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History of Fire Safety Legislation
And Other Interesting Dates

Medieval Ages 12 Century 13 Century 14 Century 15 Century 16 Century
17 Century 18 Century 19 Century 20 Century
21 Century

Current statutory provisions within the United Kingdom have evolved from measures introduced slowly over many centuries.

It was not until the 19th century that structural provisions were made for the safety of people within premises on fire.

Although large scale tests were carried out in the mid 18th century following the recognition that fire should be confined to the room of origin rather than the building, it was not until the end of the 19th century that we find the origins of standard fire tests.
Middle Ages

Houses in medieval England were usually built of timber frames filled in with wattle and daub; the roofs were thatched and chimneys as such did not exist.

Within the congested walled towns the houses were built in narrow streets with over hanging upper storeys.

With houses having a central hearth and straw as the floor covering a fire spread could spread very easily.

William the Conqueror required all fires to be extinguished at night. The most popular method of achieving this was to use a metal cover that was put over the fire to exclude the air. This cover was called a Couvert Feu which in use became Curfew.

12 Century The first recorded attempt to legislate for fire safety. The Mayor of London laid down that houses in the city were to be built of stone, thatched roofs were not permitted, and party walls were to be of minimum height and thickness.

13 Century A disastrous fire in London where an estimated 3000 people died led to all alehouses being governed on their construction. Other requirements were made in connection with bakeries and brewhouses.

During the summer months a tub of water was to be made available in case of fire.

14 Century During the 14th century a move from central hearths to a position against an outside wall began, however it was not until the end of the century that chimneys came into use.

As these were usually made from hollowed out logs the hazard became worse.

15 Century The 15th century saw timber chimneys outlawed and the first Act of Parliament relating to fire which made provision for fire prevention, fire fighting and penalties against persons causing fire in Scotland.

17 Century The Great Fire of London started in the early hours of 2nd September 1666 at the end of a long dry summer and after burning for 4 days had destroyed five-sixths of the city.

Although only 6 people died it was a national disaster and London acquired it first complete code of building regulations and means for its implementation

On September 13th King Charles II issued a proclamation in which The walls of all new buildings were to be of brick or stone
The main streets were to be widened to prevent fire spread
Existing narrow alleyways were to be considerably reduced
A survey of every ruin and ownership shown of every plot

On 8th February the Act for Rebuilding the City of London received Royal Assent

A Mutual Friendly Society was formed for assisting members in case of fire

Following a history of serious fires in Edinburgh, the small wooden cottages covered with straw had begun to be replaced by houses of ten or twelve storeys fronting narrow streets an "Act Regulating the Manner of Building within the Town of Edinburgh" was passed which required that no buildings should exceed five storeys.

Fire Of Note (Blandford, Dorset)

18 Century The Fires Prevention (Metropolis) Act came into being in 1774. This Act listed buildings into 7 classes with thickness of external walls and party walls laid down for each class. The Act also included provisions with the maximum area of warehouses. London boroughs were to appoint Surveyors and "every parish should provide three or more proper ladders of one,two and three storeys high,for assisting persons in houses on fire to escape therefrom"

Theaters had been taking their toll of fire victims for many years when in 1794 the rebuilt Drury Lane Theater incorporated an iron safety curtain in addition to a water tank situated on the roof which was intended for use in the event of fire. Other eighteenth century innovations were the treatment of theatrical scenery with boax, alum or ferrous sulphate. 19 Century Numerous fires throughout the 18th & 19th century in Edinburgh,culminating with several fires in 1824, resulted in the formation of the Edinburgh Fire Engine Establishment in October 1824. It consisted of 80 part time fire fighters who had building trade experience. Their Chief Officer, James Braidwood had a new way of tackling fires in that his crews would be highly trained in entering buildings and fighting the fires at their seat. James Braidwood was to meet his death in 1861 at a large warehouse fire in Tooley Street London, when he would be crushed by a collapsing wall.

Fire Of Note (Houses of Parliament)

Abstract: Destruction by fire of the two Houses of Parliament

Fire Of Note (Royal Exchange, London )

Fire Of Note (Tower of London )

The 1844 Metropolitan Building Act, which was based on the Fires Prevention (Metropolis) Act 1774, made few changes in constructional requirements for fire. However the 7 classes were reduced to 3 namely Dwelling Houses, Warehouses and Public Buildings. Warehouses limited to 200,000 cubic feet (undivided)

The 1847 Towns Improvement Clauses Act and the 1847 Town Police Clauses Act set out various standard clauses usually contained in local improvement Acts e.g., construction of roofs and walls, and the purchase of fire engines.

