In 1889, 29 young women lost their lives when a wall blew down in a gale at Templeton Carpet Factory on Glasgow Green. Last month, the Mitchell Library hosted a lecture, Disaster on the Green, by local history researcher Bill Black. As the disaster features in one of Glasgow Women’s Library’s Women’s Heritage Walks, a few of us from GWL’s Women Make History Group decided to go along. It was a fascinating, if sombre, evening.
The tragedy happened while the factory was under construction alongside the existing weaving sheds. James Templeton had hired architect William Leiper to produce the amazing west façade you can see above – apparently, wealthy residents of nearby Monteith Row did not want to live next to a factory, so the design was modelled on the Doge’s Palace in Venice in order to fit in with its upmarket surroundings, and also to match the grandeur of the carpets it would produce. However, engineer Alexander Harvey was responsible for the more functional mill behind it.
On 1 November 1889, an evening of driving rain, the builders finished at 5 pm, but the women at the 40 looms in the weaving sheds weren’t due to finish till 6. At 5.15 pm, three great gusts of wind brought the five storey mill building down onto the sheds. A rescue operation went on throughout the night, with the last of the 29 bodies being brought out at 3 am. In addition, 32 women were injured.
Bill discussed various possible causes for the collapse, but it seems that the flimsier east wall, which was insecurely fixed, fell first bringing Leiper’s west façade with it. At the time, there were no building regulations and local builders worked mostly with stone, not the brick used here. In addition, Templeton himself does not seem to have liaised very well between Leiper and Alexander, who never actually met. There was an enquiry, but this was more to find facts than to throw blame.
More interesting to me was hearing some of the personal stories of the women who died. Most were teenagers – the youngest 14 and the oldest 25. One girl was identified only by her stockings. Another had been planning to go to a ball that evening. Ellen Wallace was one of the few married women. She had a small son, but her husband had been made redundant so she went back to work. Templeton, who was considered a good employer by the standards of the day, paid for the funerals and a relief fund started by Lord Provost James King raised £9000 for the families. You can see a page from a notebook detailing the names of the dead, injured and those who donated on the stoddardtempleton blog. As for the factory, it was rebuilt by 1892 – using steel.
There is a memorial to the dead opposite Templeton’s, which is now a business centre, at 423 London Road (Thenue Housing Association). It was recently refurbished to include paving stones with the names of all the women. A few days ago, I went to see it and took a few pictures. It was rather wet, but I think you can still make out the names. It’s a low-key, but touching, tribute.