1950 Fire at Walker’s Flour Mill

1950 Flour Mill fire. Shared by G Cook

1950 Flour Mill fire. Shared by G Cook

Pictured here in 1950 is Duncan Kippen after a fire at Walkers Flour Mill, Blantyre Village. The story was shared to me from Gordon Cook who commented, “Walker’s old Wood Flour Mill. They ground down wood to such a fine extent, it was taken to Kirkaldy and other places (usually in Fife) and used in the manufacture of linoleum, it formed part of the backing. Because of the nature of the plant, and the friction of the machinery, it was often igniting, and the workers had usually to be extra vigilant.”

This big fire attracted no less than FIVE fire engines. The story is told here, as reported in the Blantyre Gzaette on 20th May 1950.

“The biggest outbreak of fire experienced in Blantyre for some time occurred shortly after two o’clock on Wednesday morning at the wood flour mills owned by Gideon Walker Ltd, situated on the banks of the River Clyde at the Village. Before the outbreak was discovered by one of two men employed on night shift the fire had apparently taken a good hold and within a matter of minutes, ,the centre part of the premises was like a blazing inferno. 

At one point the blaze became so alarming with the chance always prevalent of the Livingstone National Memorial buildings situated close by becoming ignited that five separate units of the Fire Brigade were summoned to the scene to deal with the outbreak. The mills are built in three parts and the centre portion was completely gutted while the storeroom was extensively damaged.

The site of the mills is part of that which formerly houses the old weaving mills where David Livingstone worked as a boy. The birthplace of the famous explorer and missionary overlooks the mills but fortunately when the fire occurred, the weather was calm and this prevented sparks being sent in the direction of the Livingstone Museum which contains many precious relics relating to the great missionary and explorer.

The two men who were on night shift when the fire took place were Andrew Harris and Robert Crombie. A Gazette representative who interviewed Harris shortly after the outbreak occurred was told that he had just gone into the centre portion of the mills about 2am when he observed flames shooting up from the stairway heading to the ground floor. Harris was taken completely by surprise but with smoke and flames pouring from the building, he decided to get our quickly. He summoned James Cunningham, another employee who lives in the adjoining mill houses and the latter’s son telephoned for the fire brigade. 

The first unit of the brigade from Hamilton was quickly on the scene but the blaze spread with such rapidity that the Hamilton men upon arrival at the mills, knew they were going to be confronted with a very heavy task. The blaze had reached such spectacular dimensions that it was decided to summon other units of the Lanarkshire fire brigade from Cambuslang, Larkhall, Bellshill and Motherwell and altogether there were about 40 firemen trying to control the outbreak.

Mr. A. N Nisbet firemaster for Lanarkshire and third Officer Alex Orr arrived by car from their headquarters in Motherwell and directed the fire fighting operations. The firemen concentrated their efforts on saving one end of the property and nine lines of hoses were laid out to pour water into the parts of the premises that were already well alight. With the River Clyde close by no difficulties in regard to the water supply were experienced but the firemen were on the job for more than four hours before the outbreak was brought under complete control. The efforts of the firemen to save the back portions of the mills were successful but the other portions suffered extensively. 

The firm responsible for the operation of the mills have two other mills of a similar type in Edinburgh and when the fire was first discovered two members of the firm residing there the brothers Alan and Lawrence Walker were notified by telephone and made a hurried journey by car to Blantyre to the scene of the blaze. The mills which were built in the early part of the 20th century specialise in the production of wood flour which is utilised by other firms in the manufacture of linoleum and certain other commodities. Another local representative of the firm, Mr Gideon Walker who was also at the scene of the outbreak, could offer no explanation of the cause of the fire which, by the loss of stock, plant and machinery caused damage estimated as several thousand pounds.

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