In 1850 the Burgh Police Act required that party walls be carried through the roof and that all party walls, external walls and roofs be constructed in "Incombustible" materials.

In 1858 the Local Government Act gave urban authorities the power to make building bylaws subject to confirmation by the Home Office. However in 1871 this responsibility was transferred to the Local Government Board who drew up model bylaws(first issued in 1877). The original scope of the bylaws was extended under the Public Health Act of 1890.

In 1861 the Tooley Street warehouse fire, which burned for two days and cost the insurance companies over £2m, led Captain Shaw of the London Fire Engine Establishment to state that a 216,000 cubic foot building was the largest volume that could be protected with reasonable hope of success.

In February 1862 the insurance companies, who were responsible for the London Fire Engine Establishment, wrote to the Home Secretary saying that they could no longer be responsible for the safety of London from fire. The Select Committee set up "to enquire into the existing state of legislation and of any existing arrangements for the protection of life and property against fires in the Metropolis' was told that the London Building Acts were faulty and inadequate, and were far inferior to the Bristol and Liverpool warehouse Acts. Apparently dock warehouses were exempt and one warehouse had been built with an undivided volume of 5,000,000 cubic feet. In several instances it had been successfully claimed that certain warehouses were not warehouses within the specific terms of the Acts.

A further Select Committee was set up in 1867 "to inquire into the existing legislative provisions for the protection of life and property against fires in the United Kingdom, and as to the best means to be adopted for ascertaining the causes, and preventing the frequency of fires". They recommended that a general Building Act for all towns in the United Kingdom should be placed on the Statute Book (with similar provisions and powers to the Metropolitan and Liverpool Building Acts). This should embrace thicknesses and heights of party walls; the placing of fireplaces, stoves and flues and the proximity of timber to them; the limiting of size and isolation of warehouses; and the use of proper materials in building. Other recommendations concerned living accommodation above shops; large lodging houses; water supplies; the classification and storage of goods; the sale and storage of flammable substances; and the setting up of procedures for investigating the cause of every fire. Unfortunately no action was taken.

Abstract: Reports on the necessity for the amendment of the law relating to gunpowder and other explosives, with suggestions for a new act

Legislation for theaters had existed outside London under the 1843 Theaters Act. However, the report which followed the inquest on the 1887 fire at the Theater Royal, Exeter, in which 186 people died, probably assisted in the passage of Section 36 of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act of 1890 which stated "Every building which, after the adoption of this part of this Act in any urban district, is used as a place of public resort, shall, to the satisfaction of the urban authority, be substantially constructed and supplied with ample, safe, and convenient means of ingress and egress for the use of the public, regard being had to the purposes for which such building is intended to be used, and to the number of persons likely to be assembled at any one time therein". But a Bill introduced in 1890 "for the further protection of life and property in the United Kingdom" to give County Councils power to appoint inspectors and to insist on proper fire escapes and alarm apparatus at all hotels, factories, theaters, schools, hospitals and workhouses, was not passed.

The end of the century saw the introduction of the first control of means of escape in case of fire from factories under the Factory and Workshop Act 1891 which concerned premises in which more than 40 persons were employed; workshops in which more than 40 persons were employed being added by the Factory and Workshop Act 1895.

The Act also made rules concerning new public buildings which included regulations (based on the earlier 1879 theater regulations) on the width of staircases and exits, and required that every new building exceeding sixty feet in height be provided on the storeys over 60 feet above the street level "with such means of escape in the case of fire for the persons dwelling or employed therein as can be reasonably required under the circumstances of the case" and that no such storeys be occupied until the Council had issued a certificate that the provisions of this section had been complied with. It also provided a schedule of "fire-resisting materials".

Abstract: Report from the Select Committee on Theatres and Places of Entertainment:

In 1897, 124 people died and over 200 were injured at a Paris Charity Bazaar where none of the exits were indicated and untreated velaria (canvas awnings) covered the whole of the underside of the roof. This led the LCC to instruct its theaters and music halls committee to report what security was afforded by the existing law to the public against fire and panic in charity bazaars and similar gatherings. On hearing that its powers were very limited, the Council sought legislation to license any establishments to which the public were admitted.

