Leeds was shocked to see The Majestic go up in flames, but what really happened and what comes next for one of the city’s most iconic buildings?
Whether you saw The Majestic last night, when it was on fire, or this morning, when it was a mere shadow of its former self, the sight will likely stay with you. It’s one of the city’s most iconic buildings and the first thing many people see when they arrive in the Leeds, but it’s safe to say that after last night, it will never be the same again.
So, what happened?
A little after 7pm on Tuesday evening, fire engines were seen racing down Wellington Street – their destination, The Majestic. Fire crews and police worked together to keep a hugely busy part of Leeds moving, but eventually, they had to close streets around the building as they fought the growing flames.
It wasn’t an easy fire to fight, as Dave Walton Assistant Chief Officer and Director of West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service explained. “Roof fires are difficult to access by their very nature. We had a lot of water in Leeds city centre and a lot of fire engines here. It was just making sure that our plan, which was a good plan, was effective and we could actually get water on the fire and extinguish it.”
With three aerial platforms and another seven engines quickly drafted in, alongside 75 firefighters, they managed to execute that plan in the best way possible, allowing the services to bring it back under control by around 1am.
Walton was understandably proud of his team and the police, as they first succeeded in confining the fire to just The Majestic and then managed to put it out completely. “We were very pleased that we managed to prevent the fire spreading into any other premises although we’re sad that such an iconic building has been so affected by fire.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Leader of Leeds City Council, Counsellor Keith Wakefield, who thanked “West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and council officers,” going on to say that their “efficiency and dedication prevented this incident from becoming much worse.”
But, how much damage was done?
Even from the outside, you can see how much damage the fire has caused. Whether it’s the charred remains of the roof, which is now being demolished to make the building safe enough for the investigation and eventual restoration work, or the view through the cracked windows, where the once impressive frieze has been ripped apart – The Majestic is, for the time being at least, going to be a shell of its former self.
Kevin Grady, Director of Leeds Civic Trust, was at the scene to assess the damage. They worked closely with the building’s owners Rushbond to restore The Majestic, so this has come as a hard blow. “I think the main thing is the external shell is still very much in tact,” he told us. “The roof is clearly gone and it will need completely rebuilding – I think the great shame is the star feature of the roof was actually the dome with its classical frieze.”
The building has been inspected by engineers who believe that the exterior brickwork is still structurally sound. Should that prove to be the case in the long term, there’s still is a chance that this Leeds icon could bounce back, although it will be without the original frieze.
What happens next?
The cause of the fire hasn’t been determined, and an official investigation will follow, however West Yorkshire Police have arrested and charged a 32 year old man, Stuart James Jefferson, with arson. He’ll appear at Leeds Magistrates Court on Thursday 2nd October 2014.
As for the building itself, Rushbond have today committed to restoring The Majestic to its former glory – but as you can imagine, they’re still reeling from the news. “We’re absolutely devastated by what’s happened,” Mark Finch, Director of Real Estate, explained. “We hope to progress with repairing the damage as soon as practically possible and will provide a more detailed update as soon as we have a clearer understanding of what’s happened and have fully assessed the extent of the damage.”
So the future of The Majestic remains unclear, and will stay that way for some time. The building’s impressive exterior remains standing and key internal structures like staircases have been seen in use today, so it’s the damage to the roof that will decide what happens next.
And while we hope that damage will allow for a full restoration, we have to accept that Leeds has lost a very important architectural gem – nothing will bring back the classical frieze that has been locked away behind closed doors for so long, but it can perhaps be replaced by something just as grand, even if it’s not the original.
Editor’s note – Updated 2nd October 2014 at 09:58.