On the 16th of May in few days time, it will be the 53rd anniversary of a terrible tragedy that rocked London’s east-end – a disaster that influenced major changes in the construction industry and in particular, building regulations and standards.
Last week London Shoes set out to track down (as near as possible) the site of the “Ronan Point – Tower Block” disaster of 1968, in Canning Town–London E16.
Ronan Point was a 22 story tower block in the Canning Town district of east London.
It was one of many high rise tower blocks built throughout the 1960’s to house those Londoners that were living in very old properties in areas that were designated for post-war slum clearance and redevelopment. Also, tower blocks such as Ronan Point addressed accommodation issues around London’s ever increasing population at that time.
Ronan Point was constructed of prefabricated sections of concrete that were then bolted together. This particular construction design and style was very popular at the time as it was cheap, and quite acceptable within the current Building Regulation standards.
The construction of Ronan Point started in 1966 and was completed in March 1968.
The tower block was named after a Harry Ronan, who was the Deputy Mayor of the London Borough of Newham, and a former chairman of the borough’s Housing Committee.
The Ronan Point tower block had only been formally opened a few weeks when at 05:45 on the 16th May 1968 – resident ‘Ivy Hodge’ went into the kitchen of her lovely new 18th floor flat, and lit a match to light her gas cooker, to make an early morning cuppa.
Lighting the match caused a gas explosion that blew out the exterior load bearing walls, which had been supporting the 4 flats above Ivy’s.
It is believed that weaknesses in the joints of the prefabricated concrete walls that caused the outer flank walls to fall away, leaving the flats above unsupported – causing the south-east corner of the tower block to crash downwards, taking all the other flats below, with them.
Fortunately, 3 of the 4 flats above, were unoccupied, as the tower block had only been officially opened a few weeks before, and not all the flats had been taken up.
However – 4 of the 260 tenants in residence at Ronan Point on that morning – were killed instantly, and a further 100 or more were seriously injured, let alone left mentally scarred.
Ironically Ivy Hodge, whose kitchen it was that exploded – survived the entire ordeal, because the blast threw her backwards to the inner wall side of her kitchen, and onto a ledge that didn’t collapse.
Apparently, it is said that when Ivy Hodge was re-housed following the tragedy, she took her old gas stove with her.
In the immediate aftermath of the disaster the Government commissioned an official Enquiry.
The Government Enquiry reported that, although the prefabricated concrete sections used to build Ronan Point were within the current Building Regulations, particular potential dangers/risks were highlighted in certain circumstances such as possible exposure fire / excessive wind pressure / small explosions.
Following the disaster, the Ronan Point tower block was ‘patched-up’ securely using strengthened joints, and continued to be occupied.
The effect of the Ronan Point tragedy and the subsequent Government Enquiry, led to building regulations being changed considerably, to ensure that similar disasters using the type of construction material used to build Ronan Point – never happened again. These changes actually reverberated in construction throughout the world not just Britain.
The Ronan Point disaster was well covered-off by the media, not just in this country – and it raised a lot of discussion and concern – and as a result, the public’s confidence in high rise tower blocks became virtually non-existent.
In 1984 the old revamped Ronan Point was completely demolished, as was the entire 9 block Freemason Estate that it was a part of – and the entire area was redeveloped with newly outlined roads full of 2 storey houses & flats, most of which had their own back gardens.
The old Ronan Point tower block site is today roughly in the centre of today’s ‘Butchers Road’ at its junctions with Ford’s Park Road & Ashburton Road, or thereabouts – and it was London Shoes quest to venture out and track down the former site of the Ronan Point tragedy of 1968 and blog its story.
I personally find it extremely disappointing that there is no memorial on display to commemorate those that lost their lives or were affected by the Ronan Point disaster.
In 2018 on the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, survivors, or their family members, ex-residents and members of public met up in Butchers Road to lay a wreath on a small strip pf grass verge close to where the original site was – to commemorate those that lost their lives and to remember the tragedy and the far reaching effect it had on the community. At that time people lobbied the Mayor of Newham for a permanent memorial, which could quite easily and practically be displayed on the above mentioned strip of grass verge – but, as yet – I believe that there have been no further developments on that front.
The Ronan Point disaster had a big influence on how high rise housing was viewed in the ensuing decades – but today, there are still over 1500 tower blocks scattered across the UK with 200 of them over 20 storeys high – and as we all know only too well from the terrible Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017, -the issues that were around at the time of Ronan Point, are still a big concern in today’s world. (Grenfell Tower was built in 1971, just 3 years following the Ronan Point disaster)
Anyway – that’s all about Ronan Point for you – hope you found this little bit of east-end history interesting.
See below, the full gallery of all the photographs supporting this blog