On 3rd February 2015, Thomas Hamilton-Hailes contacted me saying, “I noticed over the few short months where I’ve followed; with great enjoyment, your digging and delving into Blantyre’s past with unbounded enthusiasm and it has become clear that, if nothing else, you enjoy a challenge so here’s one from me …
We’re going back to Dixon’s Rows in the late 40s and 50s where Dixon Street; where my granny McNeil and older sister had their respective homes, Hall Street and Park Street were not only occupied by families of miners but had also an intake of squating families since people were slowly being re-housed mainly to the Orlets and Wheatlands extending from Fernslea Ave (cul-de-sac back then) where I was raised. In Hall street there lived a particular family which has always remained in a special corner of my memory and that was due in the main to the picture they conjured up in the mind of an impressionable young lad; myself, who was born in ’44 and spent some school-time with possibly the youngest lad in this family. They were called Holmes and the reason I think they may have been squatters as opposed to miners was that they performed circus acts right there in the rows for the neighbourhood.
The father and the oldest son, James I think, used to throw weights through the air to each other; catching them in the air and throwing them rapidly back. The elder son, I do well remember, had 4 long scars running from his right shoulder almost to the middle of his upper back from when he’d stood with his back a bit too close to a lions cage somewhere. The father could walk around with 3 or four young girls hanging from each arm; or a pair of mothers on each. This of course is all from memory but I read today how you managed to do some brilliant research on a Strang family and thought … I wonder? Are you up for it? 😀 I took an image from the internet to show which kind of weight this family used in their act. Only live performances I, or any of us for that matter, saw back then were the spontanious acts or training which they did on Park Street, Dixon’s Rows.
I felt it might add a wee bit of colour in respect of Dixon’s Rows and a bye gone age in Blantyre. As the rows were being slowly demolished on Park street, and after the lead pipes were “recycled” as it were it was great to see this family accompanied by many neighboursand take an active part in pulling on great tow ropes to pull down free standing gable ends after the workers had gone home for the night. I dare say the bricks were put to some private use as well somewhere but I was a bit young to know about that.”
I have to admit, this was a difficult one to look into. This family were not in any census, showing they did not live in Blantyre before 1911. Indeed, I couldn’t find anything relating to the Holmes family connecting Blantyre and so I started off looking further afield. What unfolded proved both interesting and surprising. The pieces to this story came to me in a round about way from sources published below, but I have pieced them together and now telling the story from the beginning, so it makes sense.
The story starts on 17th August 1930. Alexander Holmes was a miner, aged 50 and he was arriving in Scotland for the very first time. Beside him on passenger ship “Letitia” was his wife Elizabeth aged 44 and their three boys, Alexander 25 years old, Peter aged 15 and John just 13 years old. The ship had just travelled from Montreal Canada and had arrived into Glasgow that day.
How exciting this must have been for this family. Imagine arriving in Scotland for the first time was my initial thought. However, that quickly vanished when I inspected the passenger records for The Letitia. Alexander and his family were not listed in first class, nor in second or even third class. They were listed as Deportees, being EJECTED from Canada having travelled from lowly 140 Windsor Street, Burnbank, Scotland! They were amongst 9 people being sent out of Canada, amongst them people who were “insane” or “illegal immigrants”. The manifest listed the Holmes family as having arrived 6 months 8 months earlier aboard the Athenia. So they must have at least spent those 8 months on Canadian soil. However, the clerk has marked L.P.C against Alexander Snr. L.P.C was a passenger abbreviation for “Likely Public Charge” meaning the person was to be barred from working and living in Canada, usually through having a medical condition and unable to pay their way. Regardless of their dreams of a new life in Canada, this family had been forcibly removed and sent back to Scotland.
What I can say with certainty at this point their son Alexander Jnr, 25 years of age sought work in Blantyre Collieries belonging to Dixons. We know this as the passenger manifest listed him as a miner and as the story will show later, he took up residence at Dixon’s Rows at 16 Hall Street, Blantyre. (Accommodation provided to the miners for that particular colliery at High Blantyre).
However, tragedy was to strike a few years later. On 7th January 1937, Alexander Holmes Jnr (now 30), was sadly killed whilst at work in No. 2 pit of Blantyre Collieries, belonging to Messrs William Dixon. It was stated that when the first of a rake of loaded hutches went off the rails, Holmes started to replace it into position. The loaded hutches behind proved too strong for him, however, and came away on top of him, crushing him badly internally. When extricated, he was found to be dead. The report records that he left a widow and two young children, indicating he had met a woman and had started a family between 1930 and 1937. Alexander is buried in Lair 764 in High Blantyre Cemetery.
Now, if Alexander Snr and Alexander Jnr had both sought employment at the same colliery, there is a strong likelihood, that Alexander Snr at 57 years of age would be living at Dixon’s Rows too with the rest of his family. It is surely a relation of this family that Thomas remembers living there in the 1940’s and 1950s. They may have been squatters, as Thomas suggests, for although almost all of the residents at Dixons were miners, the houses by this time were becoming dilapidated and Blantyre was experiencing rapid growth in its new housing estates, with miners moving out to more modern homes. This coincided with a decline and closure of several of Blantyre’s remaining pits. Unfortunately, despite best efforts, I cannot make the connection to performers.
Update: On social media a discussion then arose, suggesting the performers were Beatties but with links to the Holmes family. Jean Maxwell told me, “The circus family were the Beattie family who originally came from Twechar.Mrs Beattie was a Balfour from Burnbank, her mother was a Holmes.” Marion Anderson added, “The one throwing the weights around would have been my father Wullie Beattie and probably his son Alexander( sandy) the scars were on the other son also named Wullie”
Robert Beattie added the following detail, “The article about tossing the weights round in Dixons Raws-It actually happened,. but you had the names wrong. The family concerned were, my family , the Beattie Family, shared a house,at 19 Hall St. with the Alex Balfour,Family, From 1949 to about 1953, 16 people in a two roomed house, very cosy. Wullie Beattie was the British 12 stone Weightlifting Champion in 1929, later touring Britain and Ireland as the mighty Apollo, his family also joining the act as acrobats, jugglers and of course son Sandy as the incredible Young Apollo. I remember my time in the raws with pride, great friends, and a great Community spirit, despite the hardships of the time, I am writing this from sunny Perth, Western Australia, and cheers to all the Balfour Family and all who lived in Dixons Raws -Robert Beattie”
Robert Stewart has been helping me with this story and has confirmed Alexander lived at 16 Hall Street with his wife Gracie. In 1932 their son died in infancy at almost 2 years old. When Alexander died in 1937 in the colliery accident, he left Gracie a widow and 2 small children, (both of whom died shortly after this in infancy too). Very sad.
This story gets more interesting. Here is a picture of their gravestone in the cemetery just along the road from my home. Now we just need to find a daughter , who went on to marry a Beattie and if so, we’re all connected up!
Scotsman 8 January 1937, Find a Grave, High Blantyre Cemetery Records, Leititia Passenger ship records, ancestry website, Scotlands People. Assistance by Robert Stewart.
Thomas Holmes messaged, ‘I have just been reading your story regarding the Holmes family that lived in 16 hall street Blantyre, my grand parents were Grace Blackwood Hamilton and Alexander Holmes, and their children were Alexander, Matilda , Robert, James, Thomas , George, Grace and Michael. My father is James Blackwood Hamilton Holmes, born in 1933 and lived in 16 hall street, his father died when he was aged 4 and his mother died in 1952. If you have anymore information regarding the holmes family I would greatly appreciate it. Many thanks, Thomas Holmes”