Hurricane Low Q caused chaos

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FIFTY YEARS ago, in the early hours of Monday January 15 1968, Hurricane Low Q hit Helensburgh and Garelochside and caused unbelievable damage.

It was the second major hurricane of the 20th century to hit the area, and it is still vividly remembered by countless local people who were unable to sleep through it.

It started about 11pm on Sunday and reached its peak about four hours later.

This is the Helensburgh Advertiser front page story that week . . .

The Gareloch district is still counting the cost of the worst storm in living memory. It shrieked across the loch and town in the early hours of Monday morning causing countless thousands of pounds of destruction.

Hardly a home in the area escaped damage as the winds — gusting well over 100 mph — rocked buildings on their foundations, tore scores of trees from the ground, blocked roads, wrecked cars, ripped shop fronts wide open and smashed whole chimney heads through house roofs.

By a miracle no one on the lochside was killed. For in the early hours of Monday morning Helensburgh and district streets and the country roads were strewn with debris like a battlefield. No one can remember having seen anything like it.

It is not without significance that neither newspapers nor television reported the disaster adequately or reflected what took place that night. It was not a story that news gatherers could fit into a known ‘news’ formula — nature on the rampage dazed everyone.

At Sommerville Place — the high flats alongside the Queen’s Hotel — death came very close. Seven out of nine of the chimney heads were toppled. One fell through the roof and burst the ceiling. It weighed over two tons, and lay balanced precariously.

If it had moved a fraction more it would have crashed through three occupied flats to the foundations. Builders faced a very hazardous job later when they had to shore up the masonry.

The most remarkable local damage happened in the main town centre. Here the large multiple store of William Low & Co. was ‘blitzed’. Groceries were scattered out across the pavement on to Sinclair Street after the large plate glass windows exploded.

Like many businesses and shops in the town and district it took Lows some time to get sorted out. Said Low’s manager Mr Peter Hardie: “We had to close for a couple of hours but once we got the shop cleared, the windows boarded up, and the glass swept from under our feet it was business as usual.”

Even the large lettering from the sign on the wall above the shop was ripped off and thrown down on to the street. Other shops had their sun blinds ripped out and smashed into tangled twisted mess.

Display items from a ladies shop were found 50 yards away. Thick metal roofing — found bent double round the base of a road sign — spoke for itself of the power of the wind that night.

In the forecourt of Waldies garage tons of masonry fell from an adjoining building. It landed on an empty car which all but vanished underneath.

Another car was extensively damaged in Alex Rankine’s Showrooms in Lomond Street when a chimney head fell through the roof. The Granary Restaurant lost its front façade — whipped away like paper in such a storm.

Putting-shed-wThe putting green hut was chipped neatly on to the middle of Clyde Street — a good 50 yard shot by the hurricane. Heavy timber and metal seats from the seafront were later found in the front gardens of shoreside homes.

One Clyde Street shopkeeper heard one of the benches cavorting along the pavement like a feather in the breeze. It then whipped over and smashed its way through the window of a draper’s shop next door to the newsagents, Drummonds.

In the shrieking winds at 2.30 in the morning the Sweeney family were suddenly awakened in their home at 73 Buchanan Road. Choking fumes from a damaged chimney sprayed into the two bedrooms where Mr and Mrs Sweeney and their child were sleeping.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. Our whole home was ruined in seconds. Soot and grit flew everywhere,” said Mr Sweeney, a digger driver. “We just had to get out of the house. It was terrible.”

At Kirkmichael the new Logie Baird Primary — due to open shortly — was wrecked. The screaming winds all but demolished the new school. It looked just like a bombed building, said a contractor.

Also extensively damaged was the new Hermitage Academy at Colgrain.

Standing in the midst of his wrecked charge on Monday, Mr George Mutch said: “This morning eleven classrooms were totally unusable. The dining room and kitchen were also out of action, and the library had books strewn all over the floor.”

The wind scooped hundredweights of gravel off the roof of the £750,000 Academy and hurled it into the classrooms and halls. “The janitors must have moved about two hundredweights from throughout the school,” added Mr Mutch.

Armour plate glass — built to withstand the ball play in the school gym — was smashed in as the thundering gusts of wind beat against it. A wire reinforced emergency door in the dining room was also wrecked. The storm toll reached sixteen windows. The Academy was closed on Monday.

In most of the damaged classrooms tiles were ripped from the ceiling and thrown to the floor by the force of the wind. Another casualty was the Academy TV aerial which is hanging by its wires.

