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Scots monuments: Cheapside Street disaster

The memorial to the Cheapside Street fire victims

The memorial to the Cheapside Street fire victims

  • by Stephen Emerson
 

On 28 March 1960, Glasgow was the scene of one of the worst fires to blaze across peacetime Britain.

The Cheapside Street fire was a catastrophic event that razed an entire area of Glasgow to the ground, and killed 19 men, 14 of whom were firemen.

The men died after an explosion blew out onto Cheapside Street and Warroch Street. The explosion caused masonry from heights of up to 60ft to fell from the warehouse, killing the fire crews that had arrived.

The fire started at a whisky warehouse containing over one million gallons of rum and whisky, and then spread to surrounding buildings, including an ice cream factory and a tobacco warehouse.

A total of 450 firefighters had been dispatched to put out a fire that took 11 hours to extinguish. The narrow streets surrounding the warehouse made fighting the fire difficult for the emergency services, and the incident drew widespread criticism of the city’s fire regulations.

A memorial to those who lost their lives was placed at the bottom of Cheapside Street in 2010.

The warehouses which dominated the area have long been demolished with the memorial sitting on the regenerated walkway beside the River Clyde.

Brian Sweeney paid tribute to the bravery of the firefighters at the time of the memorials unveiling.

He said: “Their duty was to protect lives and property and they did that unflinchingly. We are also here to recognise and respect the bravery and dedication of the firemen who fought and controlled the massive blaze.”

The memorial ceremony was attended by some of the surviving firefighters who had been involved in the Cheapside blaze.

Another memorial to those who lost their lives in the Cheapside Street fire also exists in the city’s Necropolis cemetery.

The Cheapside Street fire, among others, had justified Glasgow’s unofficial nickname as ‘Tinderbox City’ - tragically, the fire did not prove to be the catalyst for much sought-after reforms. Another fire, mere blocks away from Cheapside Street in an upholstery factory, killed 22 people who were trapped in the building.

 

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