The Music Hall on Union Street, one of the town’s most important venues for public meetings and entertainments, escaped destruction but suffered damage, requiring extensive renovation and repair. The Courier has the best description of how this important building was saved.

Initial speculations about the cause of the fire were cautious, though it seemed clear that it was made much worse by the municipal gas supply.

When the crowds began to disperse, the Courier describes how:

“…the spectators went home between four and five o’clock in the fresh lovely summer morning, breathing the dewy atmosphere, scarcely tainted by the smoke of the destructive fire.”

In these days of instant breaking news and the immediacy of social media, it is perhaps surprising to realise that news of the fire did not spread throughout the community until the next day. As the Courier says:

“A great many people in the town were quite unaware of what had happened until they went to church in the forenoon. Then, if they approached near the scene, they saw the hose and the blackened buildings. Some heard nothing of the disaster until reference was made in prayer from the pulpit to a calamity that had befallen the town. Though the numbers present at the fire were large, perhaps it was still more astonishing that so many remained in total ignorance of it until the forenoon was well advanced.”

The Courier also noted the prevalence of looting:

In the hustle and excitement of the moment opportunity was taken by the evil-disposed persons present to help themselves freely to the goods which were being rescued from the shops and houses in danger. Beer and whisky from the Royal Hotel were consumed, and not a few left their old hats behind and treated themselves to a new rig-out at Mr Hall’s expense. In some cases a fit was not at once secured, but parties managed to profit by an exchange.”

The Northern Chronical also addressed this subject:

It is said that a great amount of looting was carried on by some persons in the crowd. Any person who felt so disposed had ample opportunities of doing so, as most people appeared intent in watching the progress which the fire was making. It is said that a party carried away the whole side of a bullock, and divided the spoil at the Black Bridge… The bar of the Royal Hotel was visited, and the acquaintance of the hat rack made. All the beer got in one of the lodging houses destroyed was consumed, and it is said that a large share of the stuff thrown from the windows, with the view to its being saved, was taken away by pilferers.”

The Courier returned to this topic in its next issue, on 28th June:

“One of the most discreditable things in connection with the great fire in town is the extensive amount of “petty thieving” which was carried on. Under pretence of affording assistance to the alarmed occupants of the burning premises, a number of mean rascals pilfered everything they could conveniently carry away. Boxes of cigars, jars of liquor, ready-made suits, hats, and legs of mutton were taken quite promiscuously…Roast mutton will be the piece de resistance in certain local quarters for a few days to come.”

“…a great seething furnace,
with a thousand
fiery tongues…”

The Courier also gives space to “Impressions of an Eye-Witness”, who indulges himself with more graphic prose:

“The Market was almost instantly transformed from a dark and dismal-looking glass-roofed court, locked up in itself by ponderous iron gates, into a great seething furnace, with a thousand fiery tongues, whose touch was death and destruction.”

There is a lot more in the same vain. He is more forthcoming in his criticism of the fire-fighters: “Public opinion, which is as a rule pretty correct, is that the Brigade requires new men and new methods.” He also notes widespread looting: “Petty thefts of the most barefaced kind were committed wholesale.”

The Scottish Highlander also covered the fire extensively and was equally outraged by incidences of looting:

“Among the many strange episodes none were more disgraceful than the conduct of some thievish rascals who, in the bustle and excitement of the moment, helped themselves freely to the articles which were being removed from the shops and houses in danger. The bar of the Royal Hotel came in for a full share of patronage, beer, whisky, and expensive wines, being freely consumed.”

“…butcher, baker, grocer
flesher, greengrocer, gamedealer, bookseller, ice-cream manufacturer…”

The Market shops which lost everything were listed in the papers as follows:

1 Alexander Maclennan, butcher
3 Mrs Witherspoon, baker
7 and 9 James Munro, greengrocer
13 and 15 Duncan Macgregor, grocer
17 John Paterson, butcher
19 John Trigg, seedsman
21 and 23 Ewen Macdonald, flesher
25, 27, and 29 Duncan Fraser, grocer
31 and 33 Donald Macdonald, flesher
35 Mrs Hughes, grocer
37 to 47 – Stalls occupied by various dealers

2 A. & D. Macdonald, fleshers
Stall, Mrs Junor, fancy goods dealer
14 John Macgillivray, flesher
16 and 18 Urquhart & Co., fleshers
20 W. G. Watson, grocer
22 and 24 David C. Reid, flesher
26 John Noble, grocer
28 Mrs Macleay, fancy goods dealer
30 Alexander Barclay, greengrocer
32 Robert Kelt, gamedealer
34 Neil Macdonald, flesher
36 to 41 Stalls – George Young, bookseller
Ann Maclennan, greengrocer
Ewen Gillies, greengrocer
Mrs Mackintosh, greengrocer
Joseph Marello, ice-cream manufacturer

The Union Street premises affected were:
8 George Hallam Hall, tailor and clothier
10 John S. Christie, hotel-keeper, Royal Hotel
12 Macdonald Brothers, fleshers
14 The Singer Manufacturing Company’s Office
16 William Mackintosh, architect
Frederick A. Black, solicitor
Mrs Macdonald, lodging-house keeper
18 William Ogston, chemist and druggist
20 Mrs Patillo, fish, game and poultry dealer
22 David Munro, collector of poor rates
Alexander Macgregor, solicitor
Robert Black, C.E., and architect
Colin J. Mackintosh, artist
Robert Christie, tailor and clothier
Mrs Sutherland, ladies’ nurse
Mrs F. Henderson, jacket maker
Misses Stewart, dressmakers
Mrs Paterson, lodging-house keeper
Donald Ross, baker
Mrs Macdonald
24 Sinnot & Co., drapers
Market Entry – Francis Murray & Co., fleshers
26 Thomas Fraser, draper
30 Henry Mitchell, dispensing chemist
Music Hall
34 Charles Freeman, fishmonger and game dealer
36 Alexander Cowan, wine and brandy merchant
38 Christie & Son, confectioners

It’s perhaps worth noting that ‘flesher’ is an old-fashioned word for a butcher, used to suggest that they were a traditional butcher, with undertones of quality and customer service.

The Town Council met on 24th June, sympathised with those who had suffered losses, and agreed that there needed to be a lot more discussion about what to do next. As an emergency measure, they agreed that to assist “country women” and that their “butter and eggs should be sold meantime on the Exchange, and the fish in Academy Street.”

It did not take long for the Council to decide that the New Market had to be rebuilt, but it took a lot longer than they thought. The Council was able to make an insurance claim for the building – though not for the contents – but it was a complicated and somewhat acrimonious affair, involving months of reports and correspondence, before the situation was resolved and rebuilding could begin. It was resolved to rebuild with an iron framework, rather than using flammable wood for the roof struts. They made the very modern mistake of awarding the contract to the lowest bidder, a Glasgow foundry, rather than to one of the local iron foundries, which led to long delays, especially when everybody was expecting the building to be finished in the spring of 1891. In the end, it reopened in September of that year.

We will be re-opening on Monday 13th July. There will be some changes when you visit, including directional signage and a one-way system in Market Hall. We kindly ask that you follow all guidance issued by each business as they welcome you back. Our accessible toilet will remain closed for the time being and unfortunately dogs will not be allowed in for now, with the exception of guide or support dogs. Our revised opening hours are Monday to Saturday 7am – 6pm Sunday 10am – 4pm Our website is to be updated shortly with further details on each of our businesses. You can follow us on Facebook for further information Thank you for shopping local and supporting our independent businesses