1984 blaze that destroyed What Every Woman Wants store in Kirkcaldy

A generation of shoppers will recall the name of What Every Woman Wants - the discount chain launched by Gerald and Vera Weisfield in Glasgow.

Friday, 7th January 2022, 10:18 am
Front page of the Fife Free Press covering the devastating fire
Front page of the Fife Free Press covering the devastating fire

At its peak, it had stores across the UK, including one on Kirkcaldy High Street.

December 1984 saw it destroyed by fire, and the company accused of over-stocking the building.

The store, in the west end of the High Street, was reduced to a burnt out shell in a blaze which caused damage out in excess of £500,000, and put several firemen in serious danger.

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The devastating damage done by the fire

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It started in a cupboard in the basement and ripped through the entire building, resulting in residents who lived in flats above it being evacuated.

Thankfully, their homes were not affected, but they had to spend the night with relatives as firemen tackled the blaze.

The entire two-story building at the rear of the shop was so badly damaged it had to be demolished.

Firemen in silhouette against the dramatic blaze

The fire was discovered shortly after 5:00pm, and, reported the Fife Free Press, the staff of 15 acted swiftly to clear the store of shoppers as manageress, Mrs Pauline Brown set off the fire alarm.

Ilona Matysiak, 18,m a pupil at Auchmuty High School, Glenrothes, helped clear the shop and then went to the flats with fellow assistant, Isla Falconer, Greenloanings, Kirkcaldy, to warn residents.

They, along with three others - Shirley Reid, Broom Road, Glenrothes; Moira Kelly, Maria Street, Kirkcaldy, and Linda Largent, Duncanson Drive, Burntisland, were taken to the Victoria Hospital suffering the effects of smoke inhalation, and allowed home after treatment.

Firemen at the scene of the blaze

Fife Fire Bridade was on the scene within minutes with three pumps and a hydraulic platform.

In the space of over an hour, as the blaze continued to take hold, this was increased to five pumps and then eight

As the fire reached its peak with flames shooting through the disintegrating roof, firemen had to flee to safety as they were almost engulfed in the flames

Firemaster John Thomson, who took command of the operation, told later how the building caved in around the firemen who were inside

They had to abandon equipment as they evacuated the building, using whistles to contact each other in the dense black smoke.

He said: “Three men in the basement were very lucky to get out alive.”

They scrambled to a fire door leading into a garden but one, George Davies, received injuries from flying glass and was taken to hospital

The High Street closed from Nicol Street to Charlotte Street and remained blocked on the Sunday morning

The Press reported that a discarded cigarette was not ruled out as the cause of the blaze, but the firemaster said the exact reasons may never be known because of the extent of the damage.

The shop did manage to recover the day’s takings of “many thousands of pounds” from an office near the front which was relatively undamaged.

The following week, the Firemaster called a press conference to issue a blunt warning to all traders on the dangers of over-stocking and congestion.

He said the problems had contributed to a large measure to the extent of the damage - a claim strongly denied by the business owners.

He said: “The fire was discovered quickly, but because of the amount of stock and the congestion it got hold before we were able to tackle it properly

“The stock - much of it plastic and toys - also fuelled the fire and made it difficult for us to move around when inside.”That sparked a sharp response from Vera Weisfield, managing director, who said she was “absolutely shocked” at the claims.

She said fire officers had visited just seven days before the fire - on a very busy day - and left “highly delighted.”

She said: “Any criticism should be directed at whoever started the fire”

“I can understand the the firemaster would want to warn other stores on the dangers of fires, and I would endorse that warning, but his references to our store in Kirkcaldy are unfair.”

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