A FORMER Stourport factory worker has recalled a major fire which rocked the town half a century ago this year.
The blaze swept through The Tannery, which at the time produced leather products at its Lombard Street site. The blaze in 1964 was the second major fire in its 262-year history and this time proved the end of the road. The works were never rebuilt and the business was transferred to Kidderminster. The site is now home to a Co-op supermarket.
At the time, Stourport resident Roger Barry, 72, of Hermitage Way, was working in the dispatch department at the factory’s warehouse and told The Shuttle about the moment he and his wife lost their jobs.
He said: “I was just 22 at the time and had just been promoted to work in the warehouse when the fire happened and I lost my job overnight. My wife had just started there and she lost her job too.
“The night of the fire we had gone to bed and at about 2am I was woken up by a noise on my bedroom window.
“I looked out and it was the manager who said, ‘Come down quick, the Tannery is on fire’. We went to get as much out of there as we could before it took off. There was a shop by the building they had just converted to sell coats, handbags and gloves and they wanted us to empty it, so we formed a chain in the street to take the goods out.”
Stourport Tannery was built in 1702 and a 203ft chimney was added in 1831. Sometime later, in the 1860s, the building was almost completely destroyed by a fire.
A new factory was built but years later the business went into liquidation and was sold. It changed hands twice before falling into the hands of Cheshire businessman Henry Beakbane in 1880 for £5,000. The tannery ran at a loss for a number of years until it closed 1901.
In 1908 Mr Beakbane’s son reopened the site and it began to supply sheepskin leather to the Worcester glove trade. The family continued to run it until the 1964 blaze and it was never rebuilt. The site was then used for some years by Thomas Vale while the Beakbane family started another business, based in Stourport Road, Kidderminster.
“Everybody just lost their jobs overnight, about 200 people,” said Mr Barry. “It was all made of wood and you could see the blaze for miles. The building was four storeys high. People were really shocked.”
Mr Barry later took a job at the Morgan ceramics factory, then moved on to work for Bond Worth Carpets.