"It was like a bomb going off" - How Edinburgh remembers the Guthrie Street gas blast

Residents and neighbours have shared memories of the Guthrie Street gas explosion on October 4 1989, including paying tribute to the two victims who were killed, 21-year-old student Nicola Donnelly and 35-year-old lecturer Peter Small.

By Elsa Maishman
Friday, 4th October 2019, 4:00 pm
Updated Friday, 4th October 2019, 5:58 pm
Scenes from the blast in 1989.
Scenes from the blast in 1989.

Ms Donnelly was remembered by former colleagues and classmates.

“Lovely person, RIP,” said Dave Ramsay.

“She was in the year above me at college, we went to the funeral to represent Napier College,” said Sarah Hyslop.

Sign up to our Retro newsletter

“Will never forget her, she was a good pal,” said Susan Fox.

Bob Cairns, who was a local city councillor at the time, knew Peter Small for nearly a decade as he worked as an election agent for the Labour Party. “It was a terrible blow, he was a really pleasant, individual,” said Mr Cairns.

“You always looked forward to a meeting if you knew Peter was going to be there. ”

Other residents and neighbours have vivid memories of the day.

Nicky Marr was living above Thins bookshop at the time.

“I was running to catch a train to Glasgow,” she said.

“My raincoat flew up with the impact from the blast. A colleague [Martin Baptie] was trapped for hours – saved by still being in bed. He sang Beatles songs to keep himself sane; he thought the world had ended.”

Bill Mason was the Paramedic Ambulance Officer on the scene. “We managed to get into a cellar at one point and the gas smell was overwhelming.

“We used a nearby primary school as a reception centre and I always remember the small child seats and tables,” he said.

Laura Ewing’s dad was one of the firefighters on the scene.

“I think it’s the first time I realised what a hero he is, how he and all his colleagues put their lives on the line every day,” she said.

Mark Evans was finishing a night shift at the People's Palace at the time.

"We were in the middle of hand over when there was an almighty bang," he said.

"We looked out the windows and thought it was snowing at first - then we realised it was hundreds of sheets of paper! Ended up taking in a lot of the walking wounded and providing tea and coffee until proper arrangements where made."

Catherine Stark worked for University settlement. “Our office was hit during the blast, Had it happened one hour later we would not have been here to tell the tale.” she said.

Susan McGraw said: "It was like a bomb going off. I was very worried about the people who stayed there (my dentist but he was ok) and I remember it so well.

"I stayed across the road at Tron Square and it was like a river of bricks, [there was] a woman in a turquoise bathrobe screaming.

"I was upset for days, especially when they thought that they had found a baby but it was a cat (yeah)."

Lorna Roarty lived on Grassmarket at the time.

"The blast was like a earthquake in my flat," she said.

"I worked at old College Edinburgh uni at the time, and got told to go home as [there was] no power and some of the windows had blow out."