Not since the English had put the city to the torch in Henry VIII ’s reign had such a series of fires been seen in Edinburgh as those that raged on November 15 and 16 1824.
At about 10pm on November 15 flames were spotted coming from the second floor of a high building in the old Assembly Close. The rooms in question were rented by an engraver, and others in the area nearby were used by bookbinders, The Courant newspaper , and similar businesses whose stock provided ready fuel for the inferno. Although the fire brigade was called promptly (Edinburgh boasts the oldest municipal fire service in the world, founded in 1703) they had difficulty in setting up and did not begin to tackle the blaze until perhaps 11pm, by which time the entire building where the inferno began had caught fire. Worse, the buildings around it and on the old Fish Market began to burn.
By morning on November 16 the Tron Kirk, a 17th century church, had been engulfed by the flames: molten lead was said to have run in torrents into the streets making it dangerous to approach; a great bell in the church fell with a terrifying final clang as it hit the earth; the spire was totally destroyed.
Some distance away, too far for material from the first fire to have carried, in Parliament Square an 11th-floor attic was found to be ablaze: it was feared arsonists were at work, and the already anxious crowds that had gathered to watch the first fires became convinced that there was a plot against their city.
When the blaze was finally brought under control two of the huge tenements had been totally destroyed; 11 of those living there had died, and so had two of the firemen tackling the flames.
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