THE film stopped, survivor Robert Pope remembers, just after the baddie kidnapped the hero’s girlfriend.

Western release Dude Desperado was showing at the Glen Cinema in Paisley, and the children’s Hogmanay matinee was busy.

It was the last day of 1929 and families had let their kids out while they prepared for the bells at home.

But smoke seen emanating from the projection room caused a panic.

One child called “fire” and a rush began for the exits.

A metal gate at the main door was stuck shut, and in the crush to leave as many as 71 children died, with 30 others injured.

Ninety years on, the town will today remember its “Black Hogmanay”.


IN the late ‘20s, the cinema was an affordable treat for local families.

Robert, 97, earned his entry fee by taking jeely jars to the grocer’s shop.

He got a penny and a half for two and met seven friends to make the short walk to the town centre picture house.

The boy who sat next to him, William Spiers, died in what is now known as the Glen Cinema Disaster, which is one of the worst tragedies to have ever happened in this country.

One family, the McEnhills, lost three of their children, including three-year-old Margaret and her brothers Edward, nine, and James, 11.

Robert believes he survived because his “guardian angel watched out” for him as others scrambled in an attempt to reach safety.

“When the panic started, I just remember something came over me and I stayed in my seat and didn’t move,” he remembers.

“I don’t remember much else until later when a fireman was clearing the hall.

“I told him I was waiting for the picture to come back on and he told me to head home to my mother, and that the film wouldn’t be coming back on.”


THE matinee screening was so busy cinema bosses had opened the balcony to accommodate the crowd of somewhere around 600 youngsters.

Because attendance records were not kept, no-one knows just how many filled the hall that day.

The smoke came from a film cannister that had been placed on a heated surface. The small incident was dealt with by the projectionist and did not accelerate into flames.

It wasn’t fire that led to the deaths of the young patrons, but confusion and obstruction.

The gate on the main exit door to Dyers Wynd was not only locked from the outside, but the door itself opened inwards.

The cause of death for those killed was recorded as “asphyxia by crushing” or “traumatic asphyxia”.

The New Year began with grief and on January 4, Paisley saw a procession of small white coffins as funerals were held.

A memorial bearing the names of those lost stands at Hawkhead Cemetery, where many are buried.


NEWS of the emergency drew the community to the cinema to get the children out.

Survivor Emily Brown, 95, had gone there with her sisters and their mother was amongst those who raced to help.

The girls became separated in the chaos and all survived, with Emily, then just five, found wandering alone by an aunt.

The siblings were reunited at home and their mother was the only resident of Hunter Street who did not lose someone that day.

Injured children were loaded on to trams bound for the hospital.

Medical staff were amongst the crowds who turned out for the victims’ funerals in the ensuing days.

Letters of condolence were sent to the town from around the world and a disaster fund sent families and surviving youngsters to the coast for a recuperative break.

George Dorward, the cinema manager, was tried for culpable homicide but found not guilty of the children’s deaths.

However, the disaster prompted a raft of public safety measures, including compulsory cinema inspections, capacity restrictions and a law change to ensure emergency exit doors opened outwards and were fitted with push bars.


GLEN Cinema survivors and their families continue to commemorate the disaster every Hogmanay alongside members of the local community.

A wreath will be laid at the town-centre cenotaph, which stands by the tragedy site, at 11am in a public event.

Emily, who was pulled through a window by a fireman, will remember her neighbour Julia Irvine and classmate Lily Buchanan.

“I didn’t want to go that day,” she recalled.

The annual commemoration, she says, is “emotional” but important. “I like it,” she emphasise. “It’s nice to see it.”

The town’s museum is currently closed for major refurbishment, but for many years its displays included a small pair of child’s tackety boots from one of the victims as a lasting reminder of the horror of the Glen Cinema Disaster.

READ MORE: Paisley Glen Cinema disaster: Scotland's forgotten tragedy

Writing for the Sunday National earlier this month, Jean Cameron, president of Paisley Art Institute, told how her family bore the loss of members Margaret, Edward and James McEnhill.

“When I talk to my mum and her sisters about the impact on the family,” she wrote, “they comment on the lack of counselling available.

“They also say their Aunt Maggie – who had other children – dressed in mourning black from that day onwards until the day she died.”