1975 Perpetuating myths

In November 2015, I was contacted by Alison at the National Trust for Scotland who gave me a copy of a letter dated 1975, sent by the then curator of Livingstone Museum, Mr. Bill Cunningham. Alison wanted to know if there was any truth in some comments being made to Bill by an Englishman, a Mr Poole, which surprised her about Blantyre.

Here’s the letter Bill Cunningham (of DLC) sent to England in 1975, in response to a gentleman of the name Poole. Bills letter was more of an acknowledgement and it is noted that his intention was to reply in detail at another time. Mr Poole was asking where the castle was in Blantyre, a building that Blantyre Hotel in America was allegedly modelled on. I’ve since investigated the Blantyre man who emigrated to America and prospered there. He originally lived in Glasgow Road, and actually Blantyre Hotel in America has turrets very suspiciously like those that once were on the corner of John Street / Forrest Street etc! Sadly, not based on a castle, but he may have been telling the truth in saying the hotel was modelled on the “ancestral home of his mother”!!

I was able to reply to Alison suggesting that the letter had an incorrect link to an American President (a Blantyre man was connected to American President Polk, but not in the manner described) and also contained an incorrect story about Britannia.

There are some great myths about Blantyre still circulating on and offline, some started incorrectly as “fact”. Statements that grate with me, as they’re all absolute tosh and untrue like:

  1. Britannia model Francis Teresa Stuart was born in Blantyre Priory!.
  2. JB Struthers fell down a well and died!
  3. William Wallace leapt from the Priory into the Clyde!
  4. Bardykes House was once a retreat for Priests!
  5. Blantyre was named after Mary Queen of Scots horse!
  6. The western Cottage on Pech Brae was 2 storey!
  7. There was an 18 year old witch who was strangled at Stoneymeadow called Mary Rose!
  8. Contemporary Blantyre is still a village!
  9. Crossbasket got its name from a baby crossing the river in a basket!
  10. The Lady Nancy got its name from a sick child who lived at Crossbasket by that name!
  11. Mary Queen of Scots stayed at Crossbasket/ Craigknowe/Auchinraith the night before  her famous battle!

All fanciful. All untrue and prompting several websites and publications requiring to be corrected. I’m slightly more open to the idea of the Priory Tunnel, as it has been commented on so many times through the decades, but my tunnel exploring days are done!

However, in regard to a couple of points in the letter sadly only 1 page has survived at DLC.  The source of the President myth is prior to Bills time and his comments may have simply been passed on from others or heavily relied upon sources elsewhere. This letter though can show how things can be believed by others and passed on firsthand. It was great to see Bill take time to reply and I know he was very knowledgeable on all aspects of Blantyre during his time at the museum. It’s a reminder to me though, to be careful in what I write when relying upon comments by others and to take  time to correct these sort of myths whenever they appear.
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On social media:

Elizabeth Weaver Nowadays of course we have the advantage of the internet to find evidence – easy to overlook how difficult it was at a time when research involved treks to distant libraries and hours of trawling through enormous books when you got there. Have to say, Bill Cunningham’s letter was a model of tact and politeness – much like the man himself! I wonder if Mr Poole gradually accepted that his mother’s ancestral home might have been more modest than he’d hoped 😉

The Blantyre Project Elizabeth – you’re absolutely correct! It was handled very well and I know how passionate Bill Cunningham could be about all things Blantyre. Without the internet, I certainly for one would have spent many, many more hours in libraries and archives to find only about a quarter of what i have posted. My hat is tipped to those Blantyre men and women who have researched in the past , especially in the days prior to the world wide web.

Bill Hunter Blantyre Castle USA. I remember many years ago several Americans who came into our Office enquiring as to the Location of Blantyre Castle, Blantyre. The photo they produced was supposed to be a replica of the original one in Blantyre. I don’t think we convinced them that there was no such building in Blantyre. And if I recall an article appeared in the Hamilton Advertiser asking for help in tracing it.

Bill Hunter's photo.

Margaret Nimmo Lehmann I have fond memories of the Cunningham family

Jane Davies Margaret, wasn’t Bill Cunningham’s wife a far-out relative of ours through the McMillans who were part of my grandma Nimmo’s family?

Elizabeth Weaver If so, Betty is still living in Hamilton. Bill died last year. They were great friends of our parents.

Elizabeth Weaver I remember them all fondly too, Margaret, as does Brian. Great people and very community-minded.

Bill Hunter Bill was a Gentleman and Betty a Lady the whole family were fantastic. I rember working with Bill when 2 of David Livingstones guns and a spear were stolen after a break in. We were contacted by a Glasgow collector who informed us that he had the weapons and the perpetrator was to come back for his money. We were there and he was apprehended and the weapons returned to Bill.

The Blantyre Project Bill Hunter I will post that story and the photos for it very soon. 😉

Chris Ladds The leap from the priory may need to be revisited Paul as I vaguely remember this is linked to the histories of Blind Harry, but don’t have notes to hand.

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