Jack recalls tragic blaze that killed mum

By Pam Ross

EIGHT mill workers dead, three women hospitalised and the town in mourning—exactly 50 years ago yesterday.

But the passing of half a century has not dulled painful memories for one Keighley man who lost his mother in the tragic Eastwood Mills fire on February 23, 1956.

The devastating blaze ripped through the three-storey 60 ft building and razed it to the ground in ‘no time’ according to police at the scene.

Norah Inman, a 44-year-old twister at Eastwood Mills, was one of eight workers killed that day.

She and four others were trapped behind a door on the top floor, their screams heard by people outside unable to reach them in time.

Her son Jack Inman, now 65, was just 15 at the time, but vividly remembers the fire that robbed himself, his three siblings and his father of the woman they loved.

Jack, of Denby Road, Woodhouse, said: “I can remember it like it was last week, even after all these years. It was terrible. There has never been anything in Keighley as tragic as that. The town was just in shock.

“When they found my mum, there were five of them just behind a door. If the door had just been broken open they would have found them, but they might have already died.

“It went up like a tinderbox, really quick. We could see the flames from where we were working. When I got there the roof had gone. One minute it was a big mill and the next it was a mere shell.”

Jack said his mother hadn’t been back working at the mill more than a month when the fire took place. The family lived at Primrose Grove in Thwaites, and Jack worked as an apprentice electrician, wiring houses in Guard House.

He said: “The mill was still ablaze when I got there. I went down with a school friend and a policeman asked my name and he said you have to go to your grandma’s.

“It was an awful sight and I thought, I hope my mum is all right.”

The fire was started by a blowtorch when hot water pipes were being installed on the bottom floor. Police at the time stated a rope had caught fire and that ‘the place was up in no time’.

News Report

Ten brigades with 15 appliances turned out that day to try and tame the fire. Reports of the blaze—like the one above—recall the day disaster hit the town.

Local historian Ian Dewhirst, who was 20 when the fire struck, said: “I was away at Manchester University at the time and everyone was telling me about it.

“It was the worst fire as far as deaths were concerned that had ever happened in Keighley. The mill went up very quickly. Most of those who died were behind a locked door at the bottom of the top staircase. He added: “The town was in a very sombre mood indeed. It wasn’t just a fire—it was the constant reminders afterwards.”

News of the fire spread throughout the whole of Britain and the town worked towards repairing the damage after the worst tragedy of its kind in Keighley.

The Mayor of Keighley set up a fire disaster fund for the victims and people rallied round to help.

There was an inquiry after the fire and the mill owners, Robert C Franklin were fined only £15 (the equivalent of an average weekly wage today), as they were engaged in modernisation when the fire started.

Jack remembered visiting his mum at work. He said: “The floor was covered in oil from the machines, and there was wool everywhere.

“It wasn’t a safe environment—it was like a death trap.”

In one speech Keighley MP Mr Charles Hobson said that not only was there no warning system at the time, but the fire escape did not reach all the floors. The blaze further prompted new fire safety regulations in Britain’s mills and factories, due to the unsatisfactory nature of mill conditions.

If Jack’s mother had lived through the fire she would have been 94.

He added: “I was the last in my family to see her alive. I don t know why I went home at dinnertime, but my mum was there.

“I just miss everything about her. I often wonder sometimes, if she hadn’t been caught in the fire, would she still be living today?”

Mill workers and public alike watch as firemen tackle the blaze
Mill workers and public alike watch as firemen tackle the blaze
Jack Inman
Jack Inman
The ferocity of the fire is evident as crews look on
The ferocity of the fire is evident as crews look on

Keighley News, 24 February 2006