Steve McQueen will explore three events which took place in 1981 - the New Cross Fire, Black People's Day of Action and the Brixton riots - in his new docuseries, Uprising.


The first episode will focus on the traumatic New Cross Fire, which killed 13 Black youngsters when a house in South London caught fire.

Speaking of the three-part series, Steve McQueen, Director and Executive Producer, said: “It is an honour to make these films with testimonials from the survivors, investigators, activists and representatives of the machinery of state. We can only learn if we look at things through the eyes of everyone concerned; the New Cross Fire passed into history as a tragic footnote, but that event and its aftermath can now be seen as momentous events in our nation’s history.”

So what started the New Cross Fire? Here's everything you need to know.

What happened in the New Cross Fire?

In the early hours of 18th January 1981, in a house in New Cross, south London, a birthday party ended in a fire. The party was a joint celebration for Yvonne Ruddock (one of the victims of the disaster) and Angela Jackson (who survived), and was held at No. 439, New Cross Road.

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The party began on the evening of Saturday 17th January and continued throughout the night and into the early hours of Sunday.

At the time of the party, there was some racial tension in the area with far right groups including The National Front. There had also been some early complaints from neighbours about excessive noise from the event, and a white Austin Princess car was seen driving away from the fire on the day.

The blaze killed 13 young Black people aged between 14 and 22. One of the survivors died by suicide two years later.

Initially, the police suspected the party had been fire-bombed, either as a revenge or an attack to stop the noise.

Subsequent forensic investigation found that the fire had started by an armchair inside the front room of the property at 5:40am on Sunday morning.

New Cross Fire
New Cross Fire BBC

What started the New Cross Fire?

No one has ever been charged in connection with the fire, and forensic science has established the fire started inside the house.

In 1981 and 2004, inquests into the death were held. Both inquests recorded open verdicts, meaning the jury confirmed the deaths were suspicious, but was unable to reach a conclusive decision.

In 2004, the coroner said that the fire was probably started deliberately by one of the guests, but as he could not be sure of this, he also returned an open verdict.

Following the fire, a New Cross Massacre Action Committee (NCMAC) was set up. Chaired by John La Rose, the group organised a "Black People's Day of Action" on 2 March 1981, when some 20,000 people marched over a period of eight hours through London, carrying placards that bore statements including: "13 Dead, Nothing Said."


Uprising starts on BBC One on Tuesday, 20th July at 9pm. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide or visit our dedicated Documentaries hub.