The Great Hudson Street Fire

The Great Hudson Street Fire

The Great Hudson Street Fire was quite an event.

Scores of people watched 50 firemen from Rochdale, Oldham, Bury, Heywood and Littleborough fight a spectacular fire in Hudson Street on Tuesday night, the 21st, at the premises of Rochdale Motor Panel and Engineering Limited.

Within minutes of the outbreak being spotted, the whole of  the three-story premises was a raging inferno, and as a full compliment of  the Rochdale Borough Fire Brigade made their way to the fire, they could see the glowing the sky as flames shot 40ft in the air above the roof.

“We could see we were in for a tough job as we raced to the scene” said one fire officer on Tuesday night. “Flames were shooting through the roof and the first and second floors were well alight”. Outside help was called and machines from Oldham, Bury, Heywood and Littleborough were soon on the spot.

In less than an hour the outbreak was brought under control, but extensive damage was caused to the building, the roof, the second and first floors being severely damaged by fire, whilst the ground floor suffered from heat and water damage.

The premises are owned by Mr Frank Butterworth of 7 Woodfield Avenue, Rochdale, and Mr Harry Smith of 665 Oldham Road, Rochdale, who, with nine employees, are engaged in manufacturing fibreglass car bodies.

One of their specialities is the body named ‘Rochdale’ which is well known throughout the country by racing drivers and sports car enthusiasts. Another speciality is the ‘Olympic’ which is gaining a reputation overseas and for which the firm have received many orders from abroad.

The fire was first spotted just after 7.30pm by Mrs Binns of 14 Peel Street, who noticed a red glow in the works. She ran to the home of her daughter, Mrs Margaret Grant, who lives next door but one to the building at 10 Hudson Street and is employed in a clerical capacity. Mrs Grant then ran to a shop on Spotland Road and telephoned for the Fire Brigade from there.

Most of the nearby residents were unaware of what was happening. Mrs Wild of 12 Hudson Street, whose house is divided from the works by a narrow passage, was watching ‘Emergency Ward 10’ on her TV set when someone knocked on the door. It was a policeman who advised her to leave, as there was a possibility that the flames might cross the gap and a small amount of debris was falling into the yard.

“I didn’t hear anything” she told an ‘Observer’ reporter, “but I noticed funny noises coming from my TV”.

Mr Charles Stocks of 8 Hudson Street, who had settled down for a quiet evening with his radio, also answered a knock on the door. Outside were a number of firemen who politely asked: “Can we run our hose-pipes through your house?

Mr Stocks then saw that the works were on fire and he readily agreed. The hoses were run through the living room and kitchen and out at the back door so the fire could be tackled from the rear.

The hosepipes used were of a special type, lined with rubber and waterproofed to prevent water damage, and after an hours use, Mr Stocks carpet was still quite dry.

On Wednesday morning, Fire Brigade officials told Mr Stocks that if he wished, his carpet would be cleaned and that any mess that had been caused would also be cleared up.

The Great Hudson St Fire Rochdale Motor Panels
Rochdale Motor Panels Hudson St Rochdale Feb 1961

At the height of the outbreak, firemen entered the building and dragged clear several fibreglass car bodies. They were then told that in a storeroom near the office were four oxygen cylinders which were in danger of exploding.These were quickly removed, and although the flames had not got to them the cylinders were quite hot.

Mr Butterworth on Wednesday paid tribute to the work of the firemen saying: “They were wonderful. Everything that could be salvaged was salvaged and I was amazed at their courage in entering the building with the flames licking round them”.Mr Butterworth, who had been working overtime, and had left the

premises only half an hour before the fire was discovered, returned to the scene. He too went into the offices and managed to recover the firm’s records and other papers.

Mr Harry Smith, who along with his partner Mr Butterworth, stood watching the blaze, sadly remarked: “There goes ten years work in ten minutes”.

On Wednesday morning it was learned that although the moulds for the car bodies had been destroyed, all was not lost, for amongst the fibreglass bodies recovered were a couple of ‘Olympic’ models. The firm will now be able to make a new mould using one of these as a prototype.

“We want to get fresh premises as quickly as possible. We have a lot of orders to fulfil both for home and abroad and want to get cracking at once” said Mr Butterworth.

In the meantime, the employees were busy in the wrecked building clearing up and salvaging what parts they could and Mrs Grant was carrying on office duties from her own home.

It afterwards appeared that the fire started in a corner of the workshop on the first floor and spread quickly, travelling up an open staircase to the upper floors and igniting a 50-gallon container of liquid resin.

The Great Hudson Street Fire
Rochdale Motor Panels Hudson St Rochdale Feb 1961

Two ‘virgin’ bodyshells were rescued by the firemen whilst they struggle to control the inferno. Although the factory in Hudson Street was absolutely gutted, Rochdale Motor Panels quickly found temporary premises in Duke Street where new Olympic moulds were made. The following year, they finally moved to Littledale Street.

Reprinted from the ROCHDALE OBSERVER, SATURDAY FEBRUARY 25 1961 Issue 9,341

Information kindly supplied by Tony Stanton from the Rochdale Owners Club

Click HERE for more info and photos on Rochdale Motor Panels LTD

Click HERE to visit The Rochdale Owners Club Website

If anyone can remember Rochdale Motor Panels in Hudson Street or Littledale Street, Tony would love to hear from you.

Please contact  Tony Stanton at:



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