Blantyre Doctor William Grant


Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 16.35.45.pngDoctor William Grant was a well-respected doctor of Blantyre in the latter half of the 19th Century and pre WW1 years.

Born in Bellshill in 1847, the son of William Grant and Agnes Pollock, he was educated at John Donald’s School then at  Glasgow University where he qualified M.B., C.M. in 1871. For the next three years he worked as an assistant.

Very soon after graduation he took the bold move to begin a practice in Blantyre in 1874, and by his skill and rare kindliness, he rapidly made for himself a most enviable position in that district. His practice considerably increased in accordance with the rapid growth of the parish and the knowledge of his skill and he soon met and fell for Agnes Purdie (born 1852). They would go on to have 6 children together, before Agnes died young in 1891 at the tender age of just 39.

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Agnes Purdie Grant

He was elected a member of the first School Board for Blantyre in 1875, and held a seat for thirty-nine years, during twenty of which he was chairman. However, he had taken a break for 6 years, almost as soon as he joined. This co-incides with a growing family. His daughter, Jean Bertram was born on December 21, 1876.

He was parochial medical officer and, for a number of years, medical officer of health.  Dr. Grant obtained the degree of M.D. in 1890, also from Glasgow University.

During October 1877, he was somewhat of a hero for his bravery in going down the Dixon’s Pit in High Blantyre to assist with the rescue efforts of the pit disaster and tend to the injured. Time and time again, he ventured into the dangerous gas filled pit with the rescuers in the hope he could administer medical aid to anybody he found.

William’s mother Agnes passed away on September 18, 1878, at the age of 61. A month later, his son William Jnr was born on October 12, 1878. He is noted in the 1879 Naismith’s Directory as the doctor operating from the Apothecary Hall at Gardiner’s Place, High Blantyre. His daughter Agnes Pollock was born on October 24, 1880

By 1881, the family were living at Glebe Cottage, at Craigmuir Road, next to High Blantyre Old Parish Church although had earlier lived at Springfield Cottage. With them was a 14 year old Domestic Servant girl Catherine Connolly. A surgery was located at Grimson’s Buildings, Stonefield, but this should not be confused with Grant’s practice. The surgery at low Blantyre was Dr Cowan Wilsons.

William was created a Justice of the Peace for Lanarkshire in January, 1881 and would go on to be one of the oldest Justice of the Peace at Hamilton. His daughter Minnie Purdie was born on September 6, 1882. His son Thomas Purdie was born on April 16, 1885. His daughter Christina was born about 1888.

William was to suffer personal tragedy when his wife Agnes died on 8th May 1891, at only 39 years old, leaving him with 6 children between the ages of 3 and 15.

It was time for a new start for his large family. He moved home, taking them all to Croftpark House (also known as Broompark House). This was a former large detached stone house near the site of the future St John Ogilvie RC Church. The house would later stay in the hands of the medical profession and eventually be owned by the Jope Doctors.

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Margaret Sellar Grant

Just one year later in 1892, he remarried, this time to Margaret Sellar Auchinachie (b1859 – d1935) They would go on to have 2 sons and 2 daughters, the first born in 1892.

William’s father also William passed away on March 10, 1895, in Blantyre at the age of 76. Tragedy followed again when his first child with Margaret passed away about 1896, at the age of only 4.

Doctor William Grant’s name features in many news reports of the time, for he was often called to accidents, inquiries as well as medical emergencies, births and deaths. He also, along with Dr Cowan Wilson supported the Cottage Hospital and the old Nursing Association. He was known to be a man that stuck to his guns when he reached a decision and though there was a lot of opposition voiced during debates about new schools at Auchinraith and Calder Street, it has been suggested that these projects went through because of the tenacity of Dr Grant.

In 1901, the census reports William as being 53 years old, living at Croftpark House on Broompark Road, with wife Margaret (41) and a combined family of 9 children! With them were sisters Margaret Dennie (24) who was a cook and Agnes Dennie (19), a housemaid. William was appointed Chairman of the School Board in 1906. During November 1905 a few weeks earlier, his predecessor reported his concern that there was appearing to be a swing towards “athletes” at school, rather than “academics”. His words were minuted that the bad influence of sport infiltrating into the curriculum was down “entirely to the game of football”. He motioned that “the Board had agreed to discourage the game of football as it was indulged too much by the boys at the present time. Furthermore, it was the agreed opinion of the Board that the sustained effort in the game of football as played in open field or ground, was injurious and damaging to the overall health of the boys. This is what a good many local school authorities think, even if they are fearful to say it. Blantyre School Board will take action at the forefront and in the interests of children.”

