Wallis and Linnell - The Big Fire

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Wallis and Linnell - The Big Fire' page

By Ted Eassom

Wallis & Linnell maintenance staff errecting protective covering the morning after the fire. From the left. Ted Eassom Electrical Engineer., Norman Medlock Mechanic., Bert Hodgson Mechanic., Pete Folwell Maintenence Assistant

This page was added by Ted Eassom on 11/11/2008.
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Having worked at Wallis & Linnell for eighteen years I have a few photos that I will be pleased to add.

By Ted Eassom
On 11/11/2008

Wallis & Linnell, Early Post War 1947

Wallis & Linnell's factory was one of the largest in Kettering, and the highest structure of the works bordered onto School Lane. In the main, this part of the establishment consisted of warehousing.
The sub-ground floor of this imposing building held the companies stock of rolls of cloth for their production of gent's clothing both for ready to wear and bespoke.
Except for the top floor the remaining floors held the entire stock of produced garments that were either ready for despatch to clients as and when orders were received, or more likely awaiting completion of a batch of an order.
The top floor in addition to being a stock holding area for some miscellaneous garments also held what could be described as a publishing department where a couple of Roneo duplicators were operated and some art work was carried for clients display purposes.

During the early summer of 1947 after the works had closed for the night fire broke out on the top floor of the warehousing. News of this event quickly spread and I received the information from a neighbour.
It did not take me long to cycle to School Lane and to the rear of the factory where a number of employees were actively engaged in salvage work.
The Fire Brigade had contained the fire to the top floor yet there could have been a considerable loss of stock through water contamination. This was averted by not only employees, but strangers who arrived offering assistance to salvage products.
At a rough guess I would suggest that approximately thirty men entered the warehouse area at all floors below the one alight to remove goods to a dry area. The most important recovery being that of the rolls of cloth in the sub ground floor. Without any cloth to produce garments the six factories of the company would have to close.
In those days production shortages still suffered from the effects of the war. Cloth was in very short supply. Where before the war a made to measure suit could be supplied to anywhere in the country in three days, in 1947 it was usually more than six weeks.

With water seeping through floor and ceiling and in a darkened area it was like being in a heavy rain shower for those salvaging whatever came to hand. Generally one roll of cloth was as much as a person could handle at a time. Although at works closure all power was switched off it was impossible to have switched it back on in the circumstances. By about 10 pm with it being too dark in the building to continue and with the majority of goods in the hazard area salvaged it was decided to call time.

The fire was out and volunteers dispersed. On reflection it can be assured that such voluntary action would not be permitted these days. Under health and safety regulations the whole area would be contained by the police, yet then during the time I spent on site I don't recall an officer visiting our area of action.

By Ted Eassom
On 11/11/2008

After the fire.

Even though all floors of the warehousing had been drenched with water the first essential was to secure the building against any further damage that may occur through rain so the maintenance staff spread tarpaulins over the whole area. On removal of all deleterious material the floor was covered with roofing felt to make it completely watertight so reconstruction could take place.

It was not long before the warehousing was back into servicing the companies clients. A goods flow system that I had designed earlier required little attention to bring it back into working order. This carried completed goods to their required floor level.

The motor drive and gear box for the main lift for passengers and goods seemed to be in good order although it was completely out of action as the control box had been completely destroyed. This was a simple control for up and down that was operated by a handle by whoever used the lift. It would have been simple to construct a new control box but we could not allow a passenger to operate it as the wire cables could have suffered fire damage. So I designed an automatic system that was operated from outside the cage at each floor level so only goods were placed into the cage. Eventually a new completely automatic system was installed by the Express Lift company.

From recollection, I believe that Brothers Jack and Geoff Linnell at the time of the fire had flown to somewhere on the continent seeking export orders. They always flew separately in their own planes to maintain family continuation should there be any unfortunate crash with both Brothers in the one plane.
Smith and Edmunds of Havelock Street were the contractors for the reconstruction. Most of the top floor was set out as a display area for clients. Completion was achieved in 1949.

By Ted Eassom
On 11/11/2008

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