A plaque has been unveiled in Soho to memorialise the 37 people who died in the fire, including Alexander Reid, 27, of Glasgow, and Maria Dick, also from the Glasgow area, who was killed just after her 22nd birthday.
Alexander, whose wife was expecting their fourth child at the time he died, moved to London to take up a labouring job and lived in Archway. A huge music fan with a passion for reggae who also worked in a record shop and as a part-time bouncer, he went out on a warm August night in 1980 – but was never seen again.
His daughter Nicola Reid, of Ayrshire, was just five when her dad died. She and her aunt, Janette Reid, of Glasgow – the sister of Alexander – were among relatives of the victims who travelled to London for the unveiling of the plaque on Thursday.
For decades, what happened on the night of the fire, which until Grenfell Tower tragedy of 2017 was described as London’s worst blaze since the Second World War, had gone largely unreported and without remembrance for the victims, who represented a cross-section of multicultural London.
Nicola said: “Having the plaque there will give us some comfort, somewhere to go. It’s like a grave to us.”
The fire broke out at 18 Denmark Place, now demolished, which was home two unlicensed clubs, The Spanish Rooms and El Dandy’s. The building was set alight by career criminal John Thompson, a Scot, who poured petrol through the letterbox of the building following a row over the price of a drink. He died in prison in 2008 on the anniversary of the fire.
After news of the blaze broke, Janette travelled to London from Glasgow and saw her brother’s car parked outside the club with his jacket still inside. Later, his wallet was found in the club. The family later learned Alexander had reached a window to escape the club, but went back in to get a woman who was calling out for help.
“He was described as a hero, that was my dad,” Nicola said.
She spent years not knowing what happened to her father, with his sudden absence a ‘taboo’ subject in the family home.
Nicola added: “The last memory of him was putting a squeaky sock under my pillow instead of money for the tooth fairy. That was the last time I remember him. I was looking out the window for my dad for a long time.”
Nicola, a mother of four, was told when she was around 12 her father was dead and he died in an IRA bomb. When the internet arrived, she “spent years” looking for information about her father and eventually stumbled across an article about the nightclub fire.
She said: “It was a moment of pure clarity. Finally, someone recognised what had happened, that he was my dad and that he shouldn’t have been swept under the carpet.”
Journalist Simon Usborne arranged for the plaque to be put in place after researching the fire for many years.