In spite of building legislation, there were ten fires in London during the last decade of the century - each destroying many buildings. The worst, in the Cripplegate area on 19th November 1897, involved four acres of warehousing - two and a half acres being completely burnt out with total losses estimated at £1.25m (an enormous sum at that time). The fire had spread from building to building across narrow alleys, streets and courts, and four thousand people (mostly women and girls) were put out of work as a result

Abstract: Report from the Select Committee on Fire Brigades

20 Century A fire in Queen Victoria Street, London on 9th June 1902, in which eight people were trapped on the top floor and many girls threw themselves to death on the pavement rather than being burnt to death, caused much checking to be done of local bylaws in the provinces, as the Queen Victoria Street premises was not a workshop as defined in the 1901 Factory and Workshop Act. In London, the LCC were given powers under the London Building Acts (Amendment) Act 1905 to require works to be done to certain existing buildings to facilitate escape. The Act also required plans to he deposited for new building work and a new schedule of "fire-resisting materials" was published.

Abstract: Report of the Committee on the Hours, Pay and Conditions of Service of Firemen in Professional Fire Brigades in Great Britain

In 1921 a Royal Commission was appointed "to enquire into the existing provisions for
(1) the avoidance of loss from fire, including the regulations dealing with construction of buildings, dangerous processes and fire risks generally, the arrangements for enquiry and research and for furnishing information and advice to public authorities and others on matters relating to fire prevention; and
(2) the extinction of outbreaks of fire, including the control, maintenance, organisation, equipment and training of fire brigades in Great Britain, and to report whether any, and if so what, changes are necessary, whether by statutory provision or otherwise, in order to secure the best possible protection of life and property against risks from fire, due regard being paid to considerations of economy as well as efficiency". Their report published in 1923 made a number of recommendations, including - the need to extend the scope of the 1901 Factory and Workshop Act; fire precautions for new and existing theaters and other places of entertainment; and the provision of adequate means of escape from hotels, boarding houses, flats, shops and similar premises with sleeping accommodation on the upper floors, and the drawing up of model regulations.

: Report of the Royal Commission on Fire Brigades and Fire Prevention Fire brigades and fire prevention

Under the London Building Acts 1930 - 39 powers were granted to make bylaws and the first set issued in 1938 covered many of the constructional matters previously contained in the earlier Acts. Powers were also granted in respect of means of escape from certain new and existing buildings based on their height and use. However, these bylaws were not entirely satisfactory in that local authorities were not obliged to adopt them, and many did not. The 1936 Act was therefore amended by the 1961 Public Health Act to permit the making of one set of building regulations to replace the 1400 sets of local bylaws The first building regulations for England and Wales were made in 1965, the scope of which extended through the Fire Precautions Act 1971 to include means of escape in case of fire.

The Home Office in the introduction to its "Manual of Safety Requirements in Theaters and Other Places of Public Entertainment" (produced in 1934) explained that its recommendations were based on experience of disasters at home and abroad. Nine fires were highlighted, two of which in Exeter and Paris have been referred to earlier. The other fires mentioned, in chronological order, were at the Ring Theater Vienna where 450 people died (1881); the Iroquois Theater Chicago where 566 people died (1903); the Empire Palace Theater Edinburgh (1911); the Grand Assembly Rooms Leeds (1923); Drumcollagher Co Limerick where 50 people died out of a total of 150 (1926); the Glen Cinema Paisley where 70 children were suffocated and crushed (1929); and Coventry (1931). Those at Edinburgh, Leeds and Coventry were included as examples of safe escape being made. At Edinburgh, where although ten of the performers and stage staff died as a result of the fire the whole of the audience of about 3000 apparently cleared the building in just under 2.5 minutes while the band played the National Anthem. As a direct result of the Paisley fire, an amending regulation was issued under the Cinematograph Act 1909.

As regards factories, the Factories Act 1937 considerably extended the requirements as to means of escape originally contained in the Factory and Workshop Act 1901 under which District Councils had been given powers in respect of premises where more than 40 persons were employed. Following a fire in February 1956 at the Eastwood Mills, Keighley, in which eight people died, the whole question of providing fire alarms and adequate means of escape was reviewed by the Factory Inspectorate and a survey of 40,000 to 50,000 premises was carried out. The 1961 Factories Act consolidated the fire provisions contained in the Factories Acts of 1937, 1948 and 1959 - the last of which had placed the responsibility for certifying means of escape on the Fire Authority and not the District Council as provided for earlier.

