“THIS”, declared Glasgow’s Lord Provost Jean Roberts, who was on the scene early, “is a tragedy. St Andrew’s Hall has been the cultural and political centre of the city for generations”.

As she watched - hatless, and dressed in a fawn camel coat (right) - firefighters with smoke-blackened faces tried to quell the blaze that was devastating the venue where Stanley Baldwin, James Maxton, Gladstone, Lloyd George and Winston Churchill had spoken, and Enrico Caruso, Richard Strauss and Elgar had all played or conducted.

The previous evening - Thursday, October 25, 1962 - the hall had staged a Scotland-Romania amateur international boxing. Initial reports said it was believed that a dropped match had caused the fire.

“Heat was the firefighters’ big enemy”, the Evening Times reported. “It was so intense that the men on the turntable ladders could bear it for only short spells at a time and had to shield their faces with wet cloths”.

Fire chief John Swanson and Third Officer James McIntyre went into the building at one point to investigate. “There was an explosion due to developing gases in the main hall,” Mr Swanson said afterwards. “A flash passed over both our heads and we were knocked downstairs. I was thrown into Granville Street and Mr McIntyre got face burns. I was unhurt”.

Firemen had to cut the connecting cables linking BBC broadcast vans to the main hall, where the boxing had been televised. Police then pushed the vans, as well as a number of parked cars, who paintwork had started to bubble - clear of the danger.

Some fifty families had to be evacuated from their tenement homes in Kent Road and Cleveland Street. Another twenty families on Granville Street were put on standby to leave. “The heat and smoke had awakened us before the policeman came to the door”, said one Kent Road resident. “I looked out and it hit me like a blow on the face - we got out fast”. Nearby, a teenage girl’s first thought was for her budgie, Josie, in the kitchen of her home. She and her grandmother, who lived across the landing, attracted smiles when they appeared on the street at the height of the drama, each carrying a bird cage.

Read more: Herald Diary

The Mitchell Library, which lay adjacent to the venue, was spared destruction by a dividing well, constructed during the war as a precaution against incendiary bombs.

The hall’s destruction was a blow for the Scottish National Orchestra, which had begun a winter season of concerts there two weeks previously. Spare SNO instruments were retrieved by firefighters from the venue basement. The SNO music librarian told reporters that the orchestra’s library collection was, next to the BBC’s, the country’s finest. It, too, was stored in the hall. As he spoke, a basket containing music, dripping with water, was brought out, and to his relief the contents were not as badly damaged as he had feared.

The entire library was recovered almost undamaged.