About nine o’clock in the evening on Tuesday 13th September 1859, the two large brick buildings, forming part of the dye works at Blantyre Cotton Mills, the property of Henry Monteith & Co, the famed Turkey-red dyers, were totally consumed by fire.
One of the tenements called the “drying store” consisted of five storeys, besides the ground floor. In this building, 4603 lbs. of yarn had been hung up, on being removed from the dyeing house. The other tenement, of lesser proportions, was also used as a store, where the yarn was placed upon reaching a more advanced stage of the dyeing process.
The fire originated in some unknown way in the largest building, which being so openly constructed for drying purposes, was speedily in a blaze: the flames were first noticed coming through the roof. Some of the workers who were employed on the night-shift, within or near the same building, were quite ignorant of the fire when it first commenced and of what was going on so near at hand!
Both buildings, from the combustible nature of their contents, were in a brief space of time completely gutted: however, the four gables of the drying, store remained upright.
By this era, Blantyre Works had their own fire engine, which was put into operation at one. The Hamilton fire engine, under the superintendence of Mr. Mitchell, inspector, was also as soon as possible on the scene. Captain Mackay, chief constable of the county, accompanied by Superintendents Irvine and Dewar were deployed on the ground, preserving order, and directing operations amongst the growing mob.
About 10 o’clock another Hamilton Engine arrived, this one drawn on foot by a detachment of the 11th Light Dragoons, in command by Captain Munn.
In conjunction with the other two engines, and a copious supply of water from the Clyde, water was sprayed on the glowing embers and red hot crumbling walls, proving effective. The workers, and especially the females, did their utmost in forwarding water in buckets, and all kinds of utensils for supplying the Victorian engines. Provost Nisbet, Bailie Kellar and a large party from Hamilton were also present.
The blazing scene was witnessed from the heights of both banks of the Clyde, and must have been at the outset have been terrifically and awfully grand in the extreme! There was insurance in place and the mills set about to rebuild afterwards, not for the first time this building had been burned out.
This formed the third major fire forcing a rebuild at these works since they were established. Mr. Miller and Mr. Strathern, two of the managers, and Mr. Dunn, cashier, gave the whole incident their undivided attention.
Damage was £6,000 and the fire threw many people idle, without wages for some time.
From the book , “Blantyre Fires: Through the Flames” by Paul Veverka (c) 2018
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