The saddest story about a gorgeous building in Glasgow.
Templeton’s: When Façades Attack!
Just when you think it’s safe to poke your head above the parapet, Old Glasgow is back!
If you go down to Glasgow Green today, you’ll never believe your eyes. If you go down to Glasgow Green today and drink too much West then you’ll definitely never believe your eyes.
As any aspiring weaver knows, one cannot build a carpet factory that is anything other than a model of the Doge’s Palace in Venice. Otherwise, why would anyone turn up for work?
So it was in 1888 when James Templeton of James Templeton & Sons. Carpet Manufacturers hired William Leiper to stick two fingers up at the Corporation of Glasgow by designing a building so preposterously grandiose that they couldn’t possibly reject the plans (they had previously knocked back three).
Although the astonishing façade was built in the 1880s, the actual factory lay behind it and had been operating since the 1850s. Accepted logic suggests that the affluent residents of Monteith Row didn’t want to live in the shadow of a factory so the façade was designed to keep everyone happy.
Unfortunately this isn’t a story of carpet manufacture: this is a story of tragedy.
On the evening of November 1st 1889, unusually high winds caused part of the Western elevation to collapse inwards onto the adjoining weaving shed. More than 100 workers were trapped.
Despite the work of Superintendent William Paterson, the Glasgow Salvage Corps and the Glasgow Constabulary, followed later by organised search parties, 29 workers died in the rubble.
A memorial to them lies on Tobago Street in the East End. Its inscription reads:
Green buds, for the hope of tomorrow
Fair flowers, for the joy of today
Sweet memory, the fragrance they leave us
As time gently flows on its way.
Less well known, and often just a footnote in the history of Templeton & Sons. Carpet Manufacturers, was the fire of 1900. I’ll let this guestbook entry from the Glesga UK Pals website by May Sutherland take up the story:
My Mother often told us the story of that particular wall. My Grandmother was a weaver at the time of the other disaster in the year 1900. The girls were getting ready for a dance (at that time they had to work ‘till 6 o’clock every night except Sunday, day of rest, anyway, she was in the ladies’ room getting her dress on (she sang with the band), when fire broke out.
The girls naturally went frantic and as the only window without bars was in the ladies room, they all made a dash for it as the doors were all locked, waiting for their boss to let them out (he had been good enough to let them stay late, rather than go home to get themselves ready & waste time). The doors had been locked to keep the girls from bringing in their boyfriends to wait for them.
My Grandmother was one of the “lucky ones” to get out through the window. after almost choking to death with the smoke. She died 4 weeks later as a result of that smoke, aged 32, leaving 3 children with my Grandfather. Just after she got out of the building the inside collapsed with the weight of the looms & most of the girls were killed.
The wall is a memoriam to the girls. If you look at the top, on the roof, you’ll see a statue of a girl, wearing a dance dress and carrying a bunch of flowers in one arm and her right arm at her side holding her dance shoes. Unfortunately, not too many people know about this and I’ve often thought of writing to tell you. I’m sure a lot of people will be interested in this story.
When I applied for a job in Templeton’s in Templeton St. in 1951 I was asked if I had a relative who worked there. When I told them about my Grandmother they checked the records & I got started without a problem. I worked in the Laboratory, way up in the attic. I couldn’t have been nearer her memoriam if I had planned it.
I haven’t found any evidence to suggest that the statue pictured is the one which Ms. Sutherland is referring to but I’m willing to take her word for it.
So, the next time you’re enjoying that ice-cold pint of St. Mungo’s (feel free to send me free beer for writing about tragedies from your building’s past, West), raise your glass to the workers that died in the fire of 1900 and the collapse of 1889; sisters Elizabeth and Agnes Broadfoot, Margaret Arthur, Margaret Blair, Helen Bradley, Margaret Cassidy, Lilias Davitt, Agnes Dickson, Jane Duffie, Janet Gibson, Dinah Gillies, Jean Glass, Sarah Groves, Ellen Wallace, Margaret McCartney, Minnie McGarrigle, Agnes McGregor, Martha Mackie, Elizabeth McMillan, Rose Ann McMillan, Jeannie Marshall, Jemima Morris, Grace McQuillan, Margaret Shields, Elizabeth Sinclair, Mary Ann Stewart, Annie Strathearn, Mary Turnbull, and Annie Wilson, who was only 14 when she was crushed by the Western extension.
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