Fire in the Argus building

Not Chinese crackers
By Maureen Brand, North Laine resident

Robert Street runs between North Road and Gloucester Road. Its construction started over the period 1836-41. Early maps show a terrace of housing along the eastern side but very little on the western. The Ordnance Survey map of 1876 shows a timber yard at the North Road end between Robert Street and Kensington Street and in 1911 'Printing works'.

Southern Publishing

Southern Publishing appears on the Robert Street site in 1915 and printing moved there in 1926 where it stayed until 1992 when the Argus opened its new headquarters in Hollingbury.

The fire

After closure of the building, a range of ideas were put forward for use of the site and its ownership changed hands. Eventually builders moved in and started work. Not foreseen was a fire in the roof area towards the North Road end of the building early on the morning of 5th December 1999. Flames shot about 30ft high into the air, and North Laine residents called emergency services. The police were sufficiently concerned to decide to evacuate the terraced houses on the east side - indeed they broke open the front doors of some properties to ensure that they were empty, the residents elsewhere.

Inferno Special

So significant was the fire that the Argus devoted an "Inferno Special" to it on 6th December. Local residents, and fire-fighters described the scene. The roof was in flames, and then gas cylinders inside the building exploded sending glass and debris into the street. Two fire-fighters were injured. One resident, interviewed by the Argus, described the explosion: "All the windows flew out from the top floor, showering glass everywhere. I felt the blast on my back, the whole road shook, and we dived back inside." Another resident living in Cheltenham Place, two streets away to the east, said "I heard what sounded like hailstones against the window, but when I opened the curtains it wasn't raining. Then I thought it must be Chinese firecrackers going off somewhere. I thought it looked a bit foggy, but I realised that the wind was blowing clouds of smoke from the west. It was then that I saw the flames shoot out of the top of the building and I realised it was a massive fire."

It is not known how the fire started.

An earlier fire

This was not the first fire in Robert Street. 'North Laine all ablaze' on this website describes a fire in the provision stores of Messrs Collings & Aldrich in November 1934. You can read about it here.

Today

Along the west side of Robert Street today run offices on the ground floor with loft apartments above in what is still known as the Argus building or Argus Lofts. The newspaper building shell itself was retained and a new white painted extension added on either end. Both of these provide retail space on the ground floor and apartments above.

[Source material: The Argus 10th, 5th and 6th December 1999.]

All photos by Maureen Brand

Photo:Robert Street 2005
Photo:Robert Street looking towards Gloc. Road
Photo:Robert Street looking towards Jubilee site
Photo:Inferno Special
Photo:Chinese crackers
Photo:Fire damage window. Argus building
Photo:Argus after the fire
Photo:Argus building fire damage
Photo:Argus after the fire
Photo:Argus yard, Gloucester Road end before new building
Photo:Argus new building on yard, Gloc Rd
Photo:Argus new extension, southern end
Photo:Argus North Road extension
This gallery was added on 06/07/2008.

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