C & A Modes

Princes Street

November 1955

C&A Modes, Princes Street  -  Fire 1955, View from Scott Monument

©  Scotsman Publications Ltd.   Click here for web site details.     Licensed by Scran,  Photo 02103241,
  Scran 000-000-038-541.      Date according to Scran: Nov 1951, but actually Nov 1955.  See Scotsman article below.


C & A Modes, Princes Street

View from Scott Monument

This photo was taken from the Scott Monument, with the roof of the department store ablaze.   Viewed from this height, the fire engine in Princes Street, below, looks almost like a toy vehicle!


Another Photo

View from Waverley Bridge

Here is a another photo of the 1955 fire, this one taken from Waverley Bridge:

C&A Modes, Princes Street  -  Fire 1955, View from Waverley Bridge ©



Report of the Fire

Looking Back

An article in  The Scotsman in 2007, looking back on the fire, reported:

Fire in C&A Modes Department Store
 in Princes Street, Edinburgh

November 1955

"In1955, Edinburgh firefighters battled the worst fire the city has seen for more than 100 years as flames ripped through the C&A Modes store on Princes Street.

So intense was the heat as the firemen directed their power hoses into the heart of the blaze that the building's metal window frames buckled.

And by the end of the day all that remained of the shop's stock were the charred dummies that stood in the burnt-out windows on the building's ground floor as the remnants of clothes smouldered about them.

The Scotsman, August 25, 2007

with acknowledgement to Bryan Gourlay, Biggar, Lanarkshire for finding the article above.




History of the Site


Renton's Drapery store once stood on this site, but was destroyed by fire in 1909.*  The Edinburgh Hotel was then built on the site;  this was the building destroyed by fire in 1955, having been occupied by C&A Modes since the 1930s.**  A new store was built on the site for C&A in 1956.**  This has now been demolished and replaced by yet another new store.

  * Source:  Evening News Nostalgia, 'Fires in Edinburgh': May 30, 2009

**  Source:  Edinburgh Architecture web site.



David Bain

Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England

Thank you to David Bain who wrote:

Clothes Sale

"I was only seven at the time of the fire in 1955, but there is one feature of the aftermath that sticks in my mind.

They had a fire sale afterwards and I remember seeing, as fast as the fire damaged bargains went out of the front door, more were being unloaded from lorries at the back!"

David Bain, Rotherham, South Yorkshire:  February 9, 2011



Danny Callaghan

Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland

Thank you to Danny Callaghan who wrote:

Another Fire

"I seem to recall that, the same night as the fire at C & A,= or the following night, there a was a fire in Jeffrey Street.   I think it then became the site for 1960s government office block of Ministry of Works, and is currently is Jury's Hotel."

Danny Callaghan, Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland:  February 16, 2011



Margaret Johnston

(née Slattery)


Thank you to Margaret Johnston who wrote:


"I was actually working at C&A at the time of the fire, having just left school in July at the age of 15.  It was very sad to see the place go up in flames.

We then moved to premises in Jeffrey Street until we could move back into the shop in Princes Street.

I remember our 'Fire Sales' and the horrible smell of smoke everywhere.  I worked for C&A until 1961 and have very happy memories of my time there."

Margaret Johnston (née Slattery), Australia:  July 4, 2011




Jim Suddon

Thank you to Jim Suddon who wrote:

The Photos

"I was looking at this photo of the fire at C&A Modes and the comment that the fire seemed to have been damped down. This was one of the strangest experiences I have ever had.

    C&A Modes, Princes Street  -  Fire 1955, View from Waverley Bridge ©

I was actually standing in the centre of the road leaning on a traffic bollard with my back to the camera. The date was November the 8th and the time of this photo would be 7.50 a.m."


"The reason I was there was that, as a boy, I was fascinated by firefighting.  This fascination was the result of one of my uncles being the fire master in Penicuik.  I used to visit him with my mother, his sister.

The fire master's house was also where the air raid siren was based and this doubled as the fire siren. I was able to sit on the fire engine and the whole process I found most thrilling."

