SIXTY years ago this month, the city centre was rocked by a huge fire.

Firefighters from all over Glasgow raced to Argyle Street, where the huge Woolworth’s store on the corner of Miller Street was ablaze, showering embers across the surrounding streets.

The road was closed for six hours as crews – 80 men in total – battled to bring the fire under control before it spread to adjacent buildings.

Seven firefighters were treated in hospital for shock and burns and there were fears that one worker – canteen assistant Violet McKechnie - may have been trapped in the store. One man, a fire insurance surveyor on a routine visit to the store, ironically, was trapped on the first floor for a short while, but firefighters were able to lead him to safety.

It was October 20, 1960.

The Evening Times reported the next day: “As Glasgow firemen poured water on the smouldering ruin that was Woolworth’s Argyle Street store today, experts were trying to find the cause of the blaze.

“But one thing is certain – the fire was NOT caused by fireworks exploding. The store didn’t stock squibs!”

Glasgow Times:

The reporter interviewed 27-year-old assistant manager John Kennedy, who said: “Reports have been given about fireworks possibly starting the fire. No Woolworth store in the entire chain sells fireworks.”

Many of the 300 staff watched as fire crews continued to pour water on the still-smouldering building, 14 hours after the blaze began.

The reporter also spoke to one of the last employees to leave the building at 5.50pm – “21-year-old Mrs Catherine Farrell, of 149 Jamaica Street, Govanhill, who is employed in the basement where the fire started.”

She told the newspaper: “Minutes after I left the building I saw smoke pouring from one of the windows. I ran back to raise the alarm but someone else had seen it.”

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The mystery surrounding missing canteen worker Violet McKechnie was also cleared up - she had left the store shortly before the fire started, revealed the reporter.

Glasgow Times:

Mr Martin Chadwick, the cityfiremaster, and Councillor James Duncan, convener of the police and fire brigades committee, paid tribute to the brave firefighters, one of whom – William Smillie, 27, of Riddrie - was detained overnight.

He praised the “magnificent work done by the fireman and Mr Swanson, deputy city firemaster, whose energy seemed endless and whose organisation was perfect.”

Woolworth’s was a shopping institution, sadly missed by many when it closed its doors in 2009.

Even Dirk Bogarde, Hollywood actor, was a fan of the Glasgow stores when he stayed in the city in the Thirties.

He lived with his aunt and uncle in Bishopbriggs while he studied engineering drawing at Allan Glen’s Technical School.

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Writing, years later, in one of his volumes of autobiography, he recalled: “Woolworth’s was my usual haven. Because it was warm and bright and filled with people. Here was Life. Pushing and shoving, smiling and laughing, talking and living. Music played all day. The record counter had a constant supply of melody. To the lingering refrains of ‘When the Poppies Bloom Again I would sit on a high stool eating a Chocolate Fudge Ice Cream and beam happily at the world around me.”

There were several Woolies’ stores in Glasgow including Union Street, pictured in 1970. This photograph was used in our sister newspaper The Herald for a careers feature. It stated: “Selling behind a counter has lost the Cinderella image it had a few years ago, and employment conditions in shops are good ...entrants to this career can expect three weeks’ holiday with pay ...”

Glasgow Times:

What are your Woolies’ memories? Did you work there? Do you remember the 1960 fire? Get in touch by emailing ann.fotheringham@