During the early 1920’s the population of Blantyre dropped slightly, the first time ever in it’s history. This was due to lack of work, saturation of coal mining jobs and the decline of the mills. As with many people in Scotland at the time, suddenly the idea of exploring America seemed a wonderful prospect. Tales of gold mining, available land and jobs were relayed home and in the dark Scottish days after the Great War and with Atlantic travel now affordable, the idea of a fresh start was appealing.
The influx of Immigrants to the States during the early 20’s, forced a new Act. The Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of immigrants allowed entry into the United States through a national origins “quota”. The quota provided immigration visas to just two percent of the total number of people of each nationality in the United States as of the 1890 national census. It completely excluded immigrants from Asia. So, this now brings us to our Blantyre story and the affect the “quota” had on one particular family.
George Little was just 20 years old when he married his Blantyre sweetheart of the same age in 1919. Having been lucky and young enough to have avoided the horrors of the Great War, he looked forward to a happy, settled married life. The couple set up home at 4 Broompark Road, Blantyre and within a year welcomed the arrival of a baby daughter, Jean.
However, employment was difficult to come by. A growing family called for some drastic action and in 1922 seeing people within his street leave for the States, he decided to do the same in the hope of finding better work. Mary, his wife consented only that if he was successful he would summon her and Jean at once.
However, work in the 20’s was not as easy as people thought. The Great Depression was underway and hardships were felt by many people in America. Despite this though, George fared well and by early 1924 he happily sent word for Mary and Jean to come to New York. But months later, red tape and American laws relating to the “quota” stopped this plan. Mary and Jean were denied entry into the country and after seeing the exclusion order in writing, were forced to abandon their plans. It was from this time, that Mary’s health fell into decline, effectively now a single mother in Blantyre, without work or financial support. Struggling to come to terms with this great blow, shortly after little Jean fell ill to a serious medical complaint, worrying Mary significantly. It is reported Mary was exceptionally tied to and fond of little Jean. Other relatives became seriously worried when Mary started saying “she felt like throwing herself off a bridge” and although thankfully little Jean recovered, the strain passed to Mary, who was by Summer 1925, very seriously ill both physically and mentally. Word soon reached George in New York of his wife’s condition and he immediately made plans to get back to Blantyre that September.
Sadly though, Mary suffered a nervous breakdown thinking she could not get to George. Leaving wee Jean Little with a relative on the evening of Thursday 24th September 1925, she put on her coat and hat and remarked casually “she was going for a walk”. Mary never returned.
We now turn our attention to Low Blantyre. Mr Peter Sharp, was gate keeper at the Suspension Bridge near Shuttle Row and upon Mary’s disappearance was able to tell police a few things which may have shed some light on her whereabouts. “About 9 o’clock in the evening“, he told them, “i was sitting in the toll-box at the bridge when a young woman approached. She walked a few steps along the bridge, then remembering there is a toll of a halfpenny to pay, she turned and laughingly handed me a penny. It was dark and for a moment i thought i saw two people, although i only ever saw the young woman herself. A quarter of an hour later, two young men who came from the other side of the bridge (Bothwell) brought me a red hat and a light coat, which they had said they had found on the railing halfway across. One of the men said he had heard a splash before crossing, nothing however was to be seen or heard afterwards. I advised the young men to take their find to Bothwell Police office. In the pockets of the coat were 2 letters addressed to Mrs Little, High Blantyre. A short time later a young man and woman came to the bridge asking if i had seen a woman in a red hat. I told them what had happened, and the young woman, i believe Mrs Little’s sister, seemed very affected“
The letters found in the pockets did not clarify things. They were cheery communications from George expressing his delight in being able to return home soon to Blantyre. George traveled back to Scotland on “The California” passenger ship and arrived back in Blantyre the day after the newspaper report and was distraught at the tragic news. Upon visiting the scene, the police were still dragging and searching the Clyde.
Determined to know how this story ended, i decided to investigate in a little more in depth, more than i would normally. Was she found? Did she drown? What of George? A recent day off work, took me back to the library to trawl through newspaper clippings, and there, not in a local newspaper, but in the Aberdeen Journal i was dismayed to find that, a few days later on 29th September 1925, was a brief news report
“Blantyre’s river mystery was solved on Sunday when the body of married Mrs Little (26) was found. The woman left her parents house in High Blantyre at 8.30pm on Thursday and had not been seen since. “
I have only this week had a new lead on this story, which may be able to shed light on how George and wee Jean later fared well. Watch this space.