The Day Madame Tussauds Caught Fire And Most Of The Waxworks Melted

By M@ Last edited 36 months ago
The Day Madame Tussauds Caught Fire And Most Of The Waxworks Melted
Rescued dummies after the 1925 fire.

The grotesque scene above shows the aftermath of a disastrous fire at London's Madame Tussauds in 1925. The whole building became a chamber of horrors, when a huge blaze ripped through the upper floors.

Newsreel footage of the time shows the Baker Street attraction almost completely gutted. A landmark dome, precursor to the famous (and now defunct) Planetarium, is but a skeleton. Charred limbs and broken waxwork torsos peep through the rubble in a mannequin atrocity.

Fire fighters tackle the blaze. (c) Illustrated London News Group.

The blaze occurred on 18 March 1925 and took an hour and a half to extinguish. The scenes inside must have resembled the finale to Raiders of the Lost Arc, with melting faces everywhere.

Members of Parliament, world leaders, sports personalities, historical characters and infamous criminals all burned in effigy during the greatest celebrity bonfire of all time.

A collection of sporting personalities, following the fire. (c) Illustrated London News Group.

These most expensive of candles caused quite an inferno. One witness described the spectacle: 'Strong red and golden flames leapt 50 feet from the roof of the building. The wax models could be distinctly heard sizzling themselves to "death".'

The surreal scene became still odder when the fire chief began tackling the flames in full evening dress, having been summoned from a nearby theatre.

Murderer Dr Crippen (left mannequin) was one of the few effigies to be saved from the fire. (c) Illustrated London News Group.

This was a devastating fire, which put Madame Tussauds out of action for years. The whole of the top floor was destroyed, with heavy water damage to the lower floors. A collection of important Napoleonic relics — including the emperor's coaches and deathbed — were also lost. Fortunately, nobody was injured and the building was insured.

The coach used by Napoleon on St Helena is reduced to ashes and twisted metal, along with his Waterloo carriage. (c) Illustrated London News Group.

One survivor was a parrot in a cage. According to a press report, 'Doubts were expressed at first as to whether it was a live or a wax bird. But after a moment or two in the fresh air... [it] began to show signs of the returning perkiness usually characteristic of a healthy parrot'. To the amazement of the crowd — who had reportedly taken bets on whether the bird was real — its first words were 'This is a rotten business'.

The rescue of a green parrot, who told bystanders 'This is a rotten business'. (c) Illustrated London News Group.

The attraction took three years to bounce back. As luck would have it, the wax moulds had been stored at a separate site, making the job of repopulating the building all the simpler. Madame Tussauds reopened in 1928 with a new cinema and restaurant, and presumably a few more fire buckets.

File images courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive. Top image from here, copyright unknown.

Last Updated 22 February 2021