Strothers Directory of 1911, gives a good insight into William Grant. It reads, “Thirty-six years a School Board Member. Dr. GRANT, Chairman of Blantyre School Board.

Dr. William Grant is one of Blantyre’s most prominent citizens, and his connection with the populous mining district has been a long and honourable one, as for 36 years his figure has been seen daily moving about the streets of Blantyre as he goes from house to house visiting his patients with a regularity that calls forth high encomiums from those whom he is asked to visit. The doctor has at all times taken a keen interest in the welfare of the people, and bestows an encouraging smile on all as he passes them, and speaks a word or two, which are good medicine in themselves.

Dr. Grant is one of the few medical gentlemen who have had practical and personal experience of fire-damp, as he was the first medical man to arrive on the scene of the never-to-be-forgotten explosion which occurred in Blantyre Collieries many years ago. Immediately the explosion had subsided he volunteered to go down the fatal shaft, and spent many hours with the rescue party. He was successful in saving the lives of three men who were found alive, but unconscious. Dr. Grant was professionally engaged in three colliery explosions in Blantyre, and also in the Udston explosion; and he was also engaged in giving aid to a number of injured people who were the victims in the terrible dynamite explosion which occurred at Burnbank Cross when the North British Railway was being made to Hamilton.

Dr. Grant has all along taken an active interest in the social affairs of the parish, but his outstanding interest has always been in education. He is possessed of great tact, and has on many an occasion guided a heated and angry debate into a calmer and serener atmosphere. In political matters he takes an active interest in the counsels of the Liberal Unionist party.Dr. and Mrs. Grant and family take an active interest in the work of Anderson U.F. Church.”

William retired as a doctor in 1911. A year later, when Calder Street school opened, Dr Grant awarded a gold medal to the Dux pupil in the ‘supplementary class. (Following William’s later death, it was reported that his widow and the family wanted this to continue, and the medal became known as the “Dr Grant Memorial Medal.” In 1918 it was won by John A. Cameron.) Sadly, life was again blighted by tragedy when his eldest son, William passed away on January 2, 1914, in High Blantyre, Lanarkshire, at the age of 35.

William died on 29th August 1917 aged 70. His obituary read, “We regret to announce the death of Dr. William Grant, of Blantyre, which took place at a Glasgow nursing home on 29th August. By his death Blantyre loses not only its chief doctor, but also one of its most respected citizens. Dr. Grant leaves a widow and a grown-up family. Two of his sons are in the medical profession; one is on service with the R.A.M.C. and the other practises in Blantyre.”

Hamilton Advertiser   Saturday 1st September 1917

   We regret to record the death on Wednesday in a nursing home in Glasgow, of Dr William Grant, of Croft Park, Blantyre. Born in 1847, he had reached the allotted span of 70 years, and, while a native of Bellshill, he had been a prominent and useful figure in Blantyre for close on half a century. He was educated at John Donald’s school in Glasgow, from which he proceeded to the university in 1867, graduating four years later, and subsequently taking up practice in Blantyre in 1874. A man of untiring energy, Dr Grant associated himself in a practical way with the many activities which had for their object the social uplifting and amelioration of distress in the parish. At all times his advice and assistance were much sought after, and were as freely bestowed. It was, however, in the educational affairs of the parish that, apart from his professional career as a doctor, he had the community under its deepest debt of gratitude. Almost immediately upon coming to Blantyre in the early seventies, he was returned a member of the School Board, and except for a break of about six years, he continued on the Board up till his retrial in 1911, having been chairman for a long period of years. He was invariably re-appointed to this position of honour by the unanimous votes of his colleagues. It was felt that in Dr Grant they had a chairman on whom they could all depend, whose judgement could be relied upon, and whose wisdom had been demonstrated in former Boards. Dr Grant did not arrive at hurried or rush conclusions. His mind was made up after calm and mature deliberation, but when once made up no amount of opposition would make him (resign) his position. This tenacity of purpose was frequently evinced in the course of educational controversies that arose in the parish. Much of the opposition was directed against the doctor in his capacity as chairman, but he still held to his convictions, and the wisdom of them, notably in the erection of Auchinraith and of the new Calder Street School, has since been abundantly verified. At the great colliery explosion which took place at Blantyre in October of 1877, Dr Grant was one of the first men to descend the pit and render aid to the survivors in that awful disaster. In politics, Dr Grant was a staunch Unionist, and held at one time the position of president of the local Unionist Association. A J.P. for the county of Lanark, he was one of the oldest Justices who attended the Hamilton Court. He was a warm supporter of the Nursing Association and of the Cottage Hospital in Blantyre. Since the erection of Calder Street School he presented a gold medal to the dux pupil in the supplementary classes. Dr Grant is survived by a widow and grown-up family. The funeral takes place to-day from Croft Park.

