Life at the turn of the new Century in 1900 was not pleasant for Glasgow man John Thomson. The next few years would see him and his family in a downward spiral of bad luck, misfortune and tragedy.
In June 1901, his misfortune started when he became unemployed from his job as a Stickworker. The impact of losing his job, was that he lost his ability to pay rent and to provide for his family almost straight away. So, it came to be that at the end of June 1901, his wife and three children were taken in by Barnhiil Hospital and Poor House. This poorhouse although named Barnhill was unconnected to Blantyre and sited in Glasgow, opened in 1850. ‘Paupers’ who could not support themselves were sent here and were obliged to work at jobs such as bundling firewood, picking oakum (separating tarred rope fibres) and breaking rocks. The hours were long and the inmates worked unpaid under extremely poor conditions, with harsh discipline and dreadful food. In 1945 it was renamed Foresthall House and Hospital and was thereafter used as an old people’s hospital and residential home. It was demolished in the late 1980s and a private housing development now stands on the site.
In Summer 1901, John, his wife and 3 children were living at this terrible place. The poorhouse may have been especially sympathetic to the families plight for John’s wife was heavily pregnant and in July , just 3 weeks later, went into labour in the poorhouse hospital. She gave birth to a daughter who died at the birthing table and sadly, his wife died at that table too. It is clear that left without a wife, John selfishly was not only able to cope with the children, but was thinking of himself, when he deserted the children by running from the poorhouse shortly after, perhaps affected by grief.
In October 1901, John was caught upon and the case brought before a Sherrif who sympathetically pointed John towards Auchentibber, Blantyre and job opportunities. John took his 3 children and in those days before any proper child welfare authorities, housed them in a one roomed house at Clyde Row. He was able to rent as during that October he immediately got instant employment (i can’t help but wonder if the Sheriff or authorities had arranged this?)
However during November and December 1901, he continued to struggle with being a father, and although in constant employment earning 22s per week, he failed to provide them with sufficient food, whereby they became dependent on neighbours. John left home at eight in the morning, and seldom returned before ten at night, leaving his three children for that length of time, aged 11, 5 and 3. He made little or no provision for them during his absence. No schooling. No food. No warmth in those harsh Winter months.
Neighbours in the small row of miners cottages on Sydes Brae became more concerned when this had been going on for months, and despite giving the little ones some food on occasion, it was noticed how thin and poorly turned out they were becoming. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children were informed of the case in December and Dr Grant was called in. His report was read, and stated that the children were much emaciated, and the house deplorably dirty and unhealthy.
The children were taken away from John and taken to Hamilton poorhouse in Bothwell Road. However sadly, days after through ill health, the middle child, aged 5 died on Wednesday 6th January 1902. It was found that this had happened through the previous neglect. On 11th January 1902, single parent John Thomson appeared in court and before Sheriff Davidson, John pleaded guilty to his children’s neglect throughout the Autumn and Winter of 1901. He openly admitted he had cruelly neglected all three of his children and had been unable to cope since the death of his wife. Feeling little sympathetic, the Sheriff imposed the highest penalty in his power—viz., six months’ imprisonment, with hard labour.
Before i leave this sad story, I can’t help but wonder what became of the surviving two Thomson children of Auchentibber. It is unlikely they would have returned to that small house. It is also perhaps unlikely they were ever returned to their father, once he left prison. Do you know more? I’d love to find out what became of them. Pictured on Sydes Brae in modern times, on the left hand side going up the hill, is a small grass field. This is where the row of small one bedroom homes once stood and where those little children were left to fend for themselves.