1938 (FOC RULES)
Perhaps one of the most important pieces of work carried out this century in connection with fire, was that undertaken by a Joint Committee of the Building Research Board and the Fire Offices' Committee (FOC). This committee was set up in 1938 to review the underlying principles of fire protection in buildings in the light of the knowledge at that time and to present the results in the form of recommendations. Such recommendations were "not intended as a code for immediate application in practice, but as an exposition of the subject in the light of present-day knowledge, for the information of persons or bodies concerned in formulating rules for legal, insurance and other purposes". The committee, after looking at evidence available from home and abroad, together with experience gained during the Second World War, published its first report in 1946 on "General Principles and Structural Precautions". A second report published in 1952 included matters relating to means of escape in case of fire. Many of the Committee's recommendations are embodied in current thinking.

Until the formation of the National Fire Service in 1941 the United Kingdom Fire cover consisted of 1400 local Fire Brigades and within a couple of months these local Fire Brigades were transferred into a central command.

1945 (BSCP)
It is perhaps worth noting that apart from guidance prepared by the LCC, specific guidance in respect of means of escape and fire precautions had generally not been available before the last war; a fact which prompted the Building Industries National Council (BINC) to publish in 1945 a model code of requirements for application throughout the country and applicable to all types of buildings. (A report ten years earlier was concerned only with London). The first British Standard Code of Practice on "Precautions against Fire" was published in 1948 (Houses and flats of not more than two storeys), with other parts following in 1962 (Flats and maisonettes over 80 feet in height) and 1968 (Shops and Department Stores) and (Office Buildings).

The Fire Services Act 1947 transferred the National Fire Service to Fire Brigades maintained by County Councils and County Boroughs. This Act had amendments in Fire Services Act 1951 & Fire Services Act 1959 and is still the legislation that covers the Fire Service today.

Abstract Interim Report of the transfer of members of the National Fire Service to fire brigades

Another notable fire occurred in June 1960 at William Henderson and Sons department store in Liverpool. Ten people were trapped in the fourth storey even though the brigade arrived within two minutes of being called. One man fell to his death from a ledge whilst assisting others to safety. This fire (the main cause of its rapid spread being the presence of suspended ceilings and unenclosed escalators) prompted the fire sections contained in the 1963 Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act - the clauses being modeled closely on the 1961 Factories Act.

Also in 1961, during the proceedings on the 1961 Licensing Act, opportunity was taken to table an amendment with the intention of giving fire authorities greater powers over club premises following the Bolton Top Storey Club fire in May of that year. In this fire nineteen people died - fourteen bodies were found in the club room and five of the people who jumped, or fell, into the adjacent river below also died.

A fire at the Rose and Crown Hotel, Saffron Walden on Boxing Day 1969 where 11 people died and a number of people were injured whilst escaping and 17 people were rescued by ladders, was one of a number of hotel fires which gave added impetus to the passing of the Fire Precautions Act in 1971.

The Fire Precautions Act 1971 (an enabling Act) came into effect.
“This Act shall come into operation on such day as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument appoint, and different dates may be appointed under this subsection for different purposes.” (FP Act 1971 Section 44(3))

Abstract: Report of the Cunningham Inquiry into the Work of the Fire Service

In 1972, hotels and boarding houses were the first premises to be designated as requiring a fire certificate under the act. (SI 1972:No 238)

The Fire Precautions (Factories, Offices, Shops and Railway Premises) Order 1976 (SI 1976 : No 2009)came into effect on the 1st January 1977 which required that certain premises falling into this category required a Fire Certificate.

Abstract: Future fire policy

Provision of means of escape from fire from houses in multiple occupation had been dealt with under Section 16 of the 1961 Housing Act (now controlled under Part X1 of the Housing Act 1985). However, following a number of serious fires, concern was expressed during the proceedings on the 1980 Housing Act about fire safety in hostels. As a result, the 1981 Housing (Means of Escape from Fire in Houses in Multiple Occupation) Order was made which provided that exercise by Local Authorities of their powers under the Housing Act should be mandatory for certain premises .

