Chamber’s Buildings (Silverwells, or Chalmers)
Chamber’s Buildings was a former double tenement situated on the south side of Glasgow Road, adjacent to the Western Railway Bridge and directly opposite the entrance to the Greyhound Racing track. Unusually for Glasgow Road these tenement were all homes with no shops. The property was initially known as “Silverwells” or Chalmers Buildings, an early adaptation of the surname ‘Chambers.’ It is unknown how the name Silverwells came about.
Formerly a miner, Mr William Chalmers is noted in 1879 Naismith’s Directory as a joiner and builder. He was one of the final tenants who lived at Springwell (Farm) House prior to it being demolished. He may have been related to the Chalmers wood merchants of Motherwell (one of whom would be responsible for the construction of the Model Hostel in later years).
Around 1879, William purchased a small plot on empty farm fields approximately 100 yards in front of Springwell House from owner Janet Jackson of Old Place. The area would surely have felt home for him and the land may have been inexpensive due to its proximity to the “Loop Line” on the nearby Caledonian Railway.
During 1879 and 1880, William Chalmers set about to construct two adjoining tenements, the western one slightly larger in area. The tenements were stone built with slated roofs and opened out directly on to Glasgow Road, which in those times was still relatively unpopulated. Chamber’s Buildings was a relatively early Glasgow Road property. Access to the upper floors was to the rear, the entrance to which was located on the eastern side of the property. The tenements were two storey, but appeared taller due to the addition of attic rooms with dormer windows, which provided the effect of 3 storeys in each building. Initially there were 17 homes squashed into those 2 blocks. The surname of Chalmers around this time was interchangeable with Chambers and the name of “Silverwells” on “Chalmer’s Land” was founded.
In 1881, when the houses were completed, William immediately put them all up for sale, which must have been his intention all along for a quick cash profit in such times of booming population in Blantyre. He may have however, continued to operate a small haulage business from the rear outbuildings. Chalmer’s Land is noted within Enumeration District 6 in the 1881 Blantyre Street Index.
The buyer was Mr. David Gardiner Dunn (b1831), a Cambuslang coalmaster and he would be the new owner for some time. David lived at 11 Knowe Terrace, Pollockshields, Glasgow.
He was assisted by factor Alexander Peters, a joiner from nearby Springwell. Alexander Peters born in Blantyre in 1854 was an established tradesman, but employed rather than self employed and moved to Silverwells between 1881 and 1885.
In 1891, Alexander Peters was 37 years of age, married to an Islay woman named Annie, a year older. With them were daughters Annie aged 9, Margaret 1 month and sons John 11 and Colin aged 2.
When Alexander Peters moved to Silverwells, 2 of the homes became 1 and Alexander, factor of the houses lived in the larger house, renting in 1895 for £8 per annum. The other 16 homes at Silverwells had rents from £4, 16 shillings and were let out mostly to miners, all payable to owner David Dunn. It is noted that in 1895, Chalmers Land was part of a district with both water and drainage, something that wasn’t available in some other parts of Springwell.
Local Man Drowns
On Saturday 15th August 1903, Mr William Cochrane of Chalmer’s Buildings went missing. On Wednesday the following week, the body of the thirty three year old was found in the River Clyde between Caldervale and the River Clyde. It was unknown what happened to him.
By 1905, the houses had been divided further and 18 homes existed, a number that would remain for the rest of the life of the property.
The name ‘Silverwells’ vanished between 1891 and 1895, perhaps due to the fact that Silverwells was in name more well known in Bothwell and Hamilton.
The homes in 1895 were let out to widows and miners with rent ranging from £4, 16 shillings up to £8, 5 shillings. One of the homes still belonging to David Dunn was empty that year. At the back was ground belonging to James Stein and John Colvert. By 1900, the adjoining Caldwell building had been built, explored later.
In 1909, David Gardiner Dunn died, aged 78. The property passed to John Grant Sharp of 172 Buchanan Street, as his trustee. In every subsequent census and valuation roll throughout the 20th Century, this building would thereafter always be referred to as “Chamber’s Buildings” although the name “Chalmers” was still used verbally from time to time, even with residents.
