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Monday, October 22, 2012

GRAFTON'S - 1949

People throng to watch Grafton's fire

On May 4, 1949, thirteen female garment shop assistants died in a fire at Grafton’s fashion shop on Argyle Street, Glasgow.

Two jumped from the four-story building in the city's commercial district.

Others were found huddled inside.

The dead ranged in age from 15 to 23.

Other workers "were rescued by firemen with ladders" while a police officer "groped through the smoke to save five," according to an Associated Press dispatch in the Milwaukee Journal, an American newspaper. [May 4, 1949]

Two dozen people were injured, including patrons in a neighboring cinema.

The fire was brought under control in two hours.

Flames were first discovered in an elevator shaft, according to a United Press dispatch in the Pittsburgh Press, another American newspaper. [May 5, 1949]

The blaze occurred on a Wednesday, at that time the busiest shopping day of the week in Glasgow.

Recalling the blaze in 2010, Scotland's Evening Times said:

When fire crews arrived, there was so much smoke, they did not know which side of the street the fire was on.

When the fire broke out, crowds of cinema-goers from the next door Argyle picture house were evacuated, adding to the crowds and confusion in the street.

Hard lessons were learned from the blaze and as a result fire regulations were tightened up in shops and department stores across the city.

In August 1949, two employees received the George Medal for heroism, according to an Australian Associated Press dispatch in The Mercury, a newspaper in Tasmania. [Aug. 3, 1949]

George Kamill Platt, a clerk, and Solomon Winetrobe, former para- trooper and now a manager, have each been awarded the George Medal for heroism in saving the lives of women in a Glasgow fashion store fire in May in which 13 died. 

Winetrobe worked his way along a 5in.-wide ledge 55ft. above the street and persuaded five women trapped on the top floor to step on the ledge.

He supported them until they reached Platt, who helped them to ' the safety of a nearby cinema.

Transcripts of Parliament from July 12, 1949, state the following:

The jury unanimously found that the fire broke out from an undiscovered cause in a small compartment underneath a wooden staircase and adjacent to the lift shaft; that it spread throughout the building within a few minutes; that owing to the inflammable nature of the stock and the extreme youth of many of the employees specific precautions, such as fire extinguishers and an adequate warning system, should have been taken against an outbreak of fire; that the fixture of a padlock on the escape door of the fourth floor delayed exit to the fire escape; and that the fire brigade functioned with efficiency.

The jury added an expression of their sympathy with the bereaved, and of their admiration of the gallantry of Mr. Solomon Winetrobe and Mr. George Platt, two of the employees in the building, who at great personal risk assisted five women to escape.

The Government hope that one result of this tragic event will be a marked increase in the number of applications by the owners or occupiers of premises where there is any appreciable fire risk for advice, which is free, from the fire prevention officers of fire brigades.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

From the Editor

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Monday, September 17, 2012


On Nov. 18, 1968, a fire at A J & S Stern’s furniture factory on James Watt Street in Glasgow claimed the lives of 22 employees trapped by flames, barred windows and locked exits.

Flames devoured wooden stairwells in what once had been a bonded whiskey warehouse, hence the barred windows.

Recalling the fire in September 2001, the Glasgow Herald said:

"Around 70 firemen, beaten back by the fierce heat, could only watch as the trapped workers smashed windows with chairs and tried to bend the iron bars to let them jump into the street.

"Smoke enveloped the street and soon the screams and shouts stopped."

The flames were fueled by the burning of polyurethane foam, which was used in furniture industry.

According to Wikipedia:

"The alarm was raised at around 10:30 a.m., with the first crews arriving within five minutes.

"A serious fire was seen to be in progress, and a "Make Pumps 10" message was sent to control almost immediately (additional appliances required, which in addition to those already there would total 10).

"As part of this request for reinforcements, a "Persons Reported" message was sent, indicating persons were requiring urgent assistance and rescue.

"Many attempts were made to enter the building where the employees were believed to be, but intense heat drove back the firemen.

"The Glasgow Fire Service personnel eventually gained access to the building, by cutting through the steel doors using oxy-propane cutting gear."

