Gambling at Springwells


Pitch-and-Toss-copyThomas Dunsmuir Hartman lives in Chicago, but is formerly from Logan Street, Blantyre. About 10 years ago, he wrote a short article putting it online about his recollections about Blantyre in the 2nd quarter of the 20th Century. This valuable account gave an insight into life in PreWW2 Blantyre.

“Another part of Springwell’s history in those days was Gambling. Every Friday it was not uncommon to see some of the miners wives go up to the entrance of the mines to collect the wages that the miners had made that week, this was before they went and drank and gambled what they had made.

This was indeed a very common occurrence for the miner to go to the pubs directly from the pithead, if she was not fast enough to waylay him on his way home invariably he finished up at the pub and most times drank most or gambled what he had made.

One can feel the frustration of this life they led and much more so for the women with their children. To the men this was an every day occurrence and the pubs were their only way of blowing off steam.

The Gambling was big! We called it Tossing or Heads and Tails, played with two copper pennies of the realm.You tossed them a good distance in the air and allowed them to fall without touching anyone in the huge crowds which attended these Tossing Schools.

Springwell was well known around Lanarkshire for its Sunday after church Tossing School. This was planned in great detail, from the lookout for the police who were stationed at various intersections or highpoints to see any police in the near vicinity and give warning of a raid.

There was one person in charge of the gambling school and he was called the Baber it was his job to collect all the bets and to pay out if the lad tossing the coins tossed two tails. Two heads you are a winner, a head and tail you toss again, until you turn up two of a kind.

If you say that you have 10-30 men all gambling and most of them big strong miners I think you have to consider this to be a rather large crowd and such a crowd which easily could get out of control especially if they are on the losing side of the toss. So this Baber had to have his own henchmen and he himself was one very capable person to handle a situation when it arrived AND IT DID! constantly.

You always found that he was without a doubt the local punch drunk bully and if you did not believe it to be the case he was willing to take you on to prove it to the crowd attending the tossing, and they did come along to try their luck at gaining this position, as it had quite a large financial pay out to the Baber.

If anyone tossed three heads in a row he was a winner and the Baber always got a cut of the winnings. This could go on all day and each time someone tossed three heads in a row he was pocketing a fair amount of money so much so, I can recall as a boy watching the Barber walk away with all of the money. At this particular tossing, he had pocketed so much money that he could compete in the game and finished up the big winner. WHO IS GOING TO ARGUE WITH THE LOCAL TOUGH.

I have to mention the raids with the police. This was great fun for us kids to watch about 30 men being chased by, at the most at anytime say four police, this was considered a big raid, I think they called in reinforcements from the surrounding police stations. I can only remember two policemen at the Blantyre station. I can never remember seeing anyone caught, just a lot of puffing and grunting going on. I don’t think the police ever really wanted to catch anyone. Just a lot of show on their part. Talk about the Keystone cops, they had nothing on this lot.”

Pictured for illustration are Durham Miners taking part in open air gambling with coins.

Featuring Blantyre Project Social Media with permission. Strictly not for use by others on or offline, our visitors said,

Marion Anderson Great story
Archie Peat Not great when your Dad went missing on a Sunday morning , to Auchinraith bing to engage in this ludicrous pastime . Other Dads took their kids for a walk or went fishing 😬
Janette McCallum My grandfather was the head baber at the palace grounds.
Betty Brown John St, under the bridge was also a gambling haunt.💷💷💷
John Cornfield I remember my Mam told me a story about The tossing schools in Springwells my granda Paddy Cox apparently tossed 3 heads in a row
Blantyre Project Im sure Thomas Hartman was a childhood friend of your fathers John.
Carol Boyd There was a Tossing School in Baillies Causeway in Hamilton too. It was next to or behind Dai McGuires fruit shop. This was in the 50s/60s.
John Cornfield And the Baber wouldn’t pay out on it
So my granda being a small quiet man left and went home he told his wife Rosie who in turn told their eldest son Thomas Topsy Cox who was the complete opposite of his father! He was tall well At himself and went onSee more
Blantyre Project I see a whole culture of gambling sprang up around the area especially near Rosendale and Henderson’s Buildings (Kellys). Police were forever in the 1920s catching illegal bookies at street corners. Betting on the open air boxing in the ground opposite on the north side of Glasgow Road next to Craighead raws was rampant, and then of course a culture developed around the greyhound racing and i suppose later into speedway betting too.I have good stories to tell, when Glasgow Road exploration ventures towards those buildings later in the month.
Ann Hartman Can anyone tell me if this gentleman is still alive and how to contact him Thomas Hartman is my uncle and family lost touch with him many years ago think he lived in South Africa before Chicago
Blantyre Project this was posted 11 years ago on a public forum, and even then Thomas was recollecting times in the 1930s. He may be in his 90s now if still alive, but his posts did suddenly stop on that forum a long time ago. Another Blantyre site recently copied and pasted all Thomas’s posts word for word from the copyrighted forum into a book in June, and mentioned he had his permission to do this (which is highly doubtful considering he didn’t approach anybody else for permission whose research, photos and information appears in that pasted book). I hope Thomas is still alive and the Talking Scot forum where he was a member of, maybe able to help or provide contact details. I’ll PM you.
Ann Sinclair My father was brought up at 22 croftpark crescent one of thirteen, and i remember him talking about the “tossin ” also about the crombie coat that went into the pawn shop on a monday and retrieved on the Friday . For the ‘ dancin ‘
Maggie O’Brien Peter Obrien here when the old wellington bar closed a tossing school started it lasted for about 4 weeks
Rena Caullay My dad’s name was Thomas dunsmuir. He worked in the priory pit in blantyre.. My brother’s Jim and Jackie.
Gord Fotheringham Doon the dandy…..was one of the biggest I had ever seen……I remember the exact spot……lots of moanin and groinin…..and yes ma da wiz always there
Garry Lee I love ready the story’s on the Tossin school’s. my great grandfather was a Baber in Hamilton. Well done paul for documenting these story’s from that generation of people who actually saw these ‘Events’ taking place!

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  1. I remember gambling seeing men in outbuildings behind the tenement block half way along main Street High Blantyre. I was sent to get change for the electric meter. Never done me any harm. 1951 to 57 or 58. Went to the school on the right hand side where the World’s End pub is at the bottom of the hill. Moved to the prefabs on the road to Burnbank where i was born in Kenmar road in the house of my grandparents Rab & Jessie Lyle. I had a sister Joyce and a cousin at the same school Alex Gilroy son of Smith. My dad left for England about 1954 William Gilroy ( Bill ) my mum Martha known as Maggie. I left Scotland 1960, anyone remember ?

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