Much of London’s East End was flattened by German bombs in World War II and in 1961 a program of slum clearance and tower-block construction was started. Many of these towers were built according to the Larsen-Nielsen method: reinforced, pre-cast concrete sections assembled on site. The construction of 22-storey Ronan Point in Newham began in 1966 and the tower was completed two years later. Newham Council tenants moved in during March 1968.
Just two months later Ivy Hodge, a cake decorator living in a corner flat on the 18th floor, woke early. She went sleepily into her kitchen and lit the cooker to boil a kettle: a massive explosion hurled her across the room and ripped out the load-bearing outer wall. With nothing left to support the flats above, they began to collapse, their weight soon bringing down the entire southeast corner of the tower.
Fortunately three of the four flats above Ivy were unoccupied and, amazingly, she herself survived. The living rooms of the flats beneath her broke away from the rest of the building, but the bedrooms remained intact and luckily most people were still asleep when the explosion occurred. Whole families, in their nightclothes, rushed downstairs – the lifts had failed – and out into the street, as a great chunk of Ronan Point collapsed like a house of cards.
The ensuing investigation found that a gas leak had caused the explosion but that high winds or fire would probably have caused a similar collapse. The tower was repaired but in 1984 a survey revealed structural cracks suggesting that, despite the re-building and strengthening that had taken place, Ronan Point was disintegrating. During the tower’s demolition in 1986 it was found that the section joints had been poorly fitted and that the original building work was sub-standard.
When: May 16 1968
Where: Newham, London
Death toll: Four people died and 17 were injured.
You should know: The Larsen-Nlelsen construction method was Intended for buildings of up to six storeys – In the UK It was used for tower blocks. The Ronan Point disaster forced the demolition of other similarly constructed tower blocks and was responsible for the tightening of building regulations everywhere.