The Collapse of Redmans


The collapsed Redmans store, image courtesy of the Blackpool Gazette & Herald

Does anyone in Blackpool remember the Redmans store which once stood in Bank Hey Street? The original three storey grocery shop with its integral café was somewhere on the site of the later Chelsea Girl boutique chain store, between the jewellers H.Samuels at the corner and Owens, now W.H. Smiths. It was from the BHS building site that the first rescuers ran around the corner late one day in 1956. Hearing a sudden 'dull explosion' followed by the sounds of tumbling masonry, workmen raced towards the Redmans store, the Blackpool branch of a national chain. They were followed within minutes by police, firemen, newspaper reporters and the few passers-by lingering in the area after the shops closed on the Friday.

Saturday's edition of the Blackpool Gazette and Herald reported that sometime around 1730 on Friday 29th June 1956, the Redmans store unexpectedly collapsed 'like a pack of cards', spilling three floors of its interior into the street below. Sharing party walls with neighbouring shops, it was the only structure to fall. Within seconds, parked cars were buried beneath flying rubble, wood splinters, bricks and dust, the pavements strewn with shoes, toys, utensils and furnishings the accident had thrown outdoors from inside the shop.

The papers agreed that fifteen women had been injured or treated for shock at Victoria Hospital. Their names were printed in the press. Fortunately, there was only one death reported, a woman, who was still being identified over the weekend. She was later named as Amy Hardwick, an employee of Wilcock's drapery on nearby Abingdon Street. She lived at South Shore's Windermere Road but was at Redmans on the day the building fell, dying under rubble and debris.

The cellar was apparently first to 'buckle', sharply forcing the shop core and frontage outwards before the heavy masonry and brickwork overhead immediately began to topple, 'crashing' downwards onto Bank Hey Street. The owner, Albert Redman, had died only a few years earlier after taking over the shop in 1943. Only eleven years after the end of the war, another scene of sudden, fatal destruction involved ordinary people in their home towns.

Just like the injured females, names of some of the men involved were also recorded. Brave foreman, Alf Millership, had undoubtedly saved many lives by dashing to the front of the store to warn of its imminent collapse. A Mr. E.J. Gunson, manager and later branch inspector, was on call all weekend to assist the rescue, tidy up and update journalists.

Fire crews and workmen survey the wreckage, image courtesy of the Blackpool Gazette & Herald

By Monday 2nd July 1956 newspaper headlines were celebrating 'getting back to normal', workmen climbed up neatly assembled scaffolding and barriers were in place around the disaster zone so that the legions of tourists flooding into Blackpool over the weekend could walk by the scene safely. Meanwhile journalists, discovering a crack in walls adjoining H. Samuels, had noted missing jewellery totalling thousands of pounds. Reports about Redmans continued all that week. From inside a café room a safe, which someone had witnessed fall, was removed together with wage packets and 'a quantity of money'.

Local newshounds responded to the Redmans disaster quickly, tourists arrived in thousands and restorations were swift. The new store that rose from the wreckage is recorded in the media on the 26th July 1957. Designed by architect Charles E. Jackson, this 600-seater café and restaurant was given a shiny faience façade in similar greens and creams to the corporation trams which ran along the promenade. With state-of-the-art equipment and interiors freshly redecorated in blue, cream and red, or limed oak tiles and plastic furnishings, 120 uniformed staff worked from 0700 until 2330 in Redmans new three-storey café with restaurant, on exactly the same spot.

The wealth of renovation along Bank Hey Street and nearby roads over the last two or three decades means that matching old photographs to the present pedestrian precinct is virtually impossible. Vanished are those buildings, those roofs, shop fronts and individual features. Strolling through the town's walkways today, heritage sleuths can if they look upwards, high above the busy shopfronts, hoarding and signage, see evidence of Blackpool's solidly Victorian and Edwardian past. The relief sculptures, emblems and coats or arms gracing the upper walls or corners of many urban buildings are still there, just waiting to be admired as much for their longevity as for aesthetics. Something of the Redmans cream and green façade can be detected from the old bricks and glass renovated store, which has not traded for many decades now. In the rear courtyard, all is new brick, except for next door's W.H. Smiths which retains one partial wall of creamy faience tiling. This modernized, vibrant seaside town of entertainment, shopping, leisure and business guards its secrets closely, but its talent lies in the presentation, the show-business, the sheer theatricality of life. The story of Redmans and the people connected with the shop, of its collapse and revitalization is certainly worth our reading time.

Lynne Charoenkitsuksun

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