Following the fire on 11 May 1985 at the Bradford City football ground where 56 people died and many were seriously injured, a committee was set up to enquire into the operation of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975. The recommendations made in their final report resulted in changes introduced in the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987 and the revision of the Home Office Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds.

Abstract: Brightside lane warehouse fire (a report of the investigation by the Health and Safety Executive into the effects of the fire at the National Freight Consortium warehouse building, Brightside Lane, Sheffield, on 14 December 1984)

On the evening of Wednesday 18th November 1987 at 1932 hrs a serious fire occurred at the Kings Cross Underground Station which resulted in the loss of 31 lives. The Fire started under a wooden escalator and soon spread. As a result of this fire The Fire Precautions (Sub-surface Railway Stations) Regulations 1989 (Statutory Instrument 1989 No.1401) were made under Section 12 of the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and brought into effect on the 18th September 1989.

Abstract: Ministry of Defence: fire protection at main store depots (Fires at the central ordnance depot Donnington)

The Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 came into force on 1st December 1997.
These Regulations were amended which came into force on the 1st December 1999

The Fire Precautions (Workplace) (Amendment) Regulations 1999
Original SI 1997:1840 Complete with SI 1999:1877 Amendments
Precis of Employers Guide to the Workplace Regulations (As Amended)

These Regulations have been primarily made under Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 and give effect to the fire safety requirements of two European Council Directives adopted in 1989 (the Framework Directive 89/391/EEC) and (The Workplace Directive 89/654/EEC) the aim of which was to secure minimum safety and health requirements for the workplace.

The Regulations disapplies Section 9A of the Fire Precautions Act 1971 (as amended) in respect to those workplaces caught up by the Regulations, Section 9A still remains for those premises not effected.

A booklet entitled "Fire Safety: An Employers Guide " is available to help with the new Regulations.

The Fire Precautions (Workplace) (Amendment) Regulations 1999 (S.I. 1999 No. 1877), were laid before Parliament on 7 July 1999 and come into force on 1 December 1999. They amend the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 (S.I. 1997 No. 1840), which came into force on 1 December 1997. The Regulations, in their amended form, apply to the majority of workplaces where people are employed, including workplaces where a fire certificate is in force or for which an application for a fire certificate is pending under the Fire Precautions Act 1971.

The amending Regulations ("the 1999 Fire Regulations"), which were primarily made under the European Communities Act 1972, put beyond doubt the adequacy of the implementation (in Great Britain) of the fire safety requirements of two health and safety European Council Directives, 89/391/EEC and 89/654/EEC, adopted in 1989. The amendments:–

Confirm the unconditional nature of employers’ responsibilities towards safeguarding the safety of their employees in case of fire;

Extend the scope of the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 ("the 1997 Fire Regulations") by applying Part II of those Regulations (the substantive fire safety requirements) to some workplaces (where people are employed) which had previously been excepted from that application;

And modify the enforcement provisions of the 1997 Fire Regulations, replacing the hybrid system of those Regulations (which included civil sanctions in certain cases) in favour of a criminal sanctions only regime, and deleting the written notice of intent procedure in favour of the adoption of the principles set out in the Enforcement Concordat, which establishes the procedural safeguards for employers (and others) that participating enforcers, including fire authorities, will follow.

21 Century A dispute between the Fire Brigades' Union (FBU) and the employers concerning fire-fighters' pay in 2003 promted the Government of the day to bring in legislation on Fire Fighters pay and conditions of service (Fire Services Act 2003).

Section 1 of the act gives the Secretary of State the power by order to fix or modify conditions of service, including pay, of members of a fire brigade in England and Wales. Members of a fire brigade include whole-time members, who include all operational ranks, control room staff and non-operational staff, and part-time members, who include retained and volunteer members.

The Fire and Rescue Services Bill was published on January 13th 2004.

The Bill will drive forward the Government's modernisation agenda as set out in the White Paper 'Our Fire and Rescue Service'. The White Paper responded to the Independent Review of the Fire Service by Professor Sir George Bain which called for a new approach by the service to reduce fires and save more lives.

The Bill sets out the future of the fire and rescue service, how it is intend to deliver the service and make it more efficient and effective, and how the service provides public safety. It includes proposals for changes in the structure of the service; in the institutions of the service; and in the working practices and procedures of all those who work in the service.

The Fire and Rescue Services Act came into force on the 1st October 2004.