By 9.15am only about 200 pupils had turned up at the Academy and as the heating was also off Mr Mutch sent them home.

Twelve sheets of glass on the roof were broken at Clyde Street School, which faced into the teeth of the storm. Classrooms and corridors were soaked. The few pupils that turned up were sent home. Headmaster Mr Alex Douglas was hoping to be able to start school again today (Friday).

St Joseph’s School escaped undamaged apart from about seven slates that were ripped off. So it was school as usual for the children on Tuesday morning.

Upper Helensburgh was in a state of absolute chaos. Huge towering trees had crashed in their dozens across gardens, out over walls blocking streets — some in several places. Garden walls and stout fences were completely destroyed — some have completely disappeared.

At the home of local dental surgeon Mr Ronald Marshall a huge greenhouse collapsed into a pile of broken glass and splintered timber as the storms tore across the face of the town. Further up Sinclair Street a giant fir from the home of the Baillie family, Thornton Lodge, smashed across the main street.

Abercrombie Street was blocked at two points and cars had to run over muddy grass verges to pass. One car sank in the mud and had to be towed clear.

One family missed the excitement — the Lambertons who live in the mansion house Arden at the top of Charlotte Street. While they were holidaying in South Africa dawn broke to reveal chaos in their garden. No fewer than three giant trees were blown down. One crashed through the roadside wall and blocked Abercrombie Street. Another fell across the garden, and a third completely blocked the entrance to the large garage.

The hillside dwellers in the town’s Glade Estate paid dearly in the tearing gale. Fences and gardens were flattened causing unbelievable damage. Cars — still in their garages alongside some houses — were wrecked when the wind lifted the garages and smashed them on top of the cars.

Many of the local tradesmen worked valiantly om the early morning hours setting up makeshift barricades and boarding up broken windows, and doing repairs during the wild night.

At Kidston Park — facing into the teeth of the storm — there was little sleep for the families in their villas and bungalows.

The Gorries, who have just moved in to the white house once owned by the Foy family and changed the name to ‘Fairhaven’, had a night to forget.

Kidston-hut-wSlates flew from their roof, and a workman’s hut flew right across the main road to smash in their garage doors. Next door the chimney head of a house fell through the garage roof.

Along at Rhu it was the same chaos after the storm. The road was blocked and traffic was directed by police on a detour through the village. Several huge trees lay across the main road on the hill by the Rhu Kirk and the RNYC grounds.

All along the shore at Rhu Hangars a whole line of large trees crashed before the winds and tore up the roadside wall as they plunged to the ground, leaving huge caverns where their roots had been.

Even the cattle suffered. At Drumfork Farm near Colgrain there was no ‘juice’ to operate the milking machine on Monday afternoon and 80 Ayrshires — who do not take kindly to manhandling — missed a milking.

But their plight was nothing compared to the farmer’s own. During the night his little girl Vairi, aged 11, was rudely awakened when a slate smashed through her bedroom window. She joined her mum and dad next door just in time to see their bedroom window blow in.

Meanwhile the high winds ripped the large roof off the farmer’s calf shed and hurled it on to the top of a byre and wrecked that too. Alongside a shed caved in.

Next door to the farm a Faslane foreman, Mr Tom Black, found his car standing alone next morning. The gale had lifted the garage clean off and tossed it over a hedge.

The peninsula was not without its worries. Early morning travellers found that they were marooned as the Garelochhead road and the Peaton Road were completely blocked.

The MacDonald brothers, Lachie and John, of Meikle Rahane, were called out by the police at 4am and worked heroically with a power saw to clear the fallen trees. By half past eight traffic was able to move freely again.

A young naval couple moved out of their chalet home beside the church in Rosneath on Saturday . . . and by sheer coincidence their empty chalet was the only one to be completely flattened by an uprooted tree during the gale.

Mr Kenneth B.Miller, of Glenoran, Rhu, had no less than fifty trees crash to the ground on his property during the height of the storm.

The Cranston family, of 1 Rosneath Drive, Helensburgh, fled from their home during the early hours of Monday morning as tons of rubble and masonry came crashing through the ceiling from a collapsed chimney head. Council workers later covered the eight feet diameter hole with corrugated iron sheets.

In the house below on the first landing Mrs C.McBrierty said: “it is still dangerous. We were all up out of our beds at 2am.”

The same tale was repeated when the chimney above the home of Miss Marion Walker came right down through the rafters into the living room at 4 Hanover Street.

