Fires – Post 1900


Blantyre Fires – Post 1900 – Compiled by Blantyre Project (c) In Memory of the Victims

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Key: Photos attached to Article camera-film-icon Video This article is in The Blantyre Project Book - A Journey in Time Volume 1 Article in Blantyre Project Books

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREArticles can be clicked on for expanded detail (click the flickering flame on each for the full story). Our research is featured in the forthcoming small illustrated history book, “Blantyre – Through the Flames” by Paul Veverka (c) 2020. With granted permission from their family, the Blantyre Project book is dedicated to Shirley Schiavo (40) and Taylor Richard (8) who sadly died in 2009 at Fernslea Avenue, with all proceeds going to supporting the emergency services at their request.

“7th November 1909 – The Douglas Street Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREOn 7th November 1909, a terrible fire took place at Douglas Street, burning down a tenement building and taking the lives of 2 people. The sensational commentary was told in some detail in local newspapers and is retold here. Janet McLean (nee Russell) was a 70-year-old woman living at Douglas Street, near Kirkton at High Blantyre in the winter of 1909. Originally from Auchentibber, she lived alone but on the night of the fire, her grandson was with her, who was also the second victim. Janet was the mother of the McLean Brothers who owned nearby Springfield Mineral Water Company on Main Street. The fire took place on Sunday 7th November 1909 and was particularly notable for the engine called to eventually dowse the flames came all the way from Glasgow, an unusual circumstance as the nearby engines were busy. Reporters told at the time who sad it was to have a village with no fireman or ability to attend a fire in such emergencies. The incident was described as being enough in itself to make sure a County Fire Brigade was established. The fire started just before 3 o’clock in the morning on that Saturday evening. It broke out in a tenement on Douglas Street not far from the Kirkton cross in High Blantyre. The building comprised of 7 houses, 2 on the ground floor and 2 on the first floor, each of one room and a kitchen. Above, in the attic space were 3 attic apartments each having only 1 room. Tenements of similar descriptions adjoined either gable.

It was a Mrs Sneddon living in one of the attic rooms who first detected fire. When she raised the alarm, it was found that the adjacent attic room, belonging to Janet mcLean (70) was engulfed in flames. Her grandson Harry Taylor (28) had been staying with her. The flames were spreading rapidly and an evacuation of the other residents quickly took place. Mrs Gibson, Alex Watt, Hugh Gibson, Alex Johnston and Alex McKay had sufficient time to not only escape but to save some of their furniture too. It was however considered impossible by everybody to reach Janet’s room, which was described as “blazing like a furnace”. The police were sent for and a detachment of 8 constables from Stonefield arrived on the scene but had little to do. The police were led by Sergeants McCallum and Swanson. People resorted to pouring buckets of water on to the parts of the building they could safely reach, but were up against it. This technique had been used in a fire previously in Blantyre in recent weeks and again demonstrated the need for apparatus that could fight fires properly. Though the supply of water was plentiful, a hosepipe obtained from the gasworks on Stonefield Road was found to be far too short. With the surrounding area being quite populated at Kirkton, the blaze and the glare from the fire was apparent in the dark winter night sky from far off. It attracted the attention of crowds of people coming from their houses in the dead of night to witness the alarm. By the middle of the night, Main Street around the vicinity of the tenement surged with a horrified mob, excited by the spectacle of the morbid sight. They were unable to take their eyes of the blazing attic room, where each person knew two lives were quickly being extinguished. The personal effects of five families were littered over Douglas Street, the only consolation being some neighbours quickly offering them shelter. Two constables later gave an account to the Daily Record to explain why they found it difficult to get near the room. The wooden staircase at the back of the property leading to the attics was so badly damaged it was in danger of complete collapse. The apartment itself was in such a blaze, it was known already that people could not have survived it. Attention turned to Mrs Sneddon, who when asked what happened, said she could first smell burning. She confirmed the officers report that there was simply no way of getting to them and Janet McLean and her grandson Harry Taylor had only been discovered as missing when the residents evacuated. The fire likely started in the attic of Janet mcLean and we can only assume they were quickly overcome by smoke in such a small space.