Jeffrey Street Fire

"I used to deliver early morning rolls for Nairn the Baker from their Rodney Street Shop.  We started at 6.30 a.m. and on that morning the van was slightly late.  The driver informed he had stopped on the bridges to look at an enormous fire burning in Jeffrey Street.

I delivered the rolls in rapid quick time and jumped on a tram to the bridges. The fire was still burning fiercely but the building had collapsed across Jeffrey Street and over Market Street and some of the debris was on the railway. I went down the Scotsman Steps to get nearer but is was obvious that the spectacular part of the fire was over."

C&A Fire

"I decided that I would go home and set off to walk up the Waverley Bridge, but as I was passing the station carriageway someone shouted that C&A was on fire.

It was difficult to see that this was the case, but standing on the traffic island I saw that the window to my left had been burned out.  There were no flames but the clothes on the dummies were smouldering and burnt.

The fire engines arrived.  A ladder was put up to the balcony and three firemen climbed up and broke a window to allow entry.  At this point it looked as if some slight smoke was seeping from between the stones in the walls

A very old fashioned escape ladder arrived and parked at the side of Forsyths in St David's Street and a more modern escape ladder parked at the front. The firemen suddenly re-appeared and came down the ladder with great rapidity."

The Fire Takes Hold

"A small glow was seen to the left which in no time became a roaring fire, consuming the rows of clothes as it spread across the first floor, blowing the glass in the windows. The photo shown was taken just before this happened.

The building turned out to be ablaze from top to bottom.  So the  turntable ladder was set-up with the hoses pouring water into the building.  All this time the trams were running back and forth.  Some conductors just about fell off the cars trying to see what was happening; others just did not appear to notice at all."

The Crowd

"I was eventually moved to the pavement in front of the Old Waverley Market and the crowds grew and grew. What was strange was that there were stories in the crowd about there being numerous fires in Edinburgh:

-  'The Palace, Leith was ablaze.'

-  'A whisky bond was on fire in Gorgie.''

-  'The Lyceum Slateford had lost its roof.'

-  'The Glasgow Fire Brigade had  sent a fleet of fire engines which were on route to beleaguered Edinburgh.

All of this was nonsense, of course. The Evening papers picked up on this and it was an interesting experience.

I arrived home after nine to find my mother in a state of panic. There were no mobiles in those days and we did not have a phone at home either.

The Fire Continues to Burn

"The building burned on for the rest of the day.  By evening, it  was just a shell. By Saturday, wooden walkways were constructed in the shell and the shop held a fire sale. There were no health and safety rules in those days, and how nobody was injured was a miracle!

 The fire sale goods were being delivered in the back door as, to be sure, nothing much was left of the store's stock."

Jim Suddon:  August 19, 2012




Frank Ferri

Newhaven, Edinburgh

Thank you to Frank Ferri who wrote:

Fire Damaged Goods Sale

"I remember the C&A fire well. I was aged 20 at the time and I remember, a few days later, my mother coming home having gone to the C&A Modes fire damaged goods sale, loaded down with smoke-smelling clothes that she had bought dirt cheap, including a fur coat.  She had a field day."

Frank Ferri, Newhaven, Edinburgh:  August 20, 2012




Allan Brown

Newmarket, Ontario, Canada

Allan Brown also remembers this fire.

Allan wrote:

Fire Damaged Goods

"I was about six old at the time and was aware of the fire although I did not see it.

However, a few days later, I was visiting my aunt in Gilmerton and my cousin took me to the dump where some of the fire-damaged goods were deposited.

I could smell the smoke from the burnt items.  I got myself several 'toys' that had been dumped, but got into trouble when I showed them to my mother."

Allan Brown, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada:  August 20, 2012




Eileen Shay (née Byrne)

Florida, USA

Thank you to Eileen Shay for posting a message in the EdinPhoto guestbook.

Eileen wrote:

Fire Damaged Goods

"I worked at C & A's during the fire and remember standing on Princess Street watching the fire.  I was present at the fire sale when everything smelled of fire."

Eileen Shay (née Byrne), Florida, USA:  Message posted in EdinPhoto Guestbook, Oct 31, 2012

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