The Clock Stopped

We struggled to free the women...

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Templetons Glasgow 1999

Templeton Carpet Factory near Glasgow Green

I like walking through Glasgow Green. Even as a lad, I’d walk down here. Sometimes my mother would send me out with my little sister in the pram and I was told to take her for some fresh air. It didn’t do my image any good – a wee boy pushing his sister about in a pram, but I ignored the other boys’ sneers and made the best of it.

Today was warm and sunny, and I was standing facing the old Templeton carpet factory, now a business centre. The familiar red bricks shone brightly in the sunlight. I was just thinking about those days pushing a pram, many years ago.

I felt a strong wind on my back and instinctively knew it was the west wind. I remembered the tragic consequences when the west wind hit those very walls when they were new, the mortar between the bricks still fresh.

I turned around to face Glasgow Green. Some boys were playing football on the grass, but my eyes grew dim. I closed my eyes and felt the familiar feeling of dread. I opened my eyes, the boys were no longer there. I turned back to the Templeton building. There was wooden scaffolding, ladders and wheelbarrows laying around. Piles of new bricks lay in neat bundles.

I saw a man shout up to some men. I knew who he was.

It was George Laird.

“Come on lads, it’s five tae five! It’s time we were finished!”, George shouted, grabbing his toolbag.

“Aye, it’s bloody freezin’ here. Ah’ll be glad when the roof’s put oan and we can at least keep oorsels dry.” said Billy, one of the bricklayers who was standing beside George.

It was Friday and another hard day was over. Some men went straight home, while others headed for the local hostelry for a well deserved drink. George, who was one of the joiners on the site, grabbed me by my arm and said we were all heading for the pub, but we would wait for the rest of the lads.

II felt I knew these men well. They were my friends, and I was part of what was about to unfold.

We noticed that the strong wind that had buffeted the building earlier was now becoming stronger. George looked at me, and I nodded. We didn’t say a word. The wind came from the north west, blowing old newspapers across Glasgow Green, some landing briefly on the damp grass, only to be picked up again and hurled through the air, swirling helplessly around in circles.

At last, at 5.05pm, the rest of our mates appeared. They had been held up by an over-zealous foreman who had insisted that the area they were working in was properly tidied up before they were allowed to leave the site. We agreed that we should walk along London Road and try one of the local pubs near Bridgeton Cross, hoping that there would be room for us to sit down.

I was no longer with my mates.

Now I was standing in the temporary weaving shed, behind the new building. No one could see me as I observed everyone working, all desperate for their shift to end.

140 women were working, they had to wait until 6pm before they too could go home. Each woman tended a loom that weaved the fine carpets destined for exotic locations throughout the world.

One woman managed to catch the eye of another behind her.

“Whit dae ye think tae yon new building behind us? Hiv ye seen the front of it?”

“Aye. Och, Ah think it’s too dandy, with a’ they fancy colours. It looks like a whorehoose!”

Both women laughed out loud at that observation.

Outside, the wind picked up yet again, buffeting the wall of the new building. Three powerful gusts of wind hit the building in quick succession. The new mortar could not take the strain and since the building was just a shell and had no support within it, the walls collapsed inward – towards the weaving shed.

There was a loud rumbling noise as the new building slowly fell over, on top of the weaving shed. The sound of crashing bricks and tiles – and then silence.

Only a brief silence, for the screams of injured women soon pierced the evening air.

I was back with George Laird and our pals.

The ground beneath our feet began to rumble and we could hear a sound like crashing thunder. Without a word, we rushed back along the road and down William Street. The sight that greeted us made us stop briefly in horror. But we sprang into action and joined in the chaos as we and other helpers tried vainly to find a way through the rubble, unorganised and with no idea of where to start.

Eventually, two foremen shouted all the men together and started organising teams. The fire brigade had arrived along with two doctors. We were all quickly put to work.

All through the night we struggled to free the women, living and dead from the rubble, working as quickly as we could in the darkness, until an electric arc lamp was rigged up. At last the grim task was over and all the bodies were lined up inside the finishing shop, with the survivors taken to hospital or being sent home if their injuries were not severe.

One of the foremen call George and I over.

“You two can start by organising they labourers over there tae separate all the good bricks in the rubble so that we can use them again.”, he said.

“Right now? Is everybody accounted for?”, asked George.

“Aye, 29 lassies died last night, a lot o’ them were very young, including one who wiz jist 13.”, said the foreman, “every one’s been accounted for and the injured are in the Royal Infirmary – so let’s get this lot sorted!” After a brief rest, our two teams worked all through the day. Progress was painfully slow and the cold November weather made the work even more of a toil.

The foreman came up to me. This time more relaxed and more talkative.

“I see that management expects the rest o’ their workers to turn up for work at 10 am on Monday morning. They just put a sign up ootside the factory gates.”, said the foreman.

I said nothing and carried on with the work. I wanted to finish before it got too dark, because not even the new big electric light that was brought in could repel the shadows that surrounded the piles of rubble, shadows that sent shivers down my spine. I thought I could still hear the cries of many women. All of the rescuers had worked long hours through the night and were exhausted.

The rescuers’ grief and that of the victims’ relatives hung around the area like a murky fog, the pain and anguish absorbed into the rubble of bricks and stone which would once again be rebuilt by skilful hands, only this time the overwhelming sorrow would be etched into the bricks indelibly.

We cleared away an area where part of the wall of the weaving shed office was still standing. The office clock was still on the wall.

It had stopped at 5.15pm

My emotions got the better of me and I closed my eyes, praying that the images would go away and that I’d be back in my own time.

Mercifully, when I opened my eyes – I was.

Looking for reassurance, I turned around, and saw the welcome sight of the boys playing football on Glasgow Green.

I had to get away from this place.

I could still hear the screams of dying women.

© Wishart Frankfield

Further Information:

Doge Palace and Templeton Carpet factory compared

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