Although Blantyre had no claim for Glasgow assistance to fires, a compliment of 10 firemen and a pump were dispatched from Glasgow to help. The call to them was made at 4am and it was of a surprise as to how quickly they travelled the 8 miles to Blantyre. The water was plentiful being nearby at Kirkton Cross as the firemen got to work. The flames had spread from the attic to the first floor below and by the time they dowsed the fire, the upper portion of the building was completely gutted. No sooner than the fire had been put out, the gruesome search for 2 bodies was started. The firemen searched from one end of the building to another turning over debris until the bodies were found. In such a bad state, only a few distinguishable features of them remained. A coffin was fashioned and the remains were quickly transferred to the house of the relatives. (This is assumed is must have been the McLean Brothers who lived only a minute or so away in Main Street). The firemen continued their task until it was complete and did not return to Glasgow until well into the daytime. Damage to the building was estimated as being around £500. Throughout the day onlookers trooped by the scene to witness the devastation, coming in from all around. There were many references to the lack of firefighting resources in Blantyre. Mr Thomson, procurator fiscal visited the scene the next day as did Captain Despard, the Chief Constable. How horrific this must have been for the McLean family, for surely they must have stepped out their doors and ran through Main Street to the scene where their mother was trapped.

“5th November 1921 Stonefield Road Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREOn the evening of Saturday 5th November 1921, Stonefield Road, Blantyre was the scene of great alarm, fear and excitement owing to a tremendously, disastrous gas explosion that occurred at the Gasworks. (the site of the later Letham’s Garage)

At exactly 4am a terrific explosion took place busting over the entire town, instantly awakening people from their sleep. People came from houses to see what the commotion was, and before long, large crowds lined Stonefield Road trying to work out what had happened. The explosion was of such magnitude that it was heard up to 7 miles around in all directions.

Just after the explosion, those arriving first on the scene were greeted with chaos and confusion. The office buildings at the Gas works were reduced to a shapeless mass with pipes twisted around the area in a grotesque heap. The Cambuslang detachment of the Lanarkshire County Fire Department were soon on the scene, standing by until daylight blocking the site from spectators in case of further incidents. The fire, although fierce was confined to the pipes venting large quantities of gas, set aside in storage for street lights and homes.

Mr Robert Scott, the gas manager later told police that he could not say what had caused the explosion. He commented that the gas storage container with 20,000 cubic feet of gas was empty. The explosion was to blame for the damage to buildings. The ignition of the gas was the explosion that was heard by all. Although serious, the gas storage affected was the smallest in the plant. It could have been far worse. The damage was considerable and no homes in Blantyre received any gas for a few days, leaving streets in darkness during evenings. No lives were lost but several of the workmen had miraculous escapes as the plant was manned each night. One of them had just left the storage area and was crossing the plant when it happened, throwing him to the ground with force.

The impact of the blast damaged several nearby homes and was of such strength, the brick wall entrance to the plant, was forced outwards and into Stonefield Road. A large squad of workmen were deployed by the works in the clean up effort and restoring service as quickly as possible. Update: A later inquest found the incident to be accidental. No proof could be provided that any workmen had been smoking or were negligent. Similarly the co-incidence of Bonfire Night being the date of the accident may have been connected, but again no proof was evident.

“26th February 1927 – Clark Street Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREAn alarming fire broke out on Saturday 26th February 1927 in buildings at Clark Street, Low Blantyre. The properties were owned and occupied by Patrick Murray, a coal merchant. Patrick was also a dealer in second hand furniture. When the fire brigade arrived, the buildings were well alight, but the firemen quickly got the flames extinguished. The roofs of the buildings were completely burned and the stock was greatly damaged by water. The fire was supposed to have originated in the hayloft above the stables. Two horses were rescued by the heroic efforts of five young men.

“4th June 1927 – Rosebank Avenue Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREA serious fire occurred in Blantyre on 4th June 1927. That Saturday Night, a double two-storey villa at 6-8 Rosebank Avenue, Low Blantyre, caught alight, the fire originating from a gas stove where food was being cooked. The property was owned by Messrs Speirs and Knox, Glasgow, and it was split into 2 homes. The first half, consisting of four rooms, kitchen, scullery, and large hall, was occupied by Mr David Naismith, a butcher, with his wife and family.

