IT was the tragic fire which cost 22 people their lives and brought about a long-ranging overhaul of Glasgow's health and safety laws.

Half a century ago, the most deadly blaze in Scotland's largest city since the second World War broke out in an industrial building housing a furniture business and a glass-making company.

Workers were trapped by barred windows and padlocked fire escapes, while people in the street below could hear their cries for help but were powerless to save them.

Only three workers and a lorry driver made it to safety from the flames and fumes which swiftly filled the Victorian office block in James Watt Street, and the ages of the victims ranged from 15-year-old Elizabeth Taylor to 64-year-olds Harry Ure and Laurence Ward Fleming.

Yet for 50 years there was no memorial was placed at the site of the disaster to honour the dead or give relatives a place where they could grieve together.

Now, after pressure from the victims' families, a paving-stone plaque has been installed recording the names of those who lost their lives and providing official recognition of the tragedy on November 18, 1968. 


The plaque contains the names of the victims 

Relatives gathered at the site yesterday with members of the Scottish Fire and Rescue to unveil the plaque, made from stone donated by Co-Op Funeral Services after a public appeal by councillor Bailie Marie Garrity, whose constituent Mrs Anne Benedetti lost her husband George in the notorious inferno.

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Baillie Garrity said: "This has been a long time coming. Last November, after the memorial service to mark the 50th anniversary of the fateful fire, my constituent Anne Benedetti, who lost her husband George in the tragedy asked me to help get a memorial.

"I was still at school when this tragedy occurred and I could never have imagined, fifty years on, that I would take on this task.

"I promised to do my best and in just over nine months I have fulfilled that promise."

The building was a former whisky bond warehouse, which had its windows barred for security. The fire doors were padlocked from outside and no-one had time to get the keys to open them.

Fire crews who arrived on the scene within five minutes of the first call said that the blaze took hold incredibly swiftly, fanned by the foam used to make furniture.

Jim Smith, a former firemen called to fight the raging flames, spoke at the unveiling service. He said that crews had done everything they could, but that there had been no chance to save those trapped inside.

Mr Smith said: "When we arrived on the street the building was heavily smoke-logged. We couldn't see anybody and there wasn't a sound. But before we arrived it was said that people could be seen at the windows, calling for help.

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"The amount of smoke, the heat of the fire itself, and the toxic fumes of the burning polystyrene incapacitated the people very quickly. we don't think many of them knew what was happening. Everything the Fire Brigade could muster was brought out onto the street.

"Everything that could be done was done."


An unveiling ceremony was held on Tuesday

Connie McCulloch's mother Freda died in the blaze, and her daughter other children Anne and Phyllis were brought up by their grandparents because their father could not cope on his own.

The 54-year-old, of Sandyhills in Glasgow, said it had been cathartic to finally see a memorial installed after so many years.

She said: "My mother was 24 when the fire happened, and I was only three-years-old. I don't have any memories of her, and I grew up without a mother because of what happened.

"I couldn't come down to James Watt Street for a long time, but I finally did about seven years ago with my son. There was nothing to say what had happened to to mark where all those people died.

"It's been 50 years, and that's too long. But now there's somewhere people can finally pay their respects and put down a flower."

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An inquiry following the fire recommended that banning bars on factory windows, better controls for flammable foam plastics, and for introducing certification of premises to ensure they had safe and suitable means of escape.


Anne Benedetti, left, and Connie McCulloch both lost relatives in the fire

Anne Benedetti said that her husband's body was found metres from a door which led to safety, where he fell after being overcome by fumes.

The couple had four children, one of whom died young, and Mrs Benedetti had given birth to their daughter Lesley just two and a half months before her husband lost his life.

She said: "It was just terrible. All those people went out to their work and never came home again.

"George was a cracking guy, with a great voice. He was always smiling. I was 16 when we met and he was 18, and we had a good life.

"We had our first child when I was 20 and my daughter was born ten weeks before he died. He was so pleased - he had his sons and now he had a daughter.

"I still think about him every day, and all the children and the grandchildren have been brought up on stories about him. He's never been forgotten."

Mrs Benedetti, 79, of Carntyne in Glasgow, added: "We're all very grateful to Baillie Garrity for what she's done, and they've done a marvellous job with the memorial, and it's fitting that it should come so soon after the 50th anniversary."