The day knitwear mill went up in smoke

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The week beginning Monday, August 15, 1955, saw Hawick Fire Brigade dealing with one of the busiest weeks in its history.

It answered nine calls in the space of four days including several grassland fires at the Miller’s Knowes, a false alarm at Stobs camp, a fire in a plantation of young trees at Neidpath Hill, near Peel Hospital, and a fire at the Mansfield Park rubbish dump.

However, the largest blaze took place at the Turner Rutherford mill in Mansfield Road on the Monday afternoon.

A section of the factory, which was built in 1882, was destroyed by the fire at a cost estimated at £60,000.

The fire started in a waste store on the top floor of the four-storey building with the first warning coming when employees having their afternoon break in the sunshine saw smoke billowing from the building. Three members of staff – Jack White, Pringle Robertson and George Robertson – were among the first to raise the alarm.

Almost 250 employees were instructed to leave the factory immediately but many of the men remained behind to remove thousands of pounds worth of finished garments before being forced to retreat due to the intensity of the blaze.

Flames more than 30ft high shot into the sky and a vast crowd watched as the brigade ran hoses from a hydrant and also the nearby River Teviot. Workers helped to man the hoses and the brigade’s 60-foot tubular extension ladder was required to relay a hose onto an adjoining roof.

Within 90 minutes, the blaze had gutted the top two floors, these being the waste store and the flat containing the Hoffman presses. Many watching from the Station platform could feel the heat from the fire which was prevented from reaching the mill’s new £60,000 extension, completed last year.

Much of the machinery in the affected area was reduced to scrap , other flats suffered water damage and many wooden floors were buckled and warped into grotesque shapes from the heat and flames.

The Fire Brigade remained on the scene until midnight and were recalled a short time later at around 1pm when some debris was found to be smouldering.

The factory’s 250-strong workforce reported for work as normal the next morning and by the afternoon the electrical system was repaired and the machinery in other parts of the factory was in full swing again.

Managing director Mr James Rutherford said production would be seriously affected at a time when the company was getting orders forward for the autumn season.

But he reported that several local firms had offered help and the president of the Hawick Hosiery Manufacturers’ Association said: “We will do what we can to help. Every effort will be made to avoid any interference with the export trade.”

Within hours, James Renwick & Co, Commercial Road, had offered assistance in boarding garments, and Geo. Hogg and Co, Millbank, have offered the use of their milling equipment.