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The James Watt Street fire on Monday, 18 November 1968, was a fatal factory fire in Glasgow, Scotland. It was notable for the huge loss of life, with 22 employees killed,[1] trapped in a building behind barred windows, a hangover from its previous use as a whisky bond. Around 100 firemen from Glasgow Fire Service attended this incident, which reinforced Glasgow's reputation for tragic fires in the 30 years after the Second World War.

Many of these fires resulted from poor building standards, many premises being modified from their original purpose. Glasgow city centre did not suffer from wartime bombing to the extent of other British cities, and consequently, many industrial premises were still of nineteenth-century origin, and were located in very cramped and narrow streets.


Stern furniture upholstery factoryEdit

The factory premises was located in James Watt Street, a street between Argyle Street and the Broomielaw on the north side of the River Clyde. It had previously been used as a whisky bond and in common with much of Glasgow's industrial premises at that time, had seen numerous uses over the years. The building consisted of a ground, first, and second floors, with basement. The previous use of the building resulted in high security measures, with barred windows meaning that in the event of a fire, escape could be compromised. In the following enquiry, it was discovered that the doors to the fire escape were locked from the inside.

Julius and Samuel Stern ran the upholstery business B Stern Ltd. on the upper floors.[1] A glass company, G. Bryce occupied the basement and part of the ground floor.[1]

The fireEdit

The alarm was raised at around 10:30, with the first crews arriving within five minutes. A serious fire was seen to be in progress, and a "Make Pumps 10" message was sent to control almost immediately (additional appliances required, which in addition to those already there would total 10). As part of this request for reinforcements, a "Persons Reported" message was sent, indicating persons were requiring urgent assistance and rescue. 70 firemen attended to fight the fire,[1] with water poured onto the building from turntable ladders. It was found that efforts at rescue were futile due to the intense heat, and the difficulties in entering the building. Escape from the building had been prevented due to fire on the stairs, caused by polyurethane foam, and the escape doors from the first and second floors to the fire escape were found to have been locked from the inside. Eventually, no persons were seen at the windows, and any hopes of rescue for those inside ended when the roof of the building collapsed. Many attempts were made to enter the building where the employees were believed to be, but intense heat drove back the firemen. The Glasgow Fire Service personnel eventually gained access to the building, by cutting through the steel doors using oxy-propane cutting gear. The dead were found inside the factory to have died due to the inhalation of smoke, the burning of polyurethane foam resulting in poisonous fumes, fatal when inhaled.

The victimsEdit

The fire was brought under control around 3pm by which time 20 bodies had been found. A further 2 were found later, totaling 22. 5 women and 17 men. Only 4 people of those known to be in the building escaped.[2]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Mallon, Margaret (11 September 2001). "Disaster strikes in James Watt Street". Glasgow Herald. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
  2. ^ Ross, William. "Secretary of State Statement". Retrieved 7 February 2014.
  • "Inquiry into fire disaster": 'There would seem to be criminal negligence— bailie', The Glasgow Herald, 19 November 1968, p1
  • Tinderbox Heroes a book by A. Forbes, J.Smith, publ 2010, Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Retired Employees Association. ISBN 978-0-9564996-0-8