The other half was occupied by Mr Joseph Clyde, with his wife and seven of a family. The latter party had a sub-tenant named Bernard Donnelly with his wife and three young children. The outbreak was discovered when a servant girl in the Naismith household returned from an errand and was unable to enter the house owing to the flames and dense smoke. The flames spread with alarming rapidity, and when the Cambuslang detachmcnt of the Lanarkshire County Fire Brigade arrived they found that the villa was well alight with the flames bursting through the roof, and the interior a raging furnace.

There was considerable danger of the flames spreading to the adjoining villas, but the firemen were successful in confining the flames to the villa of origin. So alarming was the outbreak that tenants in the vicinity commenced removing their household goods. The Donnelly family lost their all. The Clyde family only saved their kitchen furniture, and the Naismith family only saved a few articles from their drawing room. The insurance covered all the furniture valuing that at £1200, (about £68,000 in todays money!) and the damage to the property was around £600.(about £34,000 today)

“25th January 1928 – Waterloo Row Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREOn the dark, Winter afternoon of Wednesday 25th January 1928, a Burns Supper at Waterloo Row, Low Blantyre had catastrophic and terrible consequences for many local people.

“25th April 1929 – Adam’s Building Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREOn the afternoon of Thursday 25th April 1929, an alarming tenement fire at Adam’s Building, Kirkton, High Blantyren occurred which burned out six homes at Main Street, and the unfortunate tenants had no time to save any of their belongings. The flames spread fast in the 2-storey building, which was adjoining the Church Parish Halls on the North side of the street, near its junction with Hunthill Road. The fire had serious consequences for on its east gable was the Old Parish Church Halls and on its west, a 3 storey tenement housing about 30 tenants. The large sawmill of William Adam and Son adjoined the 3-storey tenement and the property on fire, belonged to the Adam family. It had address 364 Main Street. The fire originated in the upper flat of the 2-storey tenement and so quickly did the flames spread that they were bursting through the roof within a quarter of an hour. The tenant of the house where the fire started was temporarily absent. Other householders in their alarm rushed into the streets and took what belongings they could with them.

The Cambuslang detachment of the Lanarkshire Fire Brigade was quickly on the scene and after about 4 hours work, fighting sheets of flame, and hampered by the dense smoke, the firemen managed to successfully in confine the fire to the 2-storey property. Three families on the upper floor were burned out and had no chance of saving any of their household goods. The lower floor tenants saved only a portion of their belongings. From one house the only thing saved was a coat which luckily enough had £20 one of the pockets. It belonged to a driver. Only three of the affected householders were insured. The families were housed temporarily in the Old Parish Church, while others were given shelter by their friends. The damage was estimated at £2,500. The building was demolished between June and August 1930.

“3rd May 1929 – Morris Crescent Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREA fire broke out about 5.30am on the morning of Friday 3rd May 1929 in a two-storey double-block dwelling situated at 104 Morris Crescent, Blantyre, in the centre of the relatively new large housing scheme. Mr William Hardie, a commercial traveller who was employed by a Glasgow firm, occupied the house. He lived at number 104 with his wife and three children. The Hardie family all had been sleeping upstairs. In the early morning, Mrs Hardie was awakened by a strong smell of burning, and on her husband going downstairs he found it impossible to enter the living room owing to the density of smoke. Mr Hardie raised the alarm and wakened his three children, and had them removed outside at once, practically in their nightclothes. The family next door was also alerted, and other neighbours quickly came to their assistance. The police soon joined them, and their combined efforts were successful in curtailing the spread of the flames. It was unknown how the fire had started, but the family considered it a lucky escape.

“17th January 1930 – Parkville Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREFire was discovered on the Saturday afternoon of 17th January 1930 in the roof of Parkville House, in the west end of the Glasgow road, Blantyre. At the time, the property was a house and was owned and occupied by Dr. John Cowan Wilson. The doctor and his household and others tackled the outbreak with buckets of water and fire extinguishers. But for the speedy arrival of the Cambuslang detachment of the County Fire Brigade, there was a probability that the whole house and furniture would have been destroyed, as there was a gale blowing at the time.

After an hour’s work the firemen succeeded in extinguishing the fire, but the roof was practically destroyed, and the house ground flat rooms and upstairs bedrooms suffered considerable damage from water. A large annexe adjacent to the house, consisting of ground flat rooms and bedrooms upstairs, escaped damage.

