On Wednesday 6 December we were called at 6.45am by a neighbour at Damside. There were 5 fire engines, flames and a lot of smoke at our beloved mill. But, no-one was hurt, and the old building is still standing, roof intact.
On Tuesday evening our precious CNC machine had been humming away in its purpose built, soundproof room in the Workshop, cutting out the last chairs for the winners of the TENT London 2012 competition. The work benches were piled high with Edna drawers ready for final coats of paint in the new colours for London Transport Museum, and resting against the wall were the curves for the Mr Smith chairs and benches.
Upstairs all was quiet in the gallery. Sam Shendi’s Key Hole man smiled from the top of the stairs, Laura Wellington’s Hula light glowed, and our furniture family of, Edna’s, Sidney, Frank& Mrs Frank and Mr& Mrs Smith waited in the gallery for their next visitors. CABLE chairs and tables were stacked in colourful groups, and up the floating staircase on the mezzanine floor, young Louby Lou, the latest addition to the family showed off her long curvy legs to the admiring collection of Italian designer furniture.
In the Studio, all was in order, ready for Pauline’s upholstery class on Wednesday morning. The students’ projects stood high on benches, their new tweed upholstery and handmade buttons protected by dust sheets. A slight draft blew through the old windows for the last few days before the new ones were fitted.
Anthony turned everything off, said goodnight, locked up the shutters and headed home.
Fifteen hours later, as the fire crew left, the investigations done (not clear at this point what started it), and the temperature still at -2, he made his way inside to see what was left of the vision we had invested a whole year of time, effort and funds bringing to life.
It was beyond a nightmare. The stairwell was burnt through, windows broken, and a charred mass of ash, wood, electrical fittings and tools covered the ground floor. Everything was very, very dark.
As the day went on and we moved things out and assessed the scale of things, we realised that it could have been so much worse. The fire had been drawn up the stairwell, and not sideways, and critically, it was caught and managed quickly and effectively by our wonderful local fire crews.
While all of Anthony’s work in progress and materials have been lost, we are hopeful that the CNC machine we worked so hard to buy can be salvaged. The other machines are sturdy old things which we hope will clean up Ok – they were mainly wet and smoky.
Upstairs, much of the gallery is in a right mess, as are a fair few of the sculptures and furniture, but some amazingly still stand, and Sam Shendi will rescue, repair and respray.
Best of all, the upholstery studio is mucky, smelly and smoky, but intact, so Pauline will get back to starting our classes again as soon as we have a staircase again.
For anyone concerned about Wayne, our blogging whippet, he is a little sootier and grumpier than usual, but his tartan blanket was rescued.
While I write this, Anthony is out looking at temporary workspaces to get back to work as soon as possible. We will rent local CNC machines, spend our holiday savings on new handtools, order in some more plywood and boards, and get cracking next week. And somehow we will fulfil our orders for Samih Ghandour ‘s new Beiruit gallery, and for the London Transport Museum’s 150th anniversary of the tube in 2013.
Our amazing landlords are dealing with the insurance company to get us back into Damside as soon as possible, and Pauline is talking to her students about coming back to finish their courses as soon as we’re all cleaned up.
But our real assets haven’t been lost, or even damaged – Anthony’s creativity and skill as a designer maker, Pauline’s gift for teaching, Sam’s positivity and vision for his new sculpture space, and all of our commitment to bring Damside back from the ashes in 2013.
Our thanks go to the milkman who called in the fire, to Keighley, Haworth and other local fire crews for doing an amazing job (SAVE HAWORTH FIRE STATION!) in not only protecting our building, but being so supportive of us in shock too. To our Damside neighbours who offered tea, coats, gloves and the use of their homes, to Les and Stevie for starting the clean-up job, and to Liz and Russell for being there. And to the many friends, students, customers and others who are sending supportive messages and offers of help. When the right time arrives, we will come and ask for the help you have offered - Damside started as something great for the community of Haworth, and we want and need the community of Haworth to help us build it back up again.
Follow our journey of rebuilding and restoring here at www.damsidemill.com, on twitter @damsidemill or subscribe to the dog’s blog waynewhippet.blogspot.co.uk