James lost his life in the line of duty on the 29th of June 1899. His Red Plaque was presented on the 120th anniversary of his death, the 29th of June 2019.
When he became a firefighter, James had served as a soldier for six years before retraining as a slater. He had joined the Paisley Fire Brigade in January 1889, aged thirty-five, to earn enough money to support his wife and five young children.
Poignantly, less than six months after becoming a firefighter, James was crushed by a collapsing building during a fire at the Ferguslie Fireclay works in Paisley. The north wall of the building fell outwards, burying James in the rubble. He sustained fatal head injuries in the accident and died that day.
Large crowds attended James’s funeral, lining the route of the cortege. His helmet was used as a collection pot for funds to support his widow and children at a time when no formal funds existed. The Town Council then opened a public subscription to care for them in the longer-term. Today, James’ Red Plaque can be found amidst shops built on the site of the fire. The ceremony to unveil this memorial was attended by generations of his family who visited from the USA.
Photo credits: Roddy Scott