“2nd May 1932 – Victoria Street Garage Fire” by Paul Veverka

In the early hours of the morning a large garage, situated at Victoria Street caught alight. Owned by Mr Peter D. Hastie, it was burned out, and the owner’s motorcar and a car belonging to a commercial traveller were destroyed. The damage was estimated as £2,500.

“23rd March 1933 – Four Mill Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREOn the evening of Thursday 23rd March 1933, fire broke out at Blantyre Mills. The three-Storey Building was gutted about ten o’clock that night resulting in Cambuslang Fire Brigade being summoned to a fire in wood-dust mill on the bank of the River Clyde in Old Blantyre village. The mill was owned by Messrs Gideon Clark & Sons, who also owned Bell’s Mills, Edinburgh and another at Carnoustie. The mill sawdust was ground to powder to be used in the preparation of gunpowder and linoleum. The building where the fire originated was of three storeys and about 60 feet long. The firemen managed to confine the blaze to the machinery section, but the three flats were completely gutted. The storage rooms and offices were saved. The damage was estimated at between £2000 and £3000. The building was at one time part of the Old Blantyre spinning mill, and was built in the 1790’s.

This flour mill fire wasn’t the only one to happen at the building. A larger, more severe fire occurred in May 1950. I can’t help but think that this 1933 fire may have been deliberate. Fires at Blantyre Works and the Village area were peppered in newspaper reports around 1933, with George Stewarts yard just up the road being targeted only a month later.

“5th April 1933 – George Stewart’s Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREGeorge Stewart owned a building company in Blantyre in the 1930’s. Adverts stated that they specialised in mine ventilating fans, masonry work, high-speed turbines and generating plants, providing architects and engineering works. Their telephone was ‘Blantyre 54.’ They were based in Station Road, within Blantyre works. George was involved heavily in the construction of Dundee’s City Square, which opened in November 1933. Around the same time, he built the Caird Hall, Dundee. On 5th April 1933, a huge fire ignited petrol tanks at his Blantyre yard resulting in the destruction of several of his vehicles. It is unknown how the fire started.

The report said, “DISASTROUS SCOTS BLAZE Dundee Contractor’s Loss – At eleven o’clock last night fire broke out in the well-known builders’ yard at Blantyre belonging to Messrs George Stewart & Son, Blantyre, Dundee and Fort- William. It resulted in eight-ton motor lorry, three-ton motor lorry, and the owner’s private car being completely burnt out and another three-ton motor lorry being badly damaged. The fire originated in the garage, but th 3 large storage petrol tank was saved. In one of the lorries was 40 gallons of petrol, and the others were also well filled, and the tanks burst with a terrifying explosion. A huge store of cement castings and expensive machinery was saved. Mr Stewart said he had no idea how the firo originated, and while he could not accurately state the damage, it would run into some thousands of pounds. The firemen had the blaze well in hand by midnight. “ On Lanark County Council, he retired shortly after in May 1934 focusing on his building businesses, which by then had expanded to Blantyre, Dundee, Fort William, Edinburgh and Oban.

“1935 – The Malcomwood Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIRETwo detachments of Lanark County Fire Brigade were summoned to Malcolmwood Farm in one day in 1935, owned by John Pettigrew. Beside 50 tonnes of newly gathered hay, two large buildings, farm implements and two hay wagons to the value of £1,000 were destroyed. The farm was isolated from other properties and the firemen immediately knew they would have problems with an inadequate supply of water. A telephone message was sent to Hamilton Headquarters for assistance and two pumping engines were sent to the scene. The lines of hoses were laid down the hill, to the River Calder over quarter of a mile away and by this means a plentiful supply was achieved and maintained. The fire had originated in one of the hay sheds, a large brick building with a slated roof. The flames quickly spread to the cattle and horse sheds, but the fireman succeeded in preventing any loss of life, and indeed ensured the fire avoided the house itself. The buildings affected were burned down. The firemen also succeeded in saving 12 stacks of newly gathered corn.

“1st October 1935 – Priory Colliery Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREA fire at one of the main haulage roadways at Priory Colliery, Blantyre, near Glasgow, which was discovered on Tuesday 1st October 1935, proved more serious than at first supposed. The fire raged for 2 days. Fifty men with fire extinguishers laboured strenuously fighting the flames, but early on the 3rd October, it was decided to seal the area. This covers about half a-mile of roadway. Eight hundred miners employed at the colliery were idle on 3rd October as the damage was surveyed and repaired.