By 1915, Chamber’s Buildings were still occupied by miners and their families, rents from between £5, 13 shillings and £9. The postal addresses of 51-59 Glasgow Road (odd numbers only) were allocated to the 18 houses. More specifically, 14 houses were at address 51 Glasgow Road, and the other 4 homes were individually, 53, 55, 57 and 59 Glasgow Road, the latter addresses being larger.
In 1915, the tenants at number 51 were Robert Buchanan, Richard Wright, Thomas Cook, Jackson Stevenson, Patrick Connor, John Hutchison, Alexander Cook, James McFaulds, John McGuire, William Hendry, John Cook, James McCrory, Michael Stephen and Edward Lawrie. At 53, 55, 57 and 59 were John Beggs, Samuel Dawson, David Buchanan and Thomas Shaw, all miners. It is safe to say the Cook family were well represented at this property.
Around 1920, John Grant Sharp who owned Chamber’s Buildings also owned ground at the back, which was set out as a Quoiting Green by miner John Robertson.
In 1924, John Grant Sharp died in Cathcart, aged 71. The property passed to Margaret Sharp, acting as executor of John and trustee of David Dunn.
In 1925, she was renting out to many miners families and also ground being used by Archibald Menzies, a blacksmith who lived at nearby Auchinraith Road. In 1930 all 18 homes were still being rented out by Margaret Sharp. The valuation roll that year incorrectly notes James Kelly’s properties further west as being Chamber’s Buildings too, when in fact the name Chambers only related to these 2 tenements.
Mr Kelly, local publican did not own Chambers Buildings.
Chambers Building – Deaf man dies on the ice
Tragedy befell a Blantyre man on 21st December Christmas 1927. Along with two others, John (or James as some reports confirmed) Cook (20) of Chalmer’s or Chamber’s Land, Blantyre set out for stroll, and eventually reached Bothwell Bridge, where a pond beside the river was frozen.
Cook, who was a deaf man, but impetuous youth, suddenly left his companions and slid across the ice. Richard Wright, his friend noticed that certain parts of the ice seemed rather thin, and he called the attention of Cook by signing him using signals he would understand trying to make him aware of the danger. Cook laughed and waved his hand. Suddenly a crack was heard, and the John Cook disappeared, straight under the River Clyde ice!
Richard attempted to cross the ice, but got himself into difficulty in the thin ice, and it was only with a struggle that he reached the riverbank again. The other companion ran for aid, while Richard got to the opposite side and obtained a large branch, which he held over the hole where Cook had disappeared, but all efforts were absolutely in vain. No hands came back up to grab that branch.
It was fifteen hours later, with the aid of Glasgow expert, that the body was recovered by means of grappling-irons. John Cook was popular and well known in Blantyre, where he resided with his mother. His father and sister at the time were in America, and only a few weeks before his death, John had his photograph taken professionally, to send to them for Christmas along with other presents.
The funeral of John Cook (20) took place on Christmas Eve 1927 with crowds of sympathetic spectators lining the streets. Amongst the spectators was Richard Wright, the man who made a gallant rescue attempt. It would not be the last time the River Clyde ice claimed young Blantyre lives.
The end of Chambers’ Buildings
David Allan & Sons Billposting Ltd leased the gable of number 51 to advertise, something they did at many Glasgow Road properties. post WW2 years, they erected an enormous billboard directly across from the building on the north of Glasgow Road. During the 1950’s public lavatories were built directly across the road from Chamber’s Buildings, near the entrance to the greyhound track. The grassy embankment between Chamber’s Buildings and the railway line was never built upon.
The area significantly changed at the end of the 1950’s and early 1960’s. Just before the nearby railway line ceased to operate and was dismantled in 1960, Chamber’s Buildings were demolished in 1959. They had lasted 80 years and were likely in need of modernization by comparison to several new housing estates in Blantyre. Proximity to the nearby former Auchinraith Pit and previous underground workings may also have been a factor. Some Chamber’s Buildings residents are known to have moved to Wheatlands and to High Blantyre to new homes that had recently been built.
From the illustrated book, “Blantyre Glasgow Road – The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2017
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