Dixon’s Rows – or Dixons’s Raws were former single storey, small miner’s houses consisting of 8 streets totalling 340 houses, of which 306 were lived in, the others being used as stores and a hall. They formed a large concentration of homes, packed into a small area near the northwestern end of Stonefield Road.
Construction started in early summer 1872. All the homes, including a public hall at Stonefield Road were owned by Mr. John Mann Thompson (b1836 – d1899) John was an iron-master, a wealthy prominent man who forged his business on the back of the Dixon family and was a cousin of the Dixon family. William Dixon at this time was William Dixon the third. During 1872, John found himself the Chairman of the newly formed Dixon’s Collieries in Blantyre, and was essentially “their big chief”. It should be noted that John personally owned the rows. William Dixon & Co did not own them at that time.
The small homes, essentially originally hovels were built to provide the housing requirements for employees of Dixons collieries, initially at Priestfield at High Blantyre. Considered adequate at the time for single miners, they were far from being ok for families.
In an area, which today is Calder Street, Stonefield Road, Camelon Crescent and Boswell Drive, 4 of these 8 old streets ran in a northwest to southeast direction (Park Street, Hall Street, Dixon Street and Calder Street), the other four ran in a northeast to southwest direction, criss crossing the others (Burnside Street, Miller Street, Govan Street and Carfin Street.)
The houses were basic. Built of brick, with slate pitched roofs, the single storey houses were terraced consisting of blocks of 4 houses, each with 2 rooms. On the front of each house were a door and one window, with 2 windows at the rear. The windows had wooden shutters to close over at night. It is rumoured that in the original days these houses had earthen floors, but it is more likely that had some sort of flagstones down and it was subsequently reported that the floors were of timber by 1910, an effort to combat dampness. Of the 2 rooms, the main living room was known as “the kitchen” and the bedroom was simply known as “the room.” Both rooms contained two “set in beds” into recesses in the wall, also known as “hole in the wall beds”. These arrangements would quite often not be adequate for the large mining families who would end up living there over several generations. The kitchen had facilities for cooking over a fire. Originally there was no sink or plumbing of any kind within the houses. Some of the homes had only one room.
Dixon’s Rows did not get off to a good start. Although construction started in 1872, by springtime 1874, only 160 houses had been erected from the 340 quotas. At the same time, 139 miners occupied about 110 of the houses, Of course with them were their families, averaging on 6 people per house. Water was non-existent unless you went to a mudhole into which, the common sewer also ran into. This had been reported to the Sanitary Inspector who did nothing and it took until September 1884 for a proper supply of clean water was obtained for the rows, albeit still outside.
In April and May 1874, miners went on strike and William Dixons decided to act swiftly and decisively, using the legal right to evict not just the miners, but all their families too. Some of the men had been on strike for over 7 weeks. A standoff commenced, with officers serving warrant papers amidst wild scenes. Ultimately, the miners had to leave and so did their families, around 500 people homeless. By the end of May, the newly built Dixons Rows, again lay empty and derelict, with 500 people taking to the streets of Blantyre looking for a shelter. Salvation for the evicted miners and families came from a source nearby, and the miners, in the face of Dixon’s ended up moving to a temporary camp set up in a field near the Anderson Church. The field was called Pilot Acre and the encampment was set up on the front half acre opening out on to Stonefield Road (the other half acre was the Bowling Club, who had recently moved to that location from nearby Barnhill) However, it is known many families did not want to live in one open plan wooden temporary building 105 foot in size, along with so many other families, and so some of them moved away from Blantyre altogether.
Dixon’s Hall was located on the eastern side of Stonefield Road at the end of Hall Street. Its length ran alongside Hall Street and was long and narrow. It later had official address 43 Stonefield Road. For some considerable time prior to the opening of the St Joseph’s chapel-school in 1878, Mass was celebrated and Sunday School conducted in a block of houses in Dixon’s Rows, the inner walls or partitions having been removed. Such accommodation, however, proved wholly inadequate to meet the wants of the Catholic population of the district, so negotiations commenced for the purchase of a site at Glasgow Road more suitable. St Joseph’s was formed as a mission in Blantyre in 1877.
To the south west of the rows were the Gas works further up Stonefield Road, to the north west a colliery owned, L shaped shop at the corner of Stonefield Road and Calder Street known as Jackson Place.
It would be amiss, whilst discussing Dixons Rows, not to mention the terrible Blantyre Mining Disaster at Dixons Colliery in October 1877. There was hardly a home untouched by grief at Dixon’s Rows, the community effectively wiped out by the deaths of over 200 men and boys that fateful day, in what remains as Scotlands worst mining disaster. The heartache must have been unbearable and as the cottages were all tied to the deceased employees, the colliery owners later famously ejected their widows and families, although a fund was set up beforehand to alleviate their plight.