“30th December 1936 – Station Road Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREOn 30th December 1936, a fire occurred in a bungalow at Station Road. The Cambuslang detachment of Lanark Fire Brigade was summoned to the fire which had broken out in a bungalow at 43 Station Road, Blantyre. The house at that time was owned by Mr George Potsworth, who worked his business as a boot repairer and fancy goods merchant in Station Road.

When the fire was observed Mrs Potsworth’s mother was alone in the house, as Mr and Mrs Potsworth were at their business. The fire seemed to have broken out above the ceiling of the kitchen, due, it is said, to the fusing of an electric wire. The firemen had the flames quickly extinguished, and the principal damage was caused by water. The property and furniture also suffered slightly from the effects of the fire but there were no injuries.

“28th December 1937 – Leggat’s Building Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREThe fire raged through ten former 2-storey houses known as Leggat’s Building directly opposite the Blantyre Miner’s Welfare Institute leaving eight families shattered and homeless. A mother was injured through rushing into a burning house to the rescue of her four-year-old son, who was not there. A nineteen-year-old youth, asleep after working on a night shift, was wakened by choking smoke, and escaped by jumping out of a window 15 feet from the ground. An elderly woman had a handbag containing £115 of savings restored to her after it had remained for some time unnoticed among a heap of furniture. Today, there are no houses directly across from the Miners Welfare on Calder Street, as this fire shaped the street, as we know it. They were demolished a short time after the fire in early 1938, making way for the immediate construction of the former Blantyre Calder Street library.

“31st January 1940 – Henderson’s Buildings Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREOn Wednesday 31st January 1940, ten families were rendered homeless when a catastrophic fire ripped through Henderson’s Buildings. Glasgow Road. Blantyre. It originated the centre of the two-storey tenement building of shops and flats, and the flames quickly spread to adjoining premises. After some hours the fire was under control just before midnight. However, ten families lost everything. Six of the homeless families were accommodated the Blantyre Miners’ Welfare Institute and the other four families were given shelter by friends, likely having to start all over again. The building, which had 120 tenants was known as Henderson’s buildings and had a frontage of 100 feet on the Glasgow Road and the Auchinraith Road. The ground floor of the building contained 12 shops and the wine and spirit business owned by James Kelly was at the corner of the building at the junction of the two roads. The outbreak originated in the home of a Mrs Elliot in the centre of the building and the fire travelled at great speed towards the eastern end of the tenement engulfing it in flames. Three fire engines attacked the fire from different angles and they brought the fire under control at 11.30 p.m. but continued to pour water on to the burning building until well after midnight. The fire took place on one of the coldest nights for years and the bitter conditions caused a great deal of hardship, not only for the people who had lost their homes, but also to the people whose homes had been damaged by the vast amounts of water needed to bring the fire under control. During the blaze great anxiety was caused by the knowledge that three invalids, confined to their homes by ill health were in the blazing building but were carried to safety by neighbours. John Tennent whose home was terribly damaged by water lost all of his furniture. John was the secretary of Blantyre and District Ornithological Society and he remembered at the height of the blaze that he had £23 in a drawer in his home. Much to his relief he found the money quite secure when he managed to gain admission to his home. The money had been the proceeds from a recent show and was to be handed over to the Red Cross. Seven families were left homeless. Mrs Mary Elliot, widow; John Woods, wife and family; William Davis, wife and family; Alexander Henderson, wife and family; James Loudon, wife and family; John Clark funeral undertaker, and Stewart Raeburn, wife and family. Many of the families in the building lost everything they possessed due to either fire or water/smoke damage.

“1948 – The Watson Street Fire” by Paul Veverka 

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREDuring 1948, ten families were rendered homeless when fire ravaged through their Watson Street homes. Almost 40 people lost their homes and most of their possessions, being forced to stay temporarily after the fire in the YMCA. The fire had started early one morning at 12 Watson Street and destroyed the two-storey building. Temporary repairs were carried out at one end of the building to ensure the families adjacent were protected and could remain there. The fire was believed to have originated in the upper storey in the home of Mr. and Mrs. McNulty and their four children. Within half an hour the roof the building was on fire, as was the two shops on the lower floor, burning furiously. Mrs. McNulty’s cries for help caught the attention of her neighbours who raised the alarm. Householders made a vain attempt to put the fire out with buckets of water but were unsuccessful. Similar attempts were made to rescue possessions.

