It’s with sincere thanks to Colin Gilchrist, for providing some photos attached to this article, which explores a subject close to my home area, i.e. The story of the McLean family and their Aerated Water Business. (Fizzy water). As I write and research this article, I’m looking out on land on Main Street where their factory used to be. To the best of my knowledge, there has been nothing written in any sort of detail by previous local historians and consequently it’s a subject I’ve been wanting to research for quite some time.
Colin was born in Blantyre in the prefabs at 11 Centre Street in 1949 before moving to East Kilbride in 1953. He has a family connection to the Mcleans for his mother Margaret McLean was born in Auchentibber and her father, Colin’s grandfather was Matthew McLean, one of the McLean Brothers who managed the Aerated Water Business. Matthew was married to Elizabeth McDonald, the daughter of David McDonald and they had 12 children.
McLean Brothers Aerated Water Bottlers
Alexander McLean was born to Alexander McLean and Elizabeth McCulloch in 1837. He was a coal miner and died on 28th May 1887, aged 50 in a colliery accident at Udston Colliery. He left behind his wife Janet McLean (nee Russell) at their Auchentibber home and 7 McLean children William, Alexander Jnr, James, Donald, David and Matthew and their sister Anne. His son, Alexander Jnr also a coal miner was severely burned in that same accident. When Alexander died in that pit accident, both his parents were already deceased.
The pit accident and tragedy of losing his father and with the horror of the previous decade’s pit disaster still fresh in his mind, may have prompted Alex Jnr to change his career. At some point between Summer 1887 and 1891, Alex formed a business of his own across the road from his mother’s home in High Blantyre.
He established an Aerated Water Company, which was to be given the name ‘McLean Brothers Mineral Water Works”. These were boom years for Blantyre with people coming to the area for employment in the pits and lots of construction projects taking place. It would have been a time of new opportunity for many business people. The factory was located between the Baptist church and the post office, just off Main Street, in what is now the carpark near the entrance to Kirkton Park.
Alex McLean Jnr (b1866) married on Hogmanay 1891 to Esther Galbraith, a farm servant working at Smellies Land. Alex was living at Kirkton at this time and is noted on the marriage certificate as being an Aerated Water Manufacturer. In 1891 when he married, he was 25 years old. There may have been a touch of sorrow at the wedding, for it was only 4 years after his father had died, but mother Janet McLean was still there. The 1891 census records Alex and his new bride living near Cemetery Road, neighbours of Robert Stewart the Plasterer. The Census shows him as an Employer and confirms his position as an Aerated Water Manufacturer. Employed in the Water Factory was brother William and 17 year old James. That same year in 1891, Alex’s mother Janet was living at Kirkton with sons James 14, Donald 12 and Matthew 10. Early logos of this time show the business to be named “McLean Brothers Aerated Water”.
On 21st February 1894, however, a notice appeared in the local newspaper stating that Alex McLean was being pursued for bad debts by Ladywell Street Wire Works in Glasgow. It is unknown what the purpose of the wire was, but may have been for strengthening crates and boxes. The sequestration took place on 13th March 1894 at 11am at the Hamilton Sheriff Court House. It is unknown what the outcome was, but the name “McLean Brothers” may have been wound up.
By 1894, the business Springfield Mineral Water Company was established at the same location. The business directory of 1894/1895 states that they had branched out from Soda Water but also to produce bottles for porter and ale suppliers (by others). Alex was then running the business, again with the assistance of brother William and it proves that they had bounced back from the financial difficulties earlier in the year. Alex managing the business production and finances, William managing sales.
The drinks business was by no means the only one in Blantyre involved in bottling at that time. By 1895 competitors H&J Somerville were established at Stonefield, just off Glasgow Road. Closer to their factory was Francis McKay, a bottler at Kirkton and of course the more famous Robertson & Co at Springwells, who were also involved in producing beer bottles as well as their famous ginger.
On the 1898 map, the factory was entered off Main Street, directly across from Priestfield Street and bordered on to fields of Croftfoot and the field that would later become Kirkton Park. By the 1910 map, the factory had expanded with a further building adjacent to it to the North. Some photos look like the building is completely different and it may have been rebuilt entirely….a good sign of success. There are also local tales that around 1900, the McLean Brothers and their Springfield Mineral Water Company were the first to produce a ‘clear’ lemonade, by comparison to cloudy mixture people were used to. It is told that in those early days, the horses had exceptional navigational skills, knowing the routes well.
By 1901, Alex was 35 years old, Esther 30 years old and they had 6 children. Annie and Janet were 8 years old, little Esther 6, Margaret 5, Elizabeth 3 and little Alexander 1. His elder brother William aged 40 is living nearby with wife Margaret and is noted as being a salesmen for this aerated water company which by then was also involved in selling their produced lemonade and gingerade. In 1905 valuation roll, William is noted as a vanman. Brothers James and Donald had also joined the business.
On 7th November 1909 a terrible tragedy befell the McLean family. A fire raged through the building at 6 Douglas Street taking the life of Janet McLean who was 69 years old and also her grandson Henry Taylor. The McLean brothers must have found this unbearable to live and work right beside this reminder of the fire, as the building lay derelict for some time, the exposed roof trusses charred by the fire. The building sat near the corner of Priestfield Street and Douglas Street and was in close proximity to not just the homes of the brothers, but also their factory.
In 1911 Matthew McLean, the youngest son was also employed as a salesman at the Factory. This was truly a family business. It is probable that Roberstons, enjoying the leading success in this industry in Blantyre eventually bought out the Springfield Mineral Water Company sometime beyond the First World War.
From “Blantyre Explained” by Paul D Veverka (c) 2016.