In September 1963, Lower School was fitted with its first fire alarm. 33 years later it was gutted by its first fire.

The fire was started by a couple of kids from the Doe Quarry Lane area, who set fire to a wall-mounted bin in the East Entranceway. It was the evening of Tuesday 20th August 1996, in the middle of the exam results fortnight. 

The fire spread rapidly on account of the open roof voids and all the wood. The arrow on the map above shows the direction of the worst of the fire, which took out the Technology stores, Classics and RE, before ripping through the heart of the school and gutting the halls and offices. There was little damage to the Western block, particularly externally, and the fire on the Top Corridor classrooms seems mainly to have been restricted to the roofs. 

Here's the following night's local news coverage of the fire (Calendar first, followed at 2'22" by Look North):

There's also this gallery of photos from the fire.

It's fair to say the fire caused something of an inconvenience. The 6th Form gave up a study space for use as a classroom, and Athorpe house-base was ultimately partitioned to the same end. Pat Norton (Pat Russell) (1958-62) writes of another impact of the blaze: "I did a 50th anniversary school reunion and the day before I went to the school to arrange it, the school burnt down. My son lived across the road and watched it go up, he said it was so quick no one could have stopped it. So that upset my plans but we had about 300 attended in the new school hall and a good time was had by everyone."

A matrix of inter-locking portakabins was erected to the east of the Maths Annexe as a stop-gap, and was mainly used by RE. The classrooms seemed better built than upper-school! The portakabins had been erected, and the ruins of Lower School levelled, prior to the start of the '96/'97 school year.

Before 1996, Lower School had had a number of near misses: 

In May 1940, Mrs Merchant triggered a gas explosion in a Housecraft room, though it seems not to have caused any serious damage. 

The Girls' Log Book contains a curious entry for 26th October 1940, which states that the school was closed due to a "time bomb" in the building. This entry is struck through with a single red line, and a note refers back to the entry for the 26th August, when bombs were dropped on Laughton and the pupils were sent home. The entries seem to be in the same hand, and the crossed-out remark is something of an enigma. It is fairly needless to say that the school survived the blitz unscathed. I think I'm right in saying that even the Laughton bombs failed to detonate.

From 30th July 1961 comes the following description of that year's Flower Festival: "With a hall full of children and parents, smoke was observed to be seeping through the woodwork!" The fire alarm was raised and the school evacuated. "The painters, using a blow lamp on outside boards, had ignited rotten wood which was smouldering... Mr Higgs and Mr Rayner crawled under the building with extinguishers. By the time the fire brigade arrived the danger was over."

On 27th September 1961, less than two months after the last scare, there was a fire in the drying cabinet of a Housecraft room, which ignited the woodwork of the wall and ceiling. The fire was noticed at 1230, and again Mr Higgs was on hand with the extinguisher. Little damage resulted. 

Another two months later it was National Fire Prevention Week. Yet it would be two years before the fire alarm was fitted.

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