Members of the Glasgow Salvage Corps also attended the fire.

Friday, August 31, 2012


Image: Illustrated London News
On July 9, 1872, an explosion at Tradeston Flour Mills, Glasgow, killed 18 people and injured 16 others. The likely cause of the explosion was an accumulation of dust, according to a study published in the Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry, Volume 25, Jan. 31 1906.   

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


On March 28, 1960, a fire on Glasgow's Cheapside Street killed 19 firemen in the greatest loss of life in the U.K. fire service since World War II.

Fourteen members of the Glasgow Fire Brigade and five members of the Glasgow Salvage Corps perished when walls collapsed at a bonded warehouse for whiskey and rum.

Photos: STV
They were:

  • Fireman John Allen – Glasgow Fire Service
  • Fireman Christopher Boyle – Glasgow Fire Service
  • Sub Officer James Calder – Glasgow Fire Service
  • Fireman Gordon Chapman – Strathclyde Fire Brigade
  • Fireman William Crockett – Glasgow Fire Service
  • Fireman Archibald Darroch – Glasgow Fire Service
  • Fireman Daniel Davidson – Glasgow Fire Service
  • Fireman Alfred Dickinson – Glasgow Fire Service
  • Fireman Alexander Grassie – Glasgow Fire Service
  • Salvageman Gordon McMillan – Glasgow Salvage Corps
  • Fireman Ian McMillan – Glasgow Fire Service
  • Fireman George McIntyre – Glasgow Fire Service
  • Sub Officer John McPherson – Glasgow Fire Service
  • Leading Salvageman James McLellan – Glasgow Salvage Corps
  • Fireman Edward McMillan – Glasgow Fire Service
  • Salvageman James Mungall – Glasgow Salvage Corps
  • Superintendent Edward Murray – Glasgow Salvage Corps
  • Salvageman William Oliver – Glasgow Salvage Corps
  • Fireman William Watson – Glasgow Fire Service

  • According to Wikipedia:

    Fire broke out in a bonded warehouse owned by Arbuckle, Smith and Company.

    The Glasgow Fire Service was initially alerted by a 999 call at 7.15pm from the foreman of the Eldorado Ice Cream Company which was near the whisky bond.

    He reported smoke coming from a second floor window of the warehouse.

    In response two pumps from West Station with Sub Officer James Calder in charge was sent, along with a Turntable Ladder from Central Station.

    Also responding initially was the Fire Boat 'St Mungo' and a Salvage Tender and crew of the Glasgow Salvage Corps.

    The first fire crews arrived at 7.21pm and after a quick reconnaissance three more pumps were requested to attend.

    Crews were informed by civilians that smoke and flame had been seen on the Warroch Street side of the building and additional crews and equipment were sent to investigate.

    Assistant Firemaster Swanson had now arrived on the scene and having been fully appraised of the situation increased the number of pumps (fire engines) to eight.

    This message was sent at 7.49pm and seconds after it was transmitted a major explosion blew out the walls of the premises virtually destroying it.

    The warehouse contained over a million gallons of whisky and rum under one roof.

    This burned out of control for several hours, as off-duty firefighters from Glasgow and fire brigades from the surrounding areas were called in to assist.

    In total of 30 pumping appliances, 5 Turntable Ladders and 4 support vehicles were sent to the scene from around the area.

    Witnesses reported seeing bright blue flames leaping 40 feet into the sky, with the glow visible across the entire city.

    Neighbouring buildings, including a tobacco warehouse, an ice cream factory and the Harland and Wolff engine works, were engulfed.

    At the height of the blaze, 450 firefighters from the Greater Clyde valley were involved in fighting the fire, which took a week to extinguish.

    Catriona Fox lost her father in the blaze.

    She recalled the tragedy in a Scottish newspaper:

    My Dad, Eddie, was a fireman with the Glasgow Salvage Corps.

    I was actually born and brought up at the fire station on Albion Street and lived there with my brother, who was 15.

    Hearing the alarm bell go was a common occurrence and I had grown used to watching my dad and the other firemen head off to a blaze.

    On March 28, 1960, we'd just finished our tea when the bell went off.