“28th December 1949 – Springwell Crescent Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREA bricklayer, Frank Dunsmuir (27), was the hero of a fire which broke out in the early hours in the morning of Wednesday 28th December 1949 in his father’s home at 29 Springwell Crescent Blantyre. The house, which still exists today, is a four-apartment upstairs dwelling, that time in the county council housing scheme. The occupier was Mr Hugh Dunsmuir, a 61-year-old retired miner, and also living there was his wife, his son, Frank; a married daughter, Mrs Mary Penman; and two grandchildren, 11 year-old May Lloyd and 15-year old John Fullarton. All of the occupants of the house were sleeping in adjoining bedrooms when the raging fire, which almost gutted the entire house, broke out in the living room, and they had to escape in their night attire. Frank Dunsmuir was awakened by the smell of smoke. When he got out of bed and went to the door of the livingroom he was met by a burst of smoke and flames. He immediately raised the alarm. By this time the flames had secured such a strong hold on the house that the occupants had to move quickly to reach safety.

Frank, with some difficulty, managed to get to his father, who has been in ill health for some time taking him downstairs, then returned to the bedroom occupied by his mother. Shielding his mother from the flames with his own body, he made haste towards the door and she was removed to safety outside. Despite the fact that the house and stairwell by this time was well alight, he went upstairs again to get his married sister, Mrs Penman, to safety, but when he entered the bedroom occupied by her he was almost overcome by smoke and could not hear anything when he called for her. The room was filled with smoke; so much the walls inside could not be seen. He put his arm through a glass window to make an outlet for some of the smoke, his arm immediately bleeding being badly cut. As onlookers poured out into the street and called the fire brigade, Frank heard from below that his sister was already safe, and had been rescued from another room. With the smoke clearing enough from the room temporarily, he saw his way back to the stairwell and made his way outside to safety, burned and bleeding. The fire brigade managed to prevent the flames from spreading to the other three houses in the block. The six people who had been living in the burned-out house were left with only their night attire but neighbours and the community of Springwells came to their assistance that night, providing them with food and shelter.

“17th May 1950 – Walker’s Flour Mill Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIRE“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.

“16th May 1951 – Industrial Estate Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREA fire at the relatively new High Blantyre Industrial Estate suddenly cut off more than 20 workers. They frantically smashed windows and clambered through the jagged openings when fire swept the polishing shop at the furniture-manufacturing factory of Messrs F. H. Marshall and Co. in the new Industrial estate at High Blantyre. When the alarm was raised the workers were crowding the rest room. They smashed the glass of the steel-framed windows with chairs and with wood-filler Terry M‘Grory (24) taking charge. The workers were pushed through and helped to the ground lowered from an elevated position, at the front of the factory by Eddie Trainer (25) also a polishing-shop employee. Nobody was hurt to any extent but it was a troublesome start for the new business location.

“24th August 1955 – Craighead Farm Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREExtensive damage was caused to farm buildings by an outbreak of fire at Craighead Farm, once situated just off Whistleberry Road. The farm formed part of the estate of Craighead Retrea and was then owned by tenant, Mr James Barrett. James’s 11-year old son discovered the fire at 8.45am. He saw smoke coming from the ground floor, which formed part of the farms steadings. The boy informed his father, who then immediately called for the fire brigade. When they arrived they found the building well alight. The fire was fought for well over an hour before coming into control. The building was completely gutted, and several farm vehicles including a tractor, plough, a raking machine and a mower were completely destroyed. An oil tank also exploded, containing a large quantity of oil. No indication of how the fire started was apparent and the damage numbered a high financial toll.

“17th November 1967 – High Blantyre Primary Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREThe High Blantyre Primary School in Hunthill Road went on fire. It is unknown if it was started deliberately or accidentally. Nobody was injured and children were given a few days off whilst repairs were made.

“19th March 1978 – The Calder Street Fire” by Paul Veverka

An elderly man, Thomas Brown (64) of 108 Calder Street escaped injury one Sunday afternoon when his bed caught fire, causing extensive damage to his bedroom.

