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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.