Photos emerge of devastating fire at historic firm’s Barrow HQ

RARE images have emerged showing a major fire which destroyed a prominent high street

property in Barrow.

The blaze broke out more than three decades ago in January 1986 at the Dalton Road

headquarters of historic family firm Wardgroup - which had been based at the town centre

location for a century.

The photos, from a carefully stored archive, show the intensity of the devastating incident which consumed not only the premises and stock, but the company’s entire system of records and files stretching back to its inception in 1872.

A total of six fire engines arrived at the scene from Barrow and the surrounding area as crews

fought to bring the flames under control.

However, the original shop front had already been completely destroyed, along with two upper floors and the roof above.

Roger Barrow, finance director at Wardgroup, remembers the incident well.

“The fire was very severe at the Dalton Road premises and everything was destroyed,” he said.

“Everything was filed on paper records then, there were no emails or information that could be recovered electronically.

“The office staff moved into the Emlyn Street premises of Ward Glass, the firm’s glazing

division, while the decorating arm eventually moved into rented premises in Cavendish Street.”

Mr Barrow added: “There was no choice but for everyone to get on with it and do what they

could to help the business recover.”

The fire was estimated at the time to have caused £150,000 of damage.

Its origins remained a mystery for two years.

Then, in 1988 police in the town received a confession from a 20-year-old man who revealed he had broken into the Dalton Road shop on that fateful night, lighting a match in order to see his way around.

Quickly, the painting and decorating division was back on its feet before Wardgroup moved

eventually to its current headquarters in James Freel Close on Furness Business Park.

Ian Noble, managing director of Wardgroup, explained the firm - one of the oldest in Barrow - is looking forward to celebrating its 150th anniversary in three years time.

“The photos show just how severe this fire was,” he added.

“Everything was destroyed, the stock, the building and all of our company records and files.

“There are still occasions today when we realise something that would have come in useful to us was lost in the Dalton Road fire.

“It’s testament to the efforts of the team at the time that everyone pulled together to make sure the business was able to get back on its feet.”