    I watched Dad put a tender hand on Mum's shoulder and tell her reassuringly that he wouldn't be long.

    That was the last time I ever saw him.....

    By 8pm we hadn't heard any news, so we phoned the duty room, but they couldn't tell us anything.

    We switched on the TV and were shocked when a newsflash said there had been a massive explosion within minutes of the firefighters arriving at the scene, blowing the building apart.

    A number of firemen were believed to be buried in the masonry.

    As soon as we heard the news, all the families congregated in the courtyard, supporting one another and waiting anxiously for more information.

    At 10pm the firemen returned with grim faces, bearing the terrible news that five of the men from the station, along with 14 other firemen, had been killed.

    My dad was one of them.

    I was a Daddy's girl, and it was unbearable.

    It was also painful to see the effect it had on my mum.

    After that night she almost seemed to lose the will to live.

    She was tormented by nightmares until the day she died 26 years later.

    After the tragedy, we moved away from the fire house and things were never the same.

    Not a day goes by when I don't think about my dad and that awful night.

    Every time I hear a fire siren the painful memories come flooding back.

    Firefighters do the most horrendous of jobs.

    My Dad went out to work one night and never came back, so I know only too well the dangers they face.

    My dad used to tell my mum that she would be better off financially when he was dead.

    Sadly, he was right.

    I wouldn't discourage anyone from being in the fire service as we need our firefighters.

    In fact, my older brother was a retained fireman and continued after our dad's death.

    Firefighters are all heroes and I think that should be reflected in their wages.

    Marking the 50th anniversary, Brian Sweeney, chief officer of Strathclyde Fire and Rescue, which today protects Glasgow, said:

    "Historically, Glasgow needed an outstanding fire service because it was a very dangerous place in which to fight fires. Post-war Glasgow contained heavy industry, crowded tenements and one of the world's great industrial and trading rivers, lined with warehouses and ships loaded with flammable cargoes. All these factors earned Glasgow the title 'tinderbox city'. The city's firefighters knew the challenges, knew the risks." [BBC]

    Fireman James Dunlop won the George Medal:

    “We were all in position when the explosion occurred. It was like all hell was let loose. I had put a man on the turntable ladder but rather than evacuate my position I got the chap down. I got a pat on the head from the Queen for that. The whisky barrels were falling out of the building and bursting into flames. It was like bombs going off.” [Herald Scotland]

    Dunlop also said:

    "It was a very sudden and unexpected explosion that took us by surprise. It took us a few moments to realise that it had occurred. To me it wasn't scary after that. There was a determination to beat this fire. We put things aside and got on with the job."[BBC]

    Driver Bob Scouller of the Glasgow Salvage Corps:

     "The buildings seemed to make me sort of shiver a wee bit. I said to myself ‘I’m going back.’ I turned and I started to walk back up, and as I came near the turntable ladder there were four firemen. They were trying to get into a grill in a window and were hammering away with their little axes. They said: ‘Driver, could you get us an axe?’ ... The four of them were buried right in front of my eyes. There was nothing I could do. They were all gone.” [Herald Scotland]


    Newspaper account of Argyle Street fire in May 1949

    List of Major Fires and Other Incidents in GLASGOW

    Jan. 15, 1832 - Fireman James Bruce fell to his death from a ladder at a fire in the former Queen's Court building, east side of Queen Street. [STV]

    Dec. 5, 1856 - Fireman John Harrison died after the collapse of a burning building between Buchanan Street and Queen Street, south of the Royal Exchange. [STV]

    Sept. 22, 1864 - The Central Fire Engine Station sent men and equipment to a fire aboard the vessel James in Glasgow Harbor. [Glasgow Herald]   Link

    July 9, 1872 - Explosion at Tradeston Flour Mills, Glasgow, killed 18 people and injured 16 others. [Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry, Vol. 25, Jan. 31, 1906]

    Jan. 7, 1898 - On Renfield Street, four firemen - John Battersby, James Hastie, Charles Orr and David Smith - died in an explosion and collapse at W&R Hatrick & Co druggists. [STV]

