Evidence of man’s habitation of Blantyre can be traced to the Bronze Age fort of Camp Knowe at Calderside, Auchentibber.
Many Bronze Age graves have been found throughout the area. Blantyre was part of the Kingdom of Cumbria inhabited by the Damnonii tribe whose northern capital was Alcluyd (two Welsh words meaning ‘Rock of Clyde’. Their kingdom’s southern border was on the River Ribble in Lancashire, England. The present day name for Alcluyd is Dumbarton and was taken from the Gaelic speaking Scots who referred to Alcluyd as DunBritton (Fort of the Britons).
There have been various suggestions as to the definition of the name Blantyre.
It is assumed that Blantyre was an ancient British settlement and was built around the Old Blantyre Kirk Yard, which may have been a druid religious circle. The Kirk Yard is a large man-made eight foot high mound of earth and, if it was a druid circle, it would have been the centre of the settlement’s religious activities. The old sixteenth century communion cups belonging to the Old Parish Church have no letter E in the spelling of BLANTYRE.
It would suggest that the old spelling Blantyr is a gaelic corruption of LLANTYR. Llantyr contains two Welsh words – LLAN meaning ‘consecrated’ and TYR meaning ‘ground/land’, the consecrated/church ground being the Old Kirk Yard at High Blantyre Cross.
Through time the Britons were dispersed from the area and those that remained were converted to Christianity and continued to use their original pagan consecrated ground by constructing a church there. At least two churches have stood in the Old Kirk Yard. Welsh was still in use in some remote areas of Scotland at the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century.
There are several other theories as to the origin of the name Blantyre. The Reverend Stevenson, writing in 1790, suggested that it was two Gaelic words meaning ‘Warm Retreat’. Another suggestion, from the Reverend Wright, writing in 1895, was that it was Gaelic, meaning ‘Field of The Holy Men’.
The earliest written record of the name Blantyre was in 1275 where the Priory was included in a list of Scottish ecclesiastical establishments which were taxed by Pope Clement IV to raise money to finance yet another crusade against the Saracens. This document was known as Bagimond’s Roll, named after the Pope’s emissary, Baiamund De Vicci, who was sent to collect the hated tax.
The Priory was almost certainly mentioned in a previous list issued by Pope Innocent IV in 1254 to finance an earlier crusade. Most of the early priors are recorded as having attended Scottish parliaments and being involved in many important incidents in Scottish history. Blantyre Priory stood on Blantyr Craig, the high cliff directly opposite Bothwell Castle, and was founded between 1238 and 1249.
The Priory was a cell of the Augustinian Canon of Jedburgh Abbey who also used it over the years as a retreat from the wars between England and Scotland. The last Roman Catholic Prior was William Chirnside who conformed to the new religion and became the first Protestant minister in Blantyre.
In 1595, after the suppression of the Roman Catholic Church by James VI, the Priory and its lands were bestowed by the King on his cousin, Walter Stuart, the Treasurer of Scotland who was created a Peer of the Realm and took the title Lord Blantyr on 10th July 1606.
It is thought that the first five Lords of Blantyre resided at Blantyre Priory. The fifth, Lord Blantyre, built a new family home in Renfrew. This house became the Erskine Hospital for disabled soldiers.
In 1314, Robert the Bruce defeated the English army at the Battle of Bannockburn. One of his generals was his nephew, Thomas Randolph, the Earl of Moray. The Barony of Blantyre was gifted, by the King, to Randolph for services rendered at this famous battle.
After the death of Bruce, Thomas Randolph was appointed Regent of Scotland during the minority of Bruce’s son, King David II and he proved to be a wise and just ruler. The Barony consisted of small hamlets namely Barnhill, Hunthill, Auchinraith, Auchentibber, Blantyre Priory and Kirkton, the old town centre at High Blantyre Cross. The population of Blantyre before 1780 was around five hundred.