“8th June 1978 – The Anderson Church Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREThe Anderson U.F Church on Stonefield Road burned down during the early evening. See Anderson U.F Church for more.

“18th February 2001 Craighead Retreat Fire” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREThe property called “Craighead Retreat” owned by the Jesuit Fathers was struck by fire at around 9pm on Sunday 18th February 2001. Craighead Retreat sat just off Whistleberry Road.

In the days that followed, police immediately launched an enquiry into what had caused the fire, tipped by firemen that something was not quite right. By the time they had arrived, the ground floor, first floor and roof were ablaze in a fierce fire, which had firmly taken hold. It took them 3 hours to bring the blaze under control.The building had been left empty for three previous years, although a security company made daily patrols to check everything was ok. The patrol on that day confirmed everything was normal. Police later found out that the front door of the building had been forced open and the fire had definitely started in suspicious circumstances.

“21st October 2009 – Fernslea Avenue Fire” by Paul Veverka

A newlywed mother and her daughter died when fire swept through their home in Fernslea Avenue in the early hours. Shirley Schiavo, 40, died in ­hospital alongside eight-year-old Taylor Richard after the blaze destroyed their house in Blantyre, South Lanarkshire. Emergency services rushed to the scene when neighbours raised the alarm just after 2am. Mrs Schiavo and Taylor were taken to Hairmyres Hospital in nearby East Kilbride, but died of their injuries. Mrs Schiavo’s Italian husband Alessandro, whom she married in the summer, was also in the house at the time of the blaze. He escaped and had to be held back by firefighters as he tried desperately to save his family. Neighbours Billy Nugent, 43, and partner Samantha Burns, 42, saw Mr Schiavo, who works at a fish and chip shop, in the street screaming for help.

Sales manager Mr Nugent said: “I ran outside and the first thing I remember is the heat really hitting me as I left the house. I think the whole house went up very quickly. Alessandro was trying to get back in but firemen were holding him back. “It was terrible to see. It’s just a massive, massive tragedy. “They pulled Shirley and Taylor from the house and spent 20 minutes trying to resuscitate them in the garden. It was horrible. Taylor was a lovely wee girl and Shirley was a wonderful mother. There was nothing any of us could do to help. We’re still in shock.” Family friend Jean McDonagh, 53, said Mrs Schiavo had just qualified as a nurse. She added: “Everything had been looking up for her. It’s a terrible thing to have happened.” Mrs Schiavo had been married twice before, and Taylor was the daughter of her previous husband, John Richard. She also had two other children, Samantha, 23, and Dean, 20, as well as a granddaughter, four-year-old Chloe. Floral tributes and a Winnie-the-Pooh teddy bear were laid at the scene. One tribute to the young victim read: “To my friend Taylor. I’m feeling very sad that I will never see you again. You were a great friend to be around and we had good fun playing. Sleep peacefully in your mother’s arms.”

Mr Schiavo, who had lived in Scotland for 13 years, was head fryer at Equi’s chip shop and ice-cream parlour in nearby Hamilton. The shop’s supervisor, Linzi Delaney, said: “He is just devastated by this. He loved his wife and daughter, he lived for his wife and he regarded Taylor as his own daughter. “He tried to get back in the house to get them out and he has some minor burns.” Anne-Marie Reid, head teacher of St Blanes’ Primary School in Blantyre, where Taylor was a pupil, said: “She was a lovely child, quiet but very friendly.” Neighbours said Taylor had recently moved into a newly converted bedroom in the loft. It is thought she had been unable to settle down for the night, so her mother was sleeping in the room with her when the fire broke out, trapping them both. The cause of the blaze was investigated and it is understood that there were no suspicious circumstances. The Blantyre Project book will be dedicated to Shirley and Taylor with all proceeds going to good Blantyre causes.

“8th December 2015 – Auchentibber Farm” by Paul Veverka

TRU_ANIMATED_FIREAn unknown cause started a fire at Auchentibber Farm, Auchentibber Road on that morning. The fire brigade attended quickly getting the blaze under control, but not before the roof and the insides of the farmhouse had been completely burned out. The farm had been lying empty for some time beforehand and nobody was injured.

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