    June 15, 1903 - Fire and explosion at whiskey distillery and adjacent flour mills killed seven people. [Evening Record of Windsor, Ontario]   Link 

    Nov. 19, 1905 - Fire at a "cheap lodging house for men" claimed 39 lives. The structure, located on Watson Street, housed more than 300 men when the fire broke out. [New York Times]

    Dec. 6, 1920 - Subway collision injures 10 people. [Glasgow Herald]   Link  

    On Dec. 19, 1920, the fire brigade contended with a canal full of blazing whiskey from a distillery fire. [Milwaukee Sentinel]   Link

    July 2, 1921 - At fire at Miller and Argyle streets, Frederick True and James Farquharson, of the fire brigade's Western Division, died when the building collapsed. [STV]

    Dec. 25, 1925 - Fire at flour mill in "Partick" district of Glasgow. [Glasgow Herald]   Link

    Dec. 24, 1927 - Christmas Eve warehouse fire tragedy at Graham Square resulted in the loss of four firemen. They were James Conn, Harry W. M’Kellar, David Jeffrey, and Morrison Dunbar of the central fire station. [STV]   Link

    April 9, 1929 - Fire struck the vessel Pacific Trader at Princes Dock, Berth No. 4, Glasgow. [Glasgow Herald]   Link

    Dec. 31, 1929 - Panic at Glen Cinema in Painsley killed 71 children. [Daily Record]

    May 7, 1941 - Nazi air raid.

    May 4, 1949 - Thirteen female garment shop assistants died in a fire at Grafton’s fashion store, Argyle Street. Two managers received the George Medal for leading five others from a fourth floor window onto a ledge. [STV]

    May 18, 1957 - Fire and explosions at Riverside Milling Co. [Associated Press]   Link

    Dec. 13, 1959 - A blaze broke out aboard the cargo ship Deerpool at Stobcross Quay, and the fire brigade rescued the ship's fifth engineer, Ronald Scarfe, 21, who was overcome by smoke. [Glasgow Herald]   Link

    Dec. 1, 1960 - Station Officer Douglas Mearns died after a fire on the German cargo ship MV Pagensand at Princes Dock. [STV]

    Nov. 16, 1967 - House fire in Cumbernauld claimed the lives of four children under six as well as station commander William Clark, who suffered a heart attack. [STV]
    Nov. 18, 1968 - Fire at A J & S Stern’s furniture factory on James Watt street claimed the lives of 22 employees trapped by flames, barred windows and locked fire escapes. [Glasgow Herald, STV]   Link

    Nov. 3, 1969 - A blaze at the Theatre Royal, then used by Scotish TV, claimed the life of Glasgow Fireman Archie McLay, who "fell through a trapdoor in the building and was unable to activate his BA distress warning system," according to STV. "Another firefighter who attended the blaze, John Jamieson, went on to invent an automatic Distress Signal Unit (DSU) for firefighters which would go off if they stopped moving for 30 seconds."
    March 28, 1970 - Fire in a top floor flat in Deanston Drive, Shawlands, claimed the life of station officer James Mathieson, who collapsed and died. [STV]

    Oct. 21, 1971 - Explosion at Clarkston Toll shopping center near Glasgow killed 22 people and injured more than 100 others. [STV]

    Aug. 25, 1972 - Seven firemen perished at Sher Brothers warehouse on Kilbirnie Street. Divisional officer Andrew Quinn, leading fireman Alastair Crofts, Iain Bermingham, Allan Finlay, William Hooper and Duncan McMillan died trying to rescue fireman James Rook. [STV]   Link

    Nov. 18, 1972 - Fire at a tenement on Maryhill Road spread to Great Western Road, killing sub officer Adrian McGill and a resident in a top floor flat.  [STV]  Link

    1973 - Fire destroyed the Close Theater.

    April 16, 1979 - Five people died when two commuter trains collided near the Paisley Gilmour Street station. More than 60 others suffered injuries.

    March 7, 1989 - Two commuters trains collided near Glasgow's Bellgrove station, killing two people and injuring 44 others. The fire brigade cut through the wreckage to reach victims. [Glasgow Herald]   Link