The Story of the Fire that Changed Stockholm Forever

A painting of the fire at Eldkvarn, Stockholm, by Gustav Carleman
A painting of the fire at Eldkvarn, Stockholm, by Gustav Carleman | © Stockholm Stadmuseum / WikiCommons
Jozef Brodala

There are many events in cities’ histories that shape and mould them, moments that come to define a city, and they are talked about for decades, if not centuries afterwards. London’s Great Fire is a notable example. In 1878, Stockholm had one of these moments, a spectacular fire that has come to be seen as an important moment in the city’s history and one that is still discussed to this day.

Stockholm’s moment

It was a fire which, while by no means as large as London’s, served as a starting point for the erection of one of Stockholm’s most important buildings, as well as a new era of safety and building regulations.

The mill in 1860

The fire of the century

The fire occurred at a gristmill in central Stockholm, which was a very large structure. It was a steam-powered mill built in 1805 that made flour, something that was very important to Stockholm in the 19th century.

The company behind it commissioned British inventor and steam-engine pioneer Samuel Owen to help them construct the technology behind the mill. It was a big investment to get someone with the expertise and knowledge of Owen on board.

The original plans for an extension to the factory

The mill was important enough that the state decided it would be a useful asset and bought in in 1815. It was right by the water in Kungsholmen, an exclusive neighbourhood and island in Stockholm. Its location meant that boats could dock and quickly pick up produce, and it became a vital and well known factory in the city.
The fire occurred on October 31, 1878, and a variety of different causes have been suggested. The most widely accepted one is that a small gas lamp fell, igniting the many bits of dust and grain on the floor, and it spread from there. As with the Great Fire of London, where a small fire expanded quickly, the fire at the mill in Stockholm started small, but was very poorly dealt with, and managed to spread throughout the factory.

Unlike the Great Fire of London, though, it was contained to the area in and around the factory, meaning it did not spread to other parts of Stockholm. However, it was large enough and powerful enough that it made a real impression on the people of the city.

The factory was on the island of Kungsholmen

Dagens Nyheter, one of the most popular newspapers in Sweden, wrote extensively about the fire and noted that ‘in view of the fierce outbreaks of the fire and the fierce widening of the fire, the entire capital and its immediate surroundings were illuminated as through a magic wand’.

The newspaper also commented on how the city became gripped by the fire, noting that ‘the most varied rumours were about the origin of the fire and the most incredible stories were raised’. Despite the fire being so large, they managed to save part of the mill and, perhaps most amazingly, it stayed open until 1906.

After the fire

Once the mill was finally demolished, it was replaced by the Stockholm City Hall. There is a plaque in the city hall that commemorates the event.

Stockholm City Hall now stands on the site of the old mill

The government in Stockholm also worked hard to make sure that nothing on this scale happened again. There have been some fires since, but none matching the ferocity of the fire at Eldkvarn, an event that left a deep and lasting impression on the city.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article