The Woolworths Choir of 1979

By 24th February 2020 July 29th, 2020 Reuse, Social Action

The concentration of stacked furniture containing flammable materials created a toxic plume of smoke.

10 people died.

The later enquiry into the cause of the fire at the Woolworth department store in the centre of Manchester, 1979 led to the introduction of essential fire safety regulations for domestic furniture manufacture. 

Public archive footage of the fire appears in the third and final part of Elisabeth Price’s 2012 Turner Prize winning digital video projection `The Woolworths Choir of 1979.’ It’s a mesmerising and powerful piece that explores this recent event in social history through visual and conceptual associations with ecclesiastical architecture, language and the 1960s pop group – the Shangri-Las (for a review of this work:

The artist explains her creative motivation: “My work is about people and histories, but not individuals – it’s about people as collective forces or voices and how we emerge as such through material culture.”

This collective voice proved to be the positive legacy of the fire.

The investigation into the cause of the fire found the foam used to fill the budget furniture was to blame for the smoke. Fire Officer Bob Graham led the investigation and joined with other campaigners to persuade Government to change the law.

In 1988, The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations came into effect forcing manufacturers to make furniture fillings and covers from safer materials.

The Fire Safety label on sofas and armchairs is the result. Don’t cut if off. If you donate your old sofa or armchair chair, it needs to be attached for it to be re-used.

It’s a symbol of safety.

`The Woolworths Choir of 1979’ is showing at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester until 1 March 2020.