The storm knocked out one of the burgh’s two cinemas, La Scala. But on Wednesday manager Mr George Baillie was hopeful of having the cinema operational by Monday. “The slates were practically all ripped off on one side of the roof, but we will soon have it waterproof again,” he said. “Failing any unforeseen trouble we will be open again on Monday.”

Local people were praising the efforts of the Burgh’s milk boys, who were on the job as usual. As Helensburgh opened her doors to the devastation on Monday morning there were bottles and cartons of milk on the step as usual.

The regulars at the Rhu Ellen Hotel suffered when the ‘local’ was put out of action due to electricity cuts. The hotel escaped serious damage when two large trees in its grounds were felled by the wind, narrowly missing the building.

Cove and Kilcreggan Town Council were quick to act, and by Wednesday morning had made fifteen badly damaged houses weatherproof.

They are offering an emergency repair service in Cove and Kilcreggan, and anyone needing help in repairing serious storm should contact Provost James M.Roy or the piermaster at Kilcreggan Pier.

In an adjacent panel the Advertiser reported . . .

A young Clynder man battled for hours during the early hours of Monday morning cutting a path through fallen trees to get an expectant mother to hospital.

When it was realised that birth was imminent and that all means of communication with the outside world was cut off, the young woman contacted Mr Malcolm MacGregor Jnr., whose house, Altmhor, is nearby.

Mr MacGregor — son of Dr Malcolm MacGregor, a former convener of Dumbarton County Council — immediately got her into his car along with her husband and made for Overtoun Maternity Hospital in Dumbarton.

He had the forethought to pack a power saw in his car — and he needed it!

As he raced along the Garelochside road he was soon brought to a halt by uprooted trees across the road. Not hesitating for a moment, he climbed out of his car and cut a path through the trees while the expectant mother in the car prayed for a quick journey.

One they reached Garelochhead they inquired at the local police station about the road between Garelochhead and Helensburgh. They were told that the latest reports indicated that the road was completely blocked.

Mr MacGregor set off again — this time with a police escort. But unfortunately a huge tree crashed down between Mr MacGregor’s car and the police vehicle following on behind. Helensburgh Police were contacted and a C.I.D. car came out from the town and escorted them onwards towards Dumbarton.

Then it was found that the road to Overtoun was blocked and it was decided to make for Braeholm Maternity Hospital in Helensburgh. There the happy birth of a bouncing baby brought a joyous ending to a nightmare journey.

The Helensburgh and Gareloch Times front page story that week was . . .

THE fury of a hurricane which brought a noisy night of terror for many families hit the town and district on Sunday night and damaged shop fronts, threw heavy park benches across Clyde Street, uprooted trees, smashed in windows, deprived thousands of heating and lighting and closed all schools — except Larchfield.

Several chimney stacks in Sinclair Street and Clyde Street had to be removed because they were dangerous, and police were on traffic control duty because of the breakdown of electricity. The Burgh Surveyor was out in the early hours of Monday organising squads to clear seven streets blocked by fallen trees.

Unfed and unshaved the owners of all-electric houses took battered cars out of roofless garages to get their names on the fast-growing lists at builders and slaters.

Among people who had to evacuate their homes because of gale damage were the Cranston family at Rosneath Drive — an area that was badly hit — as the ch8imney stack came hurtling down through their ceiling.

On the first landing Mrs C.McBrierty pointed to a damaged ceiling and said: “We’ve just managed to clear away the plaster. It is still dangerous and we’ll have to keep away from it.

“Fortunately the Burgh Factor knows about it. We were all up out of our beds at 2am. My husband managed to get away to work this morning. The Factor is going to get a tarpaulin on the hole on the roof.”

A tenant who escaped serious damage said that she was lucky in having gas and was able to help neighbours whose babies needed bottles.

All along West King Street and Baird Avenue tenants reported damage, a few chimney heads had to be taken down, a few fell down bringing with them TV aerials.

A representative found Mr Robert Wilkie, who was two children, tidying up in his garden. He pointed to the chimney head which had fallen from his roof. He was busy breaking up pieces of wood for fuel. “That is the snag of being all-electric,” he said.

This was also the snag in the Navy houses. At the maisonettes, the tiles from the roofs strewed gardens and roadways. One Navy wife said: “We can’t cook anything. Fortunately the Navy is running an emergency service and will supply us with hot soup.”

At nearby Cairndhu Drive the force of the gale could be judged by the breaking of the bedroom window of the O’Donnel family — nobody was injured.

Throughout the town it was the same. From Rhu there was a trail of damage. The electricity supply was cut at 3.12am and roads were festooned with telephone wires and broken off branches. Many people could not leave the village because a massive tree blocked Pier Road. Trees right along the road into town gave way under the relentless force of the hurricane.

