Margaret Mallon recalls Scotland's worst fire since the end of the War, which killed 22 people

TWENTY-TWO people died in a warehouse fire in James Watt Street in Glasgow on November 19, 1968. It was the worst fire disaster to hit the city since the war.

Horrified onlookers watched helplessly as the victims perished, trapped in the building behind iron-barred windows in the former whisky store.

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The workers in the upholstery and glassware companies which occupied the building could be seen from the street, trapped in the upper floors of the building, screaming for help and beating the windows with furniture in a futile attempt to escape.

The fire was only 400 yards from Cheapside Street, where 19 had died in a whisky bond only eight years before.

The building was owned by Julius and Samuel Stern, who ran their upholstery business of B Stern Ltd in James Watt Street. They rented the basement and a ground floor office to G Bryce, a glassware firm. Julius Stern and George Jesner, a partner in the glassware business, both died in the blaze.

Around 70 firemen, beaten back by the fierce heat, could only watch as the trapped workers smashed windows with chairs and tried to bend the iron bars to let them jump into the street. Smoke enveloped the street and soon the screams and shouts stopped. Only three workers and a lorry driver escaped from the three-storey building. One of the survivors,

16-year-old Gordon Paterson, a storeboy from Drumchapel, said at the time: ''The fire went up like an explosion and everything lit up at once.

''Everything in the building was wooden, the stairs were wooden, the floors were wooden, and the building was full of wooden picture frames. It was impossible to get into it.''

Elizabeth Price, a clerkess from Motherwell who managed to find a way out of the inferno, said: ''When I realised the building was on fire my first thoughts were to keep calm and make for the nearest exit. Then came the blinding smoke that made it almost impossible to breathe.

''On the level above me I could hear women screaming terrible screaming that words can't describe. The pleading and desperation in their voices will haunt me for the rest of my life.

''The screaming was ringing through the building. Someone shouted: 'God help us for pity's sake.'

''No-one has to tell me how lucky I am to be alive.''

At an inquiry into the tragedy, Bailie James Anderson, convener of Glasgow police and fire committee, said: ''I think that all iron bars on windows of bonded warehouses should be removed. With modern methods of burglar protection, it is simply an anachronism of the eighteenth century.''

james watt street, 1968: emotive scenes from Scotland's worst fire since the War, when 22 people perished, trapped in a blazing building whose windows were barredHD1/41-44

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