Another disaster happened on 2nd July 1879, not 2 years later where the lives of 28 miners were lost at Dixon’s Pit number 1. Many of the fatalities were from Dixon’s Rows, further devastating a community, already in grief.
John Mann Thomson, the owner of the rows died on 12th March 1899, aged 63. He had been quite the shrewd businessman. Upon his death in 1899, the William Dixon Ltd board may have bought the rows from his estate, or inherited them at his will, but in any case by 1900, William Dixon & Co owned all the rows and continued to lease them all out separately to their own employees.
It was a condition in the tenancy of these tied miners’ homes that the Father or the eldest son must have been employed in Dixon’s collieries. A poem by Joe Corrie, describes this well, “So, ah’ll follow the gaffer wherever he goes, I’ll say aye tae his ayes, an naw tae his naws. For ah’ll lose ma job an house in the raws, should I faw oot wi the gaffer.”
In an extract from “The Housing Condition of Miners” Report by the Medical Officer of Health, Dr John T. Wilson, in 1910 noted that Dixons Rows had 420 employees living there. It was not unusual for a whole family of up to 10 people to be living in those cramped conditions with facilities outside. The reports mentions, “The mine-owners’ houses are known as Dixon’s Rows and are situated at Stonefield. They consist of: 149 Two-apartment houses Rental £5 17s. to £6 10s and 157 One-apartment houses Rental £3 18s to £4 11s. Erected about 33 years ago – One storey, brick – no damp-proof course – Walls not strapped and lathed, plastered on brick – A few wood floors, unventilated; majority brick floors – Some walls slightly damp – Internal surface of walls and ceilings good – No overcrowding – apartments large – No garden ground available, wash houses with water, no coal cellars – Water closets recently introduced, in the proportion of one closet to every 4 tenants – No sinks – drainage by open channels – Water supply from stand pipes in street, the well being at a distance varying from about 12 feet to 200 feet from the houses. – Scavenged at owners’ expense, but houses are now included in Blantyre Special Scavenging District.” The report suggests the houses were built in 1877, but this is incorrect, and I’ll correct it by stating that 1872 is the correct date. Some evidence for this date correction is that the Glasgow Herald on 16th October 1872, published an article about the death of Thomas Docherty, residing at Dixon’s Rows, Blantyre who was killed in a mining accident at nearby Greenfield.
On 25th March 1914, Evidence presented to Royal Commission, commented, “These rows cover a very extensive area, and are situated in the centre of the Blantyre district. They were erected some forty years ago, and are owned by William Dixon, Limited. They consist of 157 single- and 149 double-apartment houses. The rent per week, including rates, is 1s. 11d. for single-apartment, and 3s. 2d. for two-apartment houses. They are a most miserable type of house, thrown together with bricks in the cheapest possible fashion, with floors consisting largely of flags laid down on the earth. They are in a district well supplied with water, but are only served by means of standpipes at long intervals along the row. They have recently been included in a special scavenging district, which has greatly improved the sanitation of the place. There are no sculleries or sinks; consequently all the dirty water has to be emptied into an open gutter that runs along the front of each row. There is a washhouse for every 4 and 8 double- and single-apartment tenants respectively. There is a water closet outside for every 3 and 5 double- and single-apartment houses respectively. Dustbins are in vogue, with a daily collection of refuse. There are no coal-cellars. There is a man employed locally for cleaning up the place.” Relying on the previous report for dates, the mistake of 1877 being the construction date of the homes is carried over into this report.
At the field behind Dixon’s Rows, the employees of Dixons Collieries held an annual sports day in the field between Victoria Street and Boswell Drive, which would later become the playing fields of Blantyre High School.
Around 1930, a sink was provided in the main living rooms of each home but there was still no water supply. Water for cooking and washing had to be drawn from a communal well located in the street. The 4 families of each block shared an external toilet and a large washhouse, which was located at the rear of the rows. Gaslights were later installed and situated near the fireplaces.
Around this same time in the mid 1930’s, the clearance of Dixon’s Rows had commenced. Govan Street and Miller Street were the first streets to be demolished as part of the slum clearances, cleared to make way for the new houses at Priory Street and a revamped Calder Street, the houses you see today. At the time of the new homes being constructed in 1936, many of the remaining Dixon’s Rows homes had been condemned and also in the early part of that year, the County Council took over the ground from William Dixon & Co.
Throughout the 1940’s the abandonment and demolition of Dixon’s Rows progressed. The last block of houses to be demolished was the former block of 4 homes, which had been used as a hall adjacent to Stonefield Road, in 1958.
Words from “Blantyre Explained” by Paul Veverka (c) 2016
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