From “Blantyre Explained” by Paul D Veverka (c) 2016

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Gord Fotheringham Nice story paul…..

The Blantyre Project Thanks Gord. I bought a really expensive book called Glasgow & Lanarkshire Illustrated. It was a xmas present to myself. lol. Some amazing photos in it, and its the actual old 1911 version. wink emoticon

Jane Johnstone Paul, how I love these stories. My maiden name is ‘Purdie’, but we came from Lesmahagow. I never knew there were any Purdies in Blantyre….The wife, ‘Agnes’, spookily has a look of my father’s genes. Thanks for all this great information. You are a star😀

The Blantyre Project thank you Jane. Glad you’re enjoying the page. I had a nice phone call tonight from a lovely lady here on holiday from abroad telling me how she enjoys this page and can see the effort being put in. People are so nice. PURDIE is definitely a rare name for Blantyre prior to 1930. In this story William’s children’s middle names were Purdie, but as a surname, the name is uncommon in this town. There is one gentleman, a John Purdie who worked at a quarry in Stewartfield in 1895, but is gone from there 5 years later. I’m afraid any story about Purdies in Blantyre pre WW2, would be a short tale.


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  1. Wonderful, Iain. He was also my great grandfather too. His son, Peter, by his second wife was my grandfather and he became a doctor in the Indian Medical Service with quite an illustrious career. Peter’s son, Christopher (my late father) was also a doctor and so was I, a fourth generation medic. I would love to have discussed advances in treatment and how the NHS has changed our careers almost beyond recognition over 150 years. Thanks for doing this and bringing him to life and our attention, much appreciated.

  2. Thank you for writing this article and keeping his legacy alive. He was my grandfather’s grandfather (his son Thomas was my grandfather William’s father). I have learnt so much from this article. Lovely to see a picture of my second great grandmother Agnes too. I don’t suppose you know why she died so young?

    1. Hello Ruth. My software states that we are 2nd cousins once removed. Dr William Grant is my great grandfather. His first wife Agnes Purdie died on the 8th May 1891 after bronchia pneumonia for 18 days and then cardiac neurosis 4 hours, this was cetified by Dr William Grant, hubby and local doctor. His second wife was Margaret Sellar Auchinachie, she was a teacher at a local school, probably the one at which Dr G was he chairman of the school board.
      My line is via my mother, her mother was Jean Bertram Grant, first daughter and first child of Dr WG and AP.

  3. What a delight to find this website and the above article about William Grant. For the record he was my great grandfather and my maternal grandmother was Jean Bertram Grant, his first child. JBG married Richard Ged Muir Bathgate in India in 1904, they met in Blantyre when he was working as a coal mining engineeer, don’t know which pit, but he lived at Hospital Row. He then moved to India to work, again, as a mining engineer and she followed him. A true love. They had five children, the second being my mother.
    Commenting on the Purdie name and the comment from Jane Johnstone, Jane Purdie’s parents were Thomas Purdie and Jean Bertram, they had seven children and lived in Glasgow, in the various census returns his occupation is shown as dairyman, he was born in Burnetholm, Carluke. His parents were James Purdie and Jean Findlayter/Findlater. James P was born in 1787 at Covington Mains, Lanark.

    1. Thanks for this Iain. I’m glad you found the article and thanks for all your additional information.

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