Thousands of slates and strips or zinc had hurtled down and contributed to the mess of the road, with here and there a park bench that had been blown right across the road. The Commodore Hotel had broken windows, and chimney stacks of houses in the vicinity were lying on the ground.

At Waldie’s Garage a chimney stack fell on top of a Morris estate car which was crushed under the impact.

The huge windows of Low’s Supermarket were broken and goods were strewn on the street. The display front of the Granary Restaurant was literally torn away leaving an ironical notice in the window: “Closed for Alterations.”

A spokesman for the Granary said: ”Fortunately it was only the front. And we have until the Spring to make it right.”

But it was a more urgent situation regarding schools. At Clyde Street eleven windows were broken and huge jagged pieces of glass lay in water from the rain coming in. Two staircase windows were also blown in, and the janitor said that organisations that usually occupied the school for practice — like the Dorian Choir — would not be able to use it this week. The few pupils who turned up were sent home.

But more than 100 pupils turned up at Hermitage Academy. Rector George Mutch, assessing damage, said he hope to have the school ready for Tuesday of this week. Sixteen windows were broken and the tiled ceilings were damaged.

“But we should be able to have a makeshift arrangement for pupils,” he said. The Clerk of Works visited this and other schools.

Pupils of St Bride’s had to be sent home because of the lack of heating, which caused most schools to give up.

There was no telephonic communication or electricity until early on Monday afternoon when the wind had slackened to a degree enabling people to clear up. It was business as usual for many shops who used candles. Two thirds of the roof of the Red Cross Hall in East Princes Street was damaged to the extent that daylight was showing through.

The devastation caused by the storm, which started about 11pm and reached its peak about four hours later is indescribable and the worst in living memory.

The following week the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times reported . . .

WHILE householders viewed with dismay their damaged roofs and chimneys, aerials, garages and fences, up at Ardencaple Nurseries the constant crash of breaking glass made the hurricane hours a nightmare and left a trail of damage amounting to £1,000.

The stout construction of the rows of greenhouses withstood the fury of the gale, but panes of glass flew off in all directions. Urgent action by the Association traced a new shipment of glass in London and much of it was immediately diverted to Scotland to save the Horticulture industry. An allocation will reach Helensburgh this week and a maximum effort will be made to re-glaze the shattered greenhouses and save the contents.

For 20 per cent of Scottish glasshouse growers the glass will be of no use for their whole structures collapsed and in one appalling night a lifetime of effort was written off. Mr Curtis, Woodend Nurseries, and Mr Dunbar, Rosevale Nursery, both suffered extensive damage to greenhouses amounting to hundreds of pounds and it will take an all-out effort to complete repairs before the tomato planting-out must be done.

The new Logie Baird School withstood the onslaught of the gale with only minor damage. A Town official said last week that there was very little damage to the school, which is now nearing completion.

Scottish Special Housing viewed their handiwork at Churchill Estate with quiet satisfaction. With few exceptions all was well, but site huts had disintegrated and materials had been swept away. A mobile crane had been thrown to the ground but happily was found to be little damaged.

As is so often the case after a disaster of this sort, it was not long before householders were saying: “Thank goodness we were not nearly so badly hit as many others. It must have been frightening to have a chimney head down,” and those with gaping holes in their roof said: “It was a miracle that no one was killed.” All, however, united in bemoaning the loss of hundreds of fine trees.

Helensburgh, once again, proved very tree-conscious and a frequent comment was: “Roofs will mend but some of those fallen trees are 200 years old.”

The very high percentage of trees lost was probably due as much to the unusual direction of the wind as the extreme velocity. Trees with an ingrown resistance to southerly or south-westerly gales were less able to withstand a sudden fierce attack on the flank.

One hundred mile-an-hour gusts accompanied the last great storm of January 28 1927, which blew from the south-west, but it was in the afternoon and the daylight took the fear out of it, besides providing a remarkable spectacle on the seafront.

Against the backcloth of a night of terror and a frenzied week of patching and repairing leaking roofs during the days of rain that followed the storm, the pails to catch the drips, the busy hammers on ‘make do’ jobs, the one thing that stands out, even above the courage and resilience of townspeople, is the fact that no one was killed or even seriously injured.

Provost J.McLeod Williamson received a message of sympathy from Scottish Secretary of State William loss, enclosing a message from the Queen at Sandringham Palace.

