The Anonymous Widower

Thoughts On The Tragedy At Grenfell Tower

As a family, C, myself and our three boys used to live in a tower block. Admittedly, Cromwell Tower was an upmarket tower in the Barbican. I wrote about the tower in Cromwell Tower.

Cromwell Tower was designed around a concrete core in a brutalist style in the 1960s, just like Grenfell Tower.

Cromwell Tower had a network of passages that allowed escape to the floors underneath. I suspect that Grenfell Tower had similar passages.

But there were differences.

  • Cromwell Tower had a higher standard of interior finish.
  • Every flat in Cromwell Tower has a wide airy balcony.
  • Cromwell Tower has no gas.
  • Cromwell Tower was designed for high net worth tenants, whereas Grenfell Tower was a Council block.

As both blocks were designed around the same time, I suspect that they were designed to the same set of regulations.

So why did Grenfell Tower catch fire?

These are possible reasons.


I don’t like gas, as one thing I remember from working at ICI in the 1960s, is that how powerful a gas explosion can be.

Naked gas flames also are a major cause of asthma, as they create oxides of nitrogen.

But if we had had gas in Cromwell Tower and there had been a leak, the escape passages would have been an ideal way for the gas to spread through the tower.

For these and other reasons, I believe strongly, that all multiple occupancy housing should not be connected to a gas supply.

I’ve also heard that view from a Chief Fire Officer in Suffolk.

The Design And Execution Of The Upgrade

Was it done to high enough standards?

The Cladding

\Suspicion is falling on the cladding of the building.


How friendly was the building to smokers?

Have we really learned the lessons of the past?

The Summerland Disaster

In 1971, over fifty people were killed in a fire on the Isle of Man in the Summerland Disaster. This is Wikipedia’s summary.

The Summerland disaster occurred when a fire spread through the Summerland leisure centre in Douglas on the Isle of Man on the night of 2 August 1973. Between fifty and fifty-three people were killed and eighty seriously injured

I know it wasn’t a tower block, but I think that there are common issues.

Under Background this is said.

Summerland was opened on 25 May 1971. It was a climate-controlled building covering 3.5 acres (1.4 ha) on Douglas’s waterfront, consisting of 50,000 sq ft (4,600 m2) of floor area at a cost of £2 million. The building’s hull and the interior were designed by two different architects—they did not match their planning to each other and thereby created a venue with significant fire risks that were only to become apparent later.

So did the architects of the upgrade do a proper job? Did they have any co-operation with the original architects.

The same Background section also says this.

Summerland was designed to accommodate up to 10,000 tourists and comprised a dance area, five floors of holiday games, restaurants and public bars. It was a 1960s concrete design incorporating advanced controlled internal climate, built with novel construction techniques using new plastic materials. The street frontage and part of the roof was clad in Oroglas, a transparent acrylic glass sheeting.

Note the use of Oroglas cladding, which is still made today.

At the time of the Summerland disaster, I was working at ICI Plastics, who made a similar acrylic sheet called Perspex. As I look around my kitchen, I see various applications of this or similar plastics.

In several places in one ICI chemical works, Perspex windows were used, as there was the occasional small explosion and you didn’t want to shower people in glass fragments.  But they were clearly marked Perspex Window – Fire Hazard.

So the problems of acrylic were clearly known at the time and yet, acrylic sheet was used to clad the building. One ICI Perspex expert told me, that Perspex shouldn’t be used to clad buildings.

So was the cladding itself a fire risk at Grenfell Tower because an inappropriate material was used, just as at Summerland?

Under Fire, this is said.

The fire started around 7:30 p.m. on 2 August 1973, and was caused by three boys who were smoking in a small, disused kiosk adjacent to the centre’s miniature golf course.

So was smoking, one of the causes of the fire, just as it was in the Summerland disaster?

We don’t seem to have learned much from the Summerland disaster.


I’m led back to gas being the cause of the original fire, as there is nothing energetic enough to cause such a fierce fire.

It is also stated in various media articles, that there were problems with the gas.

June 15, 2017 - Posted by | World | , , ,


  1. The tale on social media yesterday was that a fridge had exploded in a flat on 4th floor, causing the initial fire. But it doesn’t sound likely, so I suspect it was either a rumour, or someone’s fridge exploded because of the fire. Whatever the cause, it is a disgrace that people in any area, let alone the richest borough in in UK are living in dangerous housing.

    Comment by nosnikrapzil | June 15, 2017 | Reply

  2. I read with interest the connection you’ve made with the Summerland fire of 1973. I live on the Isle of Man and have for a number of years been active in raising awareness of this huge tragedy which I watched aged19 – 50 people were killed (11 under the age of 19 years) and almost a hundred injured. In the main these were holidaymakers from the UK. SL was the island’s answer to declining tourism to package hols. The main contributory factor to the fire was not the plastic sheeting (Oroglas) but Galbestos which was bitumen coated cladding which was substituted as a cheaper alternative to reinforced concrete.. When the burning kiosk fell against the Galbestos walls the ensuing fire built up very quickly within the cavity, spreading around the north side of the building, there was an explosion and a firewall spread from the north side right through the building towards the main exit. The 3,000 people inside had been told not to panic (Trust Houses Forte were operating SL but hadn’t ensured their staff adequate fire safety training and had fitted out the internals of the building with largely flammable materials). The fire alarm wasn’t sounded or brigade alerted (the system was connected to Douglas fire station but the lady in the operations room didn’t know how to operate it). A passing taxi driver and man in a boat in the bay alerted the fire brigade. There was then total panic, the two stairways up to the levels above very quickly burnt through cutting off escape, people resorted to throwing their babies and kids to those on the ground floor. There were 7 exits from SL, none were signed, 3 had been padlocked. The Oroglas caught fire and rained molten fire bombs onto the people below. When the brigade arrived there was nothing they could do but save the Aquadrome connected to SL. Within 25 minutes the building had gone. No one answered for this crime. Elected reps in the Isle of Man Government did not ensure robust fire and building legislation was in place before allowing this huge plastic hangar with combustible cladding walls to be opened; Douglas Council who owned SL issued a waiver to their bye-laws so Oroglas (instead of glass) and Galbestos (instead of concrete) could be installed, and Trust Houses Forte’s failings meant there was nothing in that building which would have aided those inside to get out safely and without panic. This disaster has been virtually airbrushed out of history. I hold a one min’s silence on the anniversary and a SL Memorial Concert and am actively campaigning to have a memorial built on the site which has been derelict for 10 years. I hope those responsible for the Tower fire and other buildings will be held accountable, which never happened for those killed or affected by the SL fire. If you’re interested in knowing more my FB page is Best regards, Tina Brennen.

    Comment by summerlandtoday | June 27, 2017 | Reply

  3. Thanks for that!

    As I said, I worked at ICI at the time and we had a lot of discussions about the design. I have a feeling that some of the causes of the Summerland disaster are mirrored in Grenfell Tower. Inadequate supervision and getting a building constructed at all costs for starters.

    I used to live by Moorgate station and the disaster there is imprinted on my mind. It is still mainly unexplained.

    As Moorgate has a memorial, then surely Summerland needs one!

    Comment by AnonW | June 27, 2017 | Reply

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