At 5.55 pm on Wednesday 22nd September 1965 smoke was observed billowing out of Grocers’ Hall. A fire, which started under the staircase, had been drawn rapidly upward via the lift shaft to the upper part of the building. The first fire engine, delayed by heavy traffic conditions, arrived at 6.15 pm. Though no-one was killed the House Steward’s two daughters, aged 15 and 12, had to be rescued from the roof. As the Court Minutes record, with ‘great gallantry ... a Clerk … from the Midland Bank ... stretched a ladder between the buildings bridging a 10 foot gap, with an 80 foot drop below’, and with the assistance of a fireman, in thick smoke, brought the girls to safety. The Lord Mayor visited the Hall that night and offered the facilities of the Mansion House to the Company, and gave shelter to the House Steward and his family.
No less than 82 fire engines arrived at the scene, and within just two hours over 150 firefighters, four of whom were injured, brought the blaze under control. Only the damaged North Wing was left standing. Access to it was gained by members of the Hall staff shortly after 9 pm, when it was confirmed that the strong rooms were intact, and that the collection of glass in the Library was safe, but the Company’s charters had been burnt and the pictures in the Livery Hall, Court Room and Drawing Room were either lost or so badly damaged as to be irretrievable. Described as one of the largest fires in the City since the Blitz by the New York Times, the conflagration was caught on film by Reuters. Forensic specialists from Scotland Yard, in consultation with the Fire Prevention Officer of the City Corporation, were able to state with confidence that the fire began ‘in the cupboard under the half landing of the main staircase’ and had probably been caused by an electrical fault. The Court met at Mercers’ Hall the following morning to take stock, and acknowledged ‘the early receipt of a telegram from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’ which was read to the Court and received with heartfelt gratitude’.
This link to the London Fire Brigade Instagram page shows firefighters tackling the blaze from the roof of Grocers' Hall that day.