From it’s humble beginning’s much of the sewage generated by Blantyre’s hamlets ended up directly in the Parkburn, Leeburn, the Clyde or the Calder. During the 1600 and 1700’s, there were no proper drains within the town, with people relying on kerbside drains and small culverts that at least tried to hide waste water and sewage. The arrival of the mills in the late 1700’s and the population expansion that occurred then, set a higher standard by installing underground drainage systems in the newly formed “Village” area that ran to the clyde, but these were often inadequate.
Throughout the 1800’s, Blantyre’s reputation for having repugnant smells grew and grew. By the 1860’s and the arrival of Coal, Blantyre was often known as “Dirty Auld Blantyre”, a tagline we would certainly not want again. The problem was Nationwide though and Government had to do something. New Legislation arrived via a new Public Health Act, asking for the local Parochial Boards (a predecessor to Local Authorities) to do something for their own area.
The problem of getting fresh, clean water to the town’s residents was also something that the Parochial Boards needed to address, as the only real way of getting clean water, was to cart or pail it directly from the ground, untreated from the various hand pumps around the town. In a “modern industrial age”, and by comparison to water supplies installed in nearby Hamilton and Glasgow, this now seemed antiquated.
So it came to be that on Monday 24th May 1875, Blantyre’s Parochial Board met to discuss the hygiene of Blantyre, namely the supply of Water and the drainage of both wastewater and sewage. Mr William Jackson of Park chaired the meeting with the intention of reviewing and receiving a presentation by Mr Jospeh Potts C.E (no relation to the Blantyre funeral directors). Mr Potts was therefore the designer of Blantyre’s drainage. With proposals put forward for both overground and underground systems, the Blantyre Board quickly decided on the latter as being best.
The proposal outlined plans where the areas of Kirkton, Causeystanes, Auchinraith, Auchentibber, Larkfield and Hunthill were drained though underground pipes into a series of manholes. For part of Auchentibber and Barnhill, Mr Potts suggested that to save money, these areas continued to drain into Calder watercourses directly, but to be upgraded to accommodate enhanced capacity. Stop for a second and think of this task. Mr Potts had designed half the town’s drainage based on surveys and levels and this would have taken some time to prepare. Incredibly, the plan ensured that the new drain pipes would go under public streets and there were only 2 occasions where pipes would cross over public property. One from a property at Braehead (Barnhill) leading to Larkfield and another crossing through Croftfoot (my own home). It was also recommended that the current polluted watercourses should be cleaned out end to end with any “contents spread on farmer’s fields to assist next year’s crops.” The plan also highlighted which pipes should be re-used only for the discharge of surface water. The problem of flushing toilets, wasn’t a big problem. Only a handful of properties had a toilet that could be flushed. It was suggested, not to waste clean water on this and instead to feed the few flushing toilets with water from field drains, supplied from the Ironpit at the foot of Auchentibber above HIgh Blantyre train station.
The total cost of the drainage system was to be £1,500, considered a realistic amount and in today’s money, that’s about £200,000. The Board, with the support of eminent local buildersmen Mr Aitkenhead and Mr Weir agreed that they should proceed. The Board, including Mr J McQueen, Mr J.C. Forrest, Messrs J&A Brown and the aforementioned individuals, then relinquished their further involvement and as required by law, motioned that it should now be passed back to the Sanitary Committee. Finally Mr William Barclay put forth £56 in expenses for preparing the report and findings. (About £8,000 today).
Work commenced the following year in 1876 on the upgrade of the drainage system. Then, on the back of this work, during 1880 and 1881, a modern water system was provided into Blantyre, leading to all communal wells. In these days, water was not provided directly to houses and still had to be pailed to each property. However, the equipment was reliable and the water was clean and unpolluted. It was not until 40 years later in the 1920’s that pressure mains supply was introduced to the town and directly into homes. There is evidence however, that some of the grand houses in the town had water supplied directly to them prior to 1920. The cost of providing fresh water mains in 1880 was considerable. It ended up being £10,000, which by today’s standards is close to £1.5million. Similar proposals were then made throughout Low Blantyre. There is no doubt however, that during 1876 – 1881 the town would have been immensely thankful to see new drains and a clean supply of water.