"THE FIRE AT MESSRS. Collards'.
Again, an instance where twenty or thirty thousand pound's-worth of property might have been saved from conflagration had the example been followed which was set in the Portsmouth Woodmills half a century ago, and which has been so often described and adverted to in the Mechanics' Magazine.
The Messrs. Collards' great piano-forte manufactory has been burnt down, though (it is said) that when the fire was first discovered, it was confined to a couple of work-benches.
Had there been in this building pipes and hose leading from a reservoir of water on the roof, as in the Portsmouth Wood-mills, the burning benches might immediately have been drenched with water, and thus, in all probability, extension of the flames have been prevented.
This conflagration at the Messrs. Collards is said to have been extremely rapid by reason of the air rushing up the two staircases, in addition to that supplied by a large open space from top to bottom in the centre of the building. The air from these several air-shafts caused the flames to play round and round the interior of the structure with irrepressible fury.
Such a central well affords great convenience both for the elevation and descent of goods, and for inspection of the several workshops on the panopticon principle, thus rendering a similar convenience desirable in many an extensive manufactory; but there can be no reason for leaving that well open at night from top to bottom, or for not providing means for closing it at pleasure at the level of each floor by day as well as night.
In the Albion-mills, destroyed by fire some sixty years ago, there was a similar well for hoisting up sacks of corn, and at the level of each floor there was a trap-door which every sack opened as it rose, and the flaps fell again of themselves as soon as the sack had passed.
Here was a useless loss of power in opening the trap for every successive sack, and the flaps being of wood afforded little security against fire; but surely in such buildings it would be well worth providing flaps of metal, inclosing some slowly - conducting matter-tile, for example, - and capable of being open or shut at pleasure.
As to staircases, it has already been suggested in Nos. 1855 and 1439 of the Mechanics' Magazine, that they should be in many cases external instead of, as is customary, within the building itself. For a circular building, especially, the projection requisite for this accommodation might easily be designed so as to break the monotony of the circle, and to afford a grace to the whole structure.
Appearance should, in fact, be but a secondary consideration in manufacturing buildings, but when beauty can be given without inconvenience or extra cost, there can be no reason for not affording it. In point of convenience, an external staircase might be constructed so as to give ": facility for internal communication. Supposing the factory to be circular, a single passage from the staircase on each floor leading to its centre might communicate with a central gallery opening to all the radial workshops. The requisite quantum of passage-way might thus be less in amount than in the usual mode.
Were a double stair desirable, an example was exhibited in the Crystal Palace of a means of affording it in a single block.
This late disaster has shown the inefficiency of concrete as a fire-proof material when exposed to long-continued intense heat; for although at the Messrs. Collards' factory the concrete floor stood firm and undecomposed for many hours, the calcareous part of it was burnt to lime by the excessive heat above it, so that this floor at length gave way, and fire amongst the materials under it broke out afresh.
Ascertainment of the best materials for floors in a manufactory, and the best mode of constructing them, are still desiderata.
The disaster at Messrs. Collard's has shown that concrete is not to be depended on; all floors constructed with bricks, solid or hollow, if they be united by means of a calcareous cement, are liable to destruction by fire by the burning of the calcareous matter to lime; floors paved with, or composed of, £ of metal have been found unealthy to operatives, on account of the rapid heat conducting power of all metals.
Would the contraction and expansion of a metal floor by different degrees of heat be too considerable to admit of laying tiles in cement upon it ? M. S. B." The Mechanics' Magazine Museum, Register, Journal, and Gazette, 03/01/1852, p. 6
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