Glasgow’s shame as site where 22 died remains unmarked

Families have called for a memorial to be put in place at James Watt Street.
Families have called for a memorial to be put in place at James Watt Street.

Sunday, November 18, marked the 50th anniversary of the James Watt Street fire, which killed 22 people.

Today the site is empty waste ground with the surviving bonded warehouses standing guard on either side.

But when a family member contacted Glasgow City Council (GCC) to request a memorial to commemorate this tragic incident in Glasgow’s history, GCC’s response was there was no money, not even for a simple plaque.

Significantly, despite employing staff in a Heritage department, for 50 years GCC has failed to record the disaster or mark the site in any way – yet has managed to erect a memorial to the Irish famine, a memorial garden on the site of the more recent Stockline plastics factory where nine people lost their lives in an explosion in 2004, and even managed to include one to cartoon character Lobey Dosser in Woodlands Road.

A spokesman for one of the families who was just 15- years-old when he lost his father in the James Watt Street fire and does not wish to be named, commented: “George Square is testament to Glasgow’s proud tradition of memorials to commemorate its fallen and record significant events.

“I contacted the council back in July and despite considerable correspondence since, as of last week GCC was still offering to help while stressing there was no money.

“When I offered to fund a plaque out of my pension, it still failed to move things on.

“Instead, the council proposed a service at a memorial in the east end of Glasgow.

“When I said this did nothing to mark the site for future generations, I was told the Archbishop would hold a mass in the Cathedral to mark the 100th anniversary.

“I pointed out this was inappropriate as it was the 50th anniversary, the objective was to record the event at the site where it happened – and the two firms involved were both owned by families from the Jewish community in Glasgow.

He adds: “It’s difficult to think of any way in which GCC could make a bigger disaster of this simple request.

“Considering the lavish events it hosts at considerable cost every year for visiting dignitaries, I find it incredible it cannot afford £100-£200 to show respect and mark this site with a plaque.

“Needless to say neither the Lord Provost nor Leader of Glasgow City Council have responded personally, which is regrettable.

“Given the small footprint of the building has remained empty for 50 years, I would also like GCC to zone the site as a memorial to those who died, to try to protect it from development in the future.”