partial collapse of a building (in the centre and towards the rear of the building) during firefighting and rescue operations (House & Settle et al, 2017).

Smoke was spotted issuing from The Crypt Tavern in the early hours of the morning by a passer-by walking his dog. The first 999 call made was received by Kent Fire Brigade (KFB) Control at 02:49 who mobilised 2 pumping appliances and a Turntable Ladder (TL) and a Station Officer (StnO). On arrival at 02:55 the first Officer in Charge, a LFf sent a persons reported message and soon afterwards an assistance message make pumps 3. Further resources arrived, and further assistance messages were sent including for another TL.

During the incident numerous rescues were carried out by Ffs wearing breathing apparatus (BA) with additional rescues carried out from windows. “The TL was used to carry out a walk down rescue of one male adult from the roof”. “Following this rescue, the TL was set in as a water tower and water was directed from the front (Bench Street) towards the rear of the premises (Town Wall Street) direction” (Gash, 2017). Further senior officers arrived and at approximately 04:03 a make pumps 10 message was sent and at some time shortly afterwards there was a structural collapse of the central part of the building that buried and trapped 3 Ffs (Pearce & Masters, Circa. 1998 & Doyle, 1977). Klopper, 1984 states it was the roof that first collapsed killing the LFf and burying the BA team he had been leading (Klopper, 1984).

The rescue operations were “difficult and hazardous” with the fire advancing on the upper floors above the rescuers and also on 2 sides of where the rescues were taking place’. ‘There was also the threat of further structural collapse’. Various rescue tools and cutting equipment was in use. After 20 to 25 minutes the first 2 of the 3 trapped firefighters were rescued with the 3rd, an LFf, not released for another 20 minutes. After the release of the LFf and a further search of the premises all crews were withdrawn shortly afterwards due to the risk of further collapse (Doyle, 1977 and Pearce & Masters, Circa. 1998).

In total 7 people died in the fire including the LFf, 3 women aged 43, 32 and 20 and 3 children aged 6, 5 and 18 months who were all occupants of the flats above. It was thought that the fire had spread via voids towards the upper floors (Doyle, 1977).

From Doverhistorian.com.

‘Tragedy struck in the early morning of 27 March 1977. At 02.49 hrs’ a passer-by, ‘who was walking his dog, called the fire brigade as he had seen smoke coming from the Crypt restaurant’. ‘The first fire appliance arrived at 02.55 and back up was requested – the building was alight’. ‘People leaning out of windows on the upper floors were rescued and nine people were carried out of the burning building, two of them dead’.

‘Passers-by helped to comfort children rescued from the flames’. ‘However, there were reports that people were still in the building so as some of the fire-fighters were dealing with the blaze others went into the burning building to confirm that all residents were accounted for’. ‘While checking, part of the central section collapsed burying three of the firemen. Two of the trapped firemen were released within twenty minutes but it took another twenty minutes to rescue Leading Fireman John Sharp’. ‘All three were taken to hospital along with six other firemen some of who had received serious injuries’ (Unknown author, 2014).

 Pic 01and02

Part of The Crypt Restaurant building during the fire, unknown photographer at this time, from Doyle, 1977.

 Pic 03

Victims carried from building, unknown photographer at this time, from unknown press clipping, 1977, courtesy of Gash, 2017.

 Pic 04

Victim carried from building, unknown photographer at this time, (Dover Express and East Kent News, 1977), courtesy of Gash, 2017.

 Pic 05

‘Firemen sifting through gutted restaurant’, unknown photographer at this time (The Sun, 1977), courtesy of Gash, 2017.

 Pic 06

Believed to be inside the restaurant area, unknown photographer at this time, (The Dover Express, 1977), courtesy of Gash, 2017.

 Pic 07

Part of The Crypt Restaurant building after the fire, unknown photographer at this time, from Unknown author, 2014.

 Pic 08

View of The Crypt Restaurant building and flats above after the fire believed to be circa. 1980, unknown photographer at this time, from Smith and Skelton, unknown date.

 Pic 09

View of The Crypt Restaurant building and flats above after the fire believed to be a short time after the fire in 1977, unknown image owner at this time, from Unknown author, 2014.

 Pic 10

View of part of basement area of The Crypt Restaurant prior to the fire believed to be circa. 1960, unknown photographer at this time from Unknown author, 2014.

 Pic 11

Image of part of basement area of The Crypt of St Nicholas, prior to the conversion to restaurant, believed to be circa. Medieval times, unknown image owner at this time, from Unknown author, 2014.

Further information hoping to be identified and still to be located.

Main findings, key lessons & areas for learning

Further information hoping to be identified and still to be located.

Fire and Rescue Service summary of main findings, conclusions, key lessons & recommendations

Further information hoping to be identified and still to be located.

FBU summary of main findings, conclusions, key lessons & recommendations

Further information hoping to be identified and still to be located.

Other report summary of main findings, conclusions, key lessons & recommendations

Further information hoping to be identified and still to be located.

IFE Commentary & lessons if applicable

None produced at this time.

Known available source documents

Further information to be identified and still to be located.

FRS Incident Report/s

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

FBU Incident Report/s

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Incident Report/s

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

Kent Police Incident Report/s

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

South East Coast Ambulance Service Incident Report

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

Building Research Establishment (BRE) Report/investigations/research

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

Coroner’s report/s and/or Rule 43 and/or Regulation 28 Notices etc

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

Dear Chief Officer Letters (DCOL), FRS Circulars, FRS Notices and/or Bulletins etc

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

Notifications from National Operational Learning User Group (NOLUG) and/or Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP)

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

Other information sources

House, A. & Settle, P. et al. (2017). The firefighter memorial trust book of remembrance. [online]. Available at. http://www.theonlinebookcompany.com/OnlineBooks/FirefighterMemorialTrust/Content/Filler  [Accessed 20th September 2017]. The Firefighters Memorial Trust.

Note. With the above source reference, it is not currently possible to link directly to the relevant page of the memorial book.

Smith, B. & Skelton, P. (unknown date). Dover Kent archives, crypt tavern. [online] Available at http://www.dover-kent.com/Crypt-Tavern.html [Accessed 11th June 2017].

Unknown author. (2014). Bench street and the crypt tragedy. [online]. Available at https://doverhistorian.com/2014/06/07/bench-street-and-the-crypt-tragedy/ [Accessed 11th June 2016].

Doyle, R. D. H. (1977). Partial collapse at flats/restaurant complex. Fireman and six residents killed in Dover blaze. Fire. (May). Page 598 and 600.

 Pic 12

 Pic 13

Pearce, P. H. & Masters, P. (Circa. 1998). Fifty vigilant years. A history of the Kent fire brigade 1948 – 1998. Page121 to 122. Ashford. Aquarius.

Klopper, H. (1984). To fire committed. Pages 216 to 220. Tonbridge. Kent Council of the Fire Services National Benevolent Fund.

Course, A. & Gash, G. (2017). Interview discussion and information exchange about The Crypt Fire, Dover 1977.

Unknown photographer at this time. (1977). Unknown title of article. The Sun. [pdf]. Submitted by Gash, G. (2017).

Unknown photographer at this time. (1977). Unknown title of article. The Dover Express and East Kent News. [pdf]. Submitted by Gash, G. (2017).

Unknown photographer at this time. (1977). Unknown title of article. Unknown newspaper. [pdf]. Submitted by Gash, G. (2017).

Further information hoping to be identified and still to be located.

Service learning material

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

Videos available

No information identified to date and/or still to be located.

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