The Steel Stella Fire

During a show at the Ocean Theatre on 4th August 1973 at 9pm a pier worker ran onto the stage, grabbed the microphone and said "Dont panic, the pier is on fire" Pianist Len Abbott first thought it was a joke but comedian Russ Abbott soon realised it wasn't and took control and asked the audience of about 800 to leave the theatre quietly. A witness remembered seeing comedian Jim Bowen at the back of the theatre helping the usherettes show people out. There was no sign of panic and pier staff later praised the public for a swift and orderly exit. In all approximately 3000 people were evacuated from the pier before the Clacton, Frinton and Weeley fire services turned up to put the rest of the fire out.

Pier worker Neal Rowland scrambled up the 50ft rollercoaster in vain in an attempt to contain the fire (you can see him on the right in the photo below). Pier staff quickly got the people off as it was just loading up for the next ride, staff then alerted the pier manager, Jo Rose to call the fire brigade. Quick thinking staff got on to the roof of the Ocean Theatre to damp it down to prevent the fire from spreading as there was alot of sparks and hot ash blowing about.


Neal & his workmate Andrew Jardine helped run the hoses across the theatre roof as the fire engines had to stay in the car park at the front of the pier in case the weight of them went through the pier boards. Unfortunately the fire hoses couldn't reach the heart of the fire in the engine room so all they could do was dampen the ride & surrounding area down to stop it spreading to the rest of the pier.

Pier staff had formed a bucket chain from the dolphinarium to the fire, their fire fighting attempts where seen as playtime by the dolphins as they dipped the buckets in for water, Bubble & Squeak even playfully grabbed some of the buckets and swam off with them. A number of the buckets were recovered from the bottom of the pool the next morning. All the staff involved that night got a free meal in the canteen, as a thank you for saving the rest of the pier from going up in flames. Two gangs of staff where formed shortly after, armed with chainsaws & spanners to make the rollercoaster area safe.


In November 1973 workmen moved in to start the huge task of dismantling the rollercoaster, the wood from the Steel Stella was placed outside the entrance of the pier and offered as firewood for free to the public, with a winter of terrible gales and the threat of powercuts, this was very handy for some.

The fire was thought to have been caused by an electrical fault in the pull up hut that housed the electrical machinery, the Steel Stella had been a landmark since the thirties and survived the war, sadly the end of its life had come. In December the final section of the Steel Stella was pulled down and the 36 year old ride was no more.


The fate of the Steel Stella on the night of 4th August 1973


In January 1979 severe gales hit Clacton Pier and caused an estimated £150,000 worth of damage, mainly to the dolphinarium and holding pools. There was a quick rescue operation to save Susie Wong the killer whale who was stranded in the pool, she was moved to Windsor Safari Park. Squeak the dolphin was moved to Brighton with 5 other dolphins to keep her company while repairs to Clacton Pier were underway. The sea lions and penguins were also moved to various locations around the country. The viewing windows around the pool were broken by the storm causing the pool to empty. 


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