40th anniversary of the 1984 fire at York Minster

09th April 2024

Special events at York to mark 40th anniversary of the fire.

York Minster has unveiled an exciting programme of worship and events to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1984 fire which devastated the building.

40th Anniversary of the York Minster Fire

In the early hours of Monday 9 July 1984, York Minster was struck by lightning and suffered one of the worst cathedral fires of modern times. (See timeline of fire below)

The damage done in just a few hours took over four years to rebuild and restore.

This year the Minster will mark that anniversary with worship and events including an art exhibition, special tours, a photographic display with eyewitness accounts,  a new light and sound projection in the nave and a schools’ programme.

40th anniversary of the 1984 fire at York Minster

The Dean of York, the Very Revd Dominic Barrington, said:

“Like every Christian church, York Minster stands as a sign of hope and new life, for that is the central message of the Gospel.

“In the summer of 1984, people watched in horror as flames consumed the roof of the South Transept, but (not for the first time in its existence) the cathedral survived this fierce fire, and continues to offer that message of resurrection within and well beyond the city, diocese and county we are called to serve.”

A Service of Commemoration will be held on the anniversary itself, Tuesday 9 July with a sermon by the Archbishop of York while the Choir of York Minster will perform a selection of reflective music.

Visitors can discover the story behind the 1984 fire through a new exhibition – Out of the Ashes which opens on Saturday 29 June.

The exhibition journeys through the dramatic events of 9 July 1984, it details the heroic rescue efforts, clean-up operation and four-year restoration using eye witness accounts.

The exhibition includes fire-damaged furniture from the blaze, images from York Minster’s archive and the original drawings for six roof bosses designed by Blue Peter competition winners.

Visitors will also have the chance to explore other major fires in York Minster’s history and find out more about restoration and conservation today. Over the years York Minster has survived three major fires: In 1840, a fire broke out in the south nave roof after a candle had been left unattended. In 1971, a fire broke out in the north-west tower when a tarpaulin caught fire. In 1984, the roof of the south transept was destroyed in a fire most likely caused by a lightning strike.

There’s a new digital trail, On This Spot  that unlocks dramatic archive photographs as visitors trace the steps of those who witnessed the fire. Each stop on the trail will include a pause for reflection and prayer.

And throughout the summer months, York Minster’s expert volunteer tour guides will explore the cathedral’s rich history, with a special focus on the 1984 fire. Visitors can choose from a York Minster Guided Tour, Stained Glass Tour, or Family-Friendly Discovery Tour.

And for the October half term, Phoenix is a new light and sound projection will transform the nave telling the story of the 1984 fire; a story of bravery, resilience, and determination to rebuild as told in the words of the people of York who were there.

PHOENIX has been created by award-winning artists Ross Ashton and Karen Monid who brought the installations ‘Northern Lights’ in 2019 and ‘Platinum and Light’ in 2022, to the cathedral.

All the events will help raise funds for the continuing restoration of the cathedral’s fabric.

More on all the events including opening dates and admission prices here


A timeline of the 1984 fire

At 2.30am on the morning of Monday 9 July, fire alarms ring out at York Minster, automatically alerting North Yorkshire Fire Services who dispatched a team to tackle the blaze. The officer in charge could see at once that the fire was well established in the roof and had penetrated downwards through the vaulting.

Molten lead and debris were falling within the South Transept, making conditions hazardous at ground level. Firemen hauling hose lines up narrow spiral staircases to reach the roof were met with overwhelming heat. A 100-foot ladder was used to reach the blaze from outside the Minster.

A water canon was set up inside the transept to direct a huge jet of water up towards the heart of the blaze from below. The famous Rose Window was being cooled by water sprayed on the stonework above. Water lines were laid from the River Ouse to support the efforts.

A team of clergy and residents led by the Dean of York worked to save irreplaceable artefacts from the smoke-filled building, dodging falling debris and covering their mouths with wet handkerchiefs to try and avoid smoke inhalation. Soon the Chapter House Yard was piled high with crosses and candlesticks from six large altars, as well as tapestries, books and frontals.

At 3.45 am, with fears that the fire could spread to the Central Tower or Nave, the decision was made to bring South Transept’s irretrievable wooden roof beams down. Firefighters focused jets of water at the supporting beams to weaken the structure and, like a row of dominoes, the timbers collapsed. The weight of the falling structure dragged the remainder of the roof clear of the Tower and sent it crashing to the ground.

Once the roof material was on the floor, firefighters could work to extinguish the flames and start the long task of checking whether the fire had spread to other parts of the Minster. They battled through dense smoke to inspect the Nave, Quire and Central Tower. Fire crews were in attendance for approximately 24 hours after the start of the blaze and pumped gallons of water out from the Undercroft beneath the Central Tower.

As dawn broke the next morning, work began to assess the extent of the damage. The cathedral’s floor was covered beneath five feet of debris and the roofless South Transept left the cathedral’s interior exposed to the elements. Miraculously, despite being exposed to 450C heat, the famous Rose Window had survived although it had cracked in 40,000 places.

Source: Canon John Toy, The Fires of York Minster (Crawley: Garrod and Lofthouse, 1985)

After the fire pic shows York Minster’s south transept in 1984 after fire crews decided to topple the burning timbers to save the fire from spreading further.