One of the British Isles' forgotten disasters, this horrific event took place on the Isle of Mann on the night of 2nd August 1973 and claimed the lives of 51 people, with 8,000 injured.
Opened in the Manx capital Douglas in 1971, the colossal Summerland leisure complex was years ahead of its time, with a climatic-controlled interior and state-of-the-art facilities. But at the beginning of August 1973, a fire started in a kiosk in the grounds (where two boys had gone to sneak a cigarette), which spread to the leisure centre and engulfed the entire building.
Most of the structure was clad in 'Oroglass' (later dubbed 'horrorglass'), a highly flammable compound which released oxygen as it burned and served to fan the blaze. There was a delay of 25 minutes before the fire brigade was alerted, and even then no attempt was made to evacuate the building. Over 3,000 people were in the complex that night, and it's a miracle that the death toll wasn't much higher. But even so, over 50 people perished in the disaster, crushed, trampled or burned to death. The local sports centre was used as a makeshift morgue; thousands were injured, and left suffering post-traumatic stress for decades afterwards.
Although not directly involved, my family and I were on the island at the time staying down the coast road at Port Erin. Even although I was only 4, I well remember the impact that the tragedy had on the community - it was like Aberfan or Lockerbie, the Manx people felt like they had been cursed. I was left with a terror of leisure centres for the rest of my childhood. Sandy Denny's song 'Who Knows Where The Time Goes', which was popular at the time, became an unofficial elegy for the victims.
The charred ruins were demolished in 1975; Summerland re-opened in 1978, but the legacy of the horrific fire continued to haunt it and it never did well. Closing in 2004, it was demolished the following year-only the East wall of the original building remains next to the cliff face, above a memorial garden to the dead.