You don’t know about the Denmark site fire because its 37 victims weren’t counted | Simon Osborne

aFrom my first memories I hear about A fire killed 31 people at King’s Cross tube station in 1987. This rightfully sparked a public inquiry, safety improvements, memorial services – and the installation of plaques at the station and adjoining church. Princess Diana, Princess of Wales visited the place.

seven years earlier, A fire killed 37 people Inside two nightclubs in central London – which everyone has forgotten about.

After some initial news coverage, the fire in Denmark Square, on the edge of Soho, sparked nothing else. No enquiry, no services, no mention in Parliament, no VIP visit – and – until Thursday 24 November 2022 – no memorial plaque.

I first learned about the fire years ago in a mysterious book about it London Disasters. KEY FACTS PRESENTATION: About 150 people filled two unlicensed nightclubs in a building with no emergency exits. After clashing with the barman, a petty Scots swindler named John Thompson retaliates by pouring petrol into the mailbox and throwing a match.

The new plaque, which is set to be unveiled as part of a £1 billion entertainment venue that has just opened on the site of the fire, will honor the victims who have come from eight countries. Why did it take 42 years for anyone to remember her?

Shocked by the paucity of information about the fire, or any awareness of it among Londoners alive at the time, I first wrote about it in 2015. A redevelopment of the area had begun. I found the list of victims. I spoke to some of their relatives and friends. And I’ve got disgusting photos of the fire brigade.

Newspaper archives shed most light on apparent amnesia. The fire, which happened in the early hours of Saturday, was a big story in the newspapers in the days that followed.

Firefighters in Denmark Place, an alley on the edge of Soho.
Firefighters in Denmark Place, an alley on the edge of Soho. Pictured: London Fire Brigade

There was a tone of some coverage. Many newspapers talked about “clubs of disrepute”. The Daily Mail said such venues attracted “not only minorities and tired prostitutes, but all kinds of folk bent on having sex with each other”. In its report on Thompson’s murder conviction and life sentence the following year (he died in prison in 2008), the paper said he “felt comfortable among pimps and lesbian prostitutes, lesbian screaming queens, cannabis dealers and slack junkies.” Denmark place.

Prejudice has long been an unwelcome presence in what we now call the “night economy.” Before governments and mayors lined up to champion the social and economic benefits of later working hours and better infrastructure, it was easy to dismiss late-night places — along with the people who are in them — as somewhat disreputable.

Clubs in Denmark Place should never be allowed to operate without even basic fire safety measures. However, in now fully inhabited St Giles, where the fires took place (and where Hogarth portrayed Jane Lane), such settings were not uncommon. They attracted a broad section of the mainly working-class London population who were not ready to go home after the last requests, including people looking for a sense of community and refuge from adversity.

I think there is a temptation to blame the victims, to put them away, even hours after their horrific deaths, because the “popular intent to fall” contributed to the amnesia. These were not travelers returning home after a hard day’s work, as in the case of the King’s Cross fire. They were the people of the night.

Many of the families of victims I have contacted over the years have told me that the judgment and shame immediately attached to the fire shaped their grieving process. Their loss felt complicated, as well as deeply painful. In many cases, the families themselves have tried to forget. One family told me that the mother of a young woman who died in the fire continued to “drink herself to death.”

Today, all the relatives I came into contact welcome the addition of Denmark Place for the first memorial to the victims of one of the worst fires in London’s recent past. Dozens of family members are scheduled to attend a small ceremony where the painting will be unveiled.

Janet Reid, 62, who lost her 27-year-old brother Alex Reed in the fire, has always made a point of walking Denmark Place during visits to London from her home in Glasgow. She told me: “Now there is something to remind everyone that this is where these people perished.” “At least something is better than absolutely nothing.”

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