It stated: “I and my husband are much distressed to learn of the sad loss of life and extensive damage to property in Scotland as the result of last night’s hurricane. We send our deepest sympathy to those who have been bereaved and those who have suffered in this devastation — Elizabeth R.”

Three weeks after the hurricane the Advertiser reported  . . .

IN A FEW HOURS that fateful Monday morning, 15th January, Hurricane Low Q hit Garelochside and did unbelievable damage. Only now three weeks later is the cost coming to light.

The wreckage bill for Helensburgh and Cove and Kilcreggan burghs alone could exceed £250,000 . . . add to that the dreadful devastation in Garelochhead — probably the worst hit community in the area — and increase it by the terrible toll from other lochside villages — some reckon that when the last slate is in place and the last chimney head repaired there will be little change out of one million pounds.

The district’s two burghs, Helensburgh and Cove and Kilcreggan, have been totting up the staggering cost of last month’s never to be forgotten hurricane havoc.

Helensburgh town councillors were told on Monday that about 80% of the 958 Council houses were damaged. Repairs are estimated to cost £15-20,000. The bill for private property is almost impossible to estimate.

And at Cove and Kilcreggan Town Clerk Douglas Dow said this week that the actual damage to public and private property is £20-25,000, and that plus the estimated repair cost will mean a final bill in the region of £100,000.

At Monday’s meeting of Helensburgh Town Council, Provost J.McLeod Williamson said that a fair number of local authorities were not insured against storm damage, but as far as he knew Helensburgh was fully covered.

Bailie Dr J.P.Orr Erskine was worried that the authorities who had not insured would get favourable financial treatment from the Government, which he thought would be very unfair.

“If there is no point in insuring against storm damage, as we may see, then we will have to consider whether it is worth continuing,” he said.

The Council made an important decision, agreeing to grant remission of rent to Mr Thomas Cranston, of 1 Rosneath Drive, whose family had been forced to leave the house because of storm damage. Their chimney head collapsed into the house.

The housing committee considered his application carefully and recommended that the Council, as it was covered by insurance for loss of rent owing to storm damage to houses, should grant the application. The full Council agreed without comment — but point out that in other similar cases remission would only apply where the whole house was unfit for habitation.

Councillors also agreed to ask tradesmen if they will be in a position to start and complete repairs to Council property as soon as possible. If they cannot start immediately, the Council will consider seeking help from outside the town.

In Dunbartonshire (excluding the Burghs) it is evident that private property bore the brunt of the damage. Of the County’s total damage of £415,000 the storm cost private owners £210,000.

Damage to County Council houses amounted to £90,000 and £12,000 to the SSHA.

Also hard hit were public properties such as schools which suffered £49,000 damage. And it took £8,500 to clear the roads.

As the district slowly finds its feet and gets back to normal, tradesmen have enough work for weeks ahead and waiting lists. Also snowed under with work are men of the GPO.

“In the first two days after the storm,” said Mr W.T.Warnock, Telephone Manager for the area, “7-8,000 faults were reported and at one stage we were only forty short of 10,000 faults reported in the Helensburgh area. The district took a terrible pasting.”

GPO linesmen worked for long hard hours laying a cable from Helensburgh to Luss and within 24 hours of receiving the cable things were almost back to normal. But during this crisis the vandals chose to strike.

Mr Warnock told the Post Office Advisory Committee last Thursday: “We think the vandals cut the cable on Saturday and power was lost.”

He pointed out that although the damage was not as spectacular as in other areas it will take 23-24 men about a year to make all the necessary repairs.

The Glade Estate was a shambles with garages, greenhouses and huts wrecked, and Rockend flats, fully exposed to the hurricane, was extensively damaged. Hundreds of trees came crashing down in this night of terror.

Tower-Cinema-wThere were no trains running during the day and evening newspapers came by road, arriving at around 4pm with news of deaths and injuries throughout the country.

Because of a vast number of uprooted trees, roads on the Lochside were seriously affected. By Monday evening there was single line traffic between Garelochhead and Rosneath, and Garelochhead and Arrochar.

The Post Office managed to get public phones working in the morning and these were hurriedly used by people anxious to get in touch with friends and firms because of the breakdown in traffic.

Throughout the county the roads were strewn with uprooted trees. In Bonhill a man was killed when one struck his car.

Reports coming in from Glasgow and Clydebank suggested that the hurricane was reminding people of the blitz. And people travelling into town saw the Putting Green pay box lying in the middle of the road, having been blown from its usual spot.

It was announced that there would only be one cinema in the town able to operate because of damage to the Tower in Colquhoun Square, and it never re-opened.