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Unveiling of memorial plaque for 1977 Crypt restaurant fire in Dover by fireman's widow Glenda Sharp

Hundreds of people attended a ceremony to mark one of Dover's worst fire tragedies.

A memorial plaque was unveiled today on the exact 42nd anniversary of the Crypt restaurant blaze, which killed seven people including three children.

The plaque is on the entrance slope of the Townwall Street subway, just feet away from the site of the blaze at Bench Street.

Firefighters in a land stand to attention in front of the plaque
Firefighters in a land stand to attention in front of the plaque

The land has never been built on since the fire.

Glenda Sharp, widow of the one fireman killed that night, carried out the unveiling.

She told Kent Online: "This is very important for all those who died alongside my husband and very important for everyone in here in Dover.

"I would like to thank everyone who organised this event for their support and kindness.

"You never forget something like this, the memories keep flooding back. You never get over it."

Glenda Sharp
Glenda Sharp

Mrs Sharp, 73, who now lives in Canterbury, said; "I never thought about marrying again after John. He was such as wonderful husband and father to my children. There hasn't been anyone since."

Leading fireman* Sharp had only been based at Folkestone Fire Station for a new months before he died, aged 31.

He had moved from Canterbury and the couple had two children, aged five and six.

Mr Sharp was posthumously awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal.

Cllr Wanstall and Dover mayor Sue Jones
Cllr Wanstall and Dover mayor Sue Jones

Cllr Graham Wanstall, chairman of plaque and ceremony organisers the Crypt Group, said: "This day has brought people together.

"We've had the people who have lost their loved ones here who I think are very grateful that Dover has remembered."

Cllr Wanstall, whose Castle ward covers the site of the doomed Bench Street restaurant, introduced the proceedings.

Afterwards James Wraight, who was one of the firemen on the night of the tragedy, read The Firefighter's Prayer.

A speech was followed by by Sean Bone-Knell, director of Operations at Kent Fire and Rescue Service.

Prayers were led by by Fr Jeff Gridland of St Paul's RC Church in Dover.

Chrstine McCaughan
Chrstine McCaughan

Christine McCaughan, who lost three of her family in the blaze, then read the poem Broken Chain.

She afterwards told Kent Online: "This ceremony has been lovely and I needed it. It's been a long time.

"It's nice to know that everybody has been remembered."

She had been in the burning building that night, as a 14-year-old, and survived.

Fire tragedy relative Stephen Ashton
Fire tragedy relative Stephen Ashton

Another victims' relative at the unveiling was Stephen Ashton, 67, who now lives in Devon.

Both his mother and daughter had perished.

He now said: "Today is a very important day. Forty-two years on, to see the people of Dover and the emergency services coming together to pay their respects is absolutely phenomenal.

"For a long while we thought we were on our own.

"I would like to thank the people of Dover and the police and fire services for commemorating this.

"It brings us great closure."

Hymns sung included O God Our Help in Ages Past and Abide with Me.

During the ceremony two lines of serving firefighters stood to attention in front of the plaque.

With them were a group of retired firemen who had tackled the blaze on that fateful night.

Others attending also included Dover mayor Sue Jones and fellow town councillors.

The crowd at the unveiling ceremony.
The crowd at the unveiling ceremony.

The Crypt Restaurant fire happened in the early hours of Sunday, March 27, 1977.

It+ had started at ground level and quickly spread to the upper floors through a number of voids.

It then spread laterally through the building's flats.

The alarm was raised at 2.49am by dog walker Peter Waters, who saw smoke coming from the restaurant.

The first fire engine arrived at 2.55am and a total 20 ended up at the scene, from Dover, Folkestone, St Margaret's-at-Cliffe, Whitfield and Deal.

By 4am nine people were carried out of the burning building by firemen, two confirmed dead.

Firemen had gone inside to confirm everyone was accounted for but while checking part of the building collapsed burying some of them.

The inquest found that the fire had been caused by an electrical fault.

The hearing was told that the blaze would not have happened if an electric mains switch in a downstairs bar had been turned off.

Coroner Wilfred Mowll recorded a verdict of accidental death.

The brand new plaque with its mirror effect
The brand new plaque with its mirror effect
Tributes left at the plaque
Tributes left at the plaque

Three of those who perished were from the same family, who lived upstairs in the building - Mrs McCaughan's mother and siblings.

These were Marion Clay, 32, wife of licensee Alec, and two of their children, Shane Clay, six, and Charlotte Clay, 18 months.

A family friend who was there that night, Phyllis Conlon, 43, died in Buckland Hospital three days later and her grandaughter Janusia Ashton, five, had also perished.

These were Stephen Ashton's mother and daughter.

Live-in nanny and restaurant worker Anita Lee, 19, was the seventh person killed.

* There were no women firefighters in the UK in 1977. The first was in 1982.

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