With exception of Springwell Farm, one of the oldest properties to ever exist in the hamlet was “McDougall’s Land” or to give it its original official name, “Springwell Cottages”. During the lifetime of this former building, like others nearby it would change hands a few times, be used as personal home for the owner and was also later used primarily to rent out to miners and their families as a means to supplement income.
McDougall’s Land was a 2-storey former tenement divided in half, forming 4 houses, 2 up and 2 down. It was of average size for a tenement and each house comprised of 2 rooms, each having 1 window. It opened out on to Glasgow Road and was situated at the former fork in the road, right at the bend.
The stone built property was constructed in 1876 by Mr. Duncan McDougall, a miner of Greenfield Colliery, who arrived in Blantyre that year following a spell living at Hamilton. He was one of the first people to approach the Farm of Springwell to buy land from them and it should be noted when he did, no other properties with exception of the farm existed in Springwell. He was a “Springwell Pioneer” so to speak.
The fact a miner could afford land and to build this property suggests he had savings and that likely he managed to secure an inexpensive deal for his plot. It paved the way for McLellands and Welsh’s plots.
Duncan McDougall was born in Tollcross in 1837 the son of Duncan McDougall and Jeanie Hastie. He was 39 years old when he came to Blantyre with his wife and 5 children. In 1881, the family all lived together in one of the homes, but it was crowded whilst he let out the other three.
Life would have been fairly cramped with so many people inside the modest property, especially with so many young children. It would have been a busy household, no doubt the kids having the freedom to explore all the fields of Springwell and Burnbrae Farms behind to the south.
In 1885, just 9 years after construction, the McDougall family and relatives occupied all 4 of the homes, spreading themselves out more comfortably. In the first house to the south was George Speirs, (Duncan’s brother in law who was also a miner.) In the adjacent home was Duncan (44) and his wife Mary Speirs (44) and some of their children. In the third home son George McDougall (24) and in the fourth home was another son John McDougall (22). The men all worked as miners. The proximity of McDougall’s Land to other properties to the north, on one occasion included it as part of Springwell Place in census information. This may have been an error, for McDougall’s Land was certainly separate.
Living beside your family, each in separate homes, within the one building, perhaps felt a comfortable existence for the McDougall’s, by comparison to many of the miners who lived nearby at Greenfield Rows in spaces a third of the size.
By the 1891 census, Duncan (54) was there with Mary (53) and sons James (18), Alexander (16 born in Blantyre), Hugh (13) and daughter Jane (11). With grown up children George (30), John (28), Catherine (26), Robert (26) and Margaret (21) all having moved out by then, in all it is known that Duncan McDougall had 9 children!
In 1892, Duncan sold all his homes to brother in law George Speirs, who was still one of his tenants. It’s unknown why he did this, perhaps to raise fast capital for another venture or daughters weddings. It had been McDougall’s land for a lengthy 16 years, the best part of a generation. Even after the sale of the 4 homes, occupancy didn’t change much with George Speirs, Duncan McDougall and George McDougall all continuing to live in their same homes. However, by 1895 John Ritchie, a miner was renting the 4th house instead of John McDougall whom by then had moved out.
George Speirs rented to Duncan McDougall for £7 a year from 1892 for as long as he owned the property, never changing his brother in laws rent, a condition perhaps part of the deed of sale.
Around 1892, George took the opportunity to expand the property by building a small workshop on the side, adjacent to the north. Opening out on to Glasgow Road, the single-story workshop was modest and rented out to Alexander Lennox, a shoemaker, where he would conduct his cobbler’s business for a few years. The workshop was small, may not have had windows and was possibly made of tin cladding or timber. Alex Lennox would have been kept busy making boots and shoes for the miners and their families for Springwell was a busy place in the 1890’s. His starting rent was £3 per annum, which never rose throughout the life of this workshop.
Mr. George Speirs was a miner, an incomer to the area. Born in 1840 to parents George Speirs Senior and Margaret Miller, George, like Duncan was also born in Tollcross and worked in Hamilton before coming to Blantyre around 1880/1881.
Initially working for Dixon’s Collieries, George and family first lived at Hall Street, the tied cottages to the colliery further west at Stonefield. Grief and tension in that community would still have been high, just 3 or 4 years after so many miner’s in those local streets lost their lives in the Blantyre Pit Disaster.
He married twice in his lifetime. His first wife Elizabeth Strachan died young in Blantyre in 1879, aged 39 at 19 Hall Street. George was left as a single father of 4 young children with daughters Annie (12) and Margaret (8) and Janet (6) and son Thomas (10). However, he married just 3 years later in 1882 to Christina Aitken and for a fresh, new start he took up lodgings that year at McDougall’s Land, buying it all from Duncan in 1892 , 10 years later.
In 1905 George Speirs and family occupied the first house, Duncan McDougall in the second (previous owner now a tenant), vanman James McLelland was in the third home. (We’ll come back to James McLelland a little later for his story is an interesting one.). James Pollock a carter occupied the 4th home for £4 per year. The previous shoemakers’ workshop, was now a fruiterer by the name of John McKinnan renting for £3 per year.
George had also taken time to expand his interests by building a stable in the back garden, also being rented for a further £3 by the fruiterer for maintaining the horse for his delivery cart. An outbuilding joining on to the house on the south side had also been converted into a small narrow, one storey home. Likely not well built with inadequate warmth, it was rented by Patrick McDade a labourer in 1905, but had been demolished a short time later by 1915, most likely due to being unfit for purpose.
With the McDougall’s Building in the hands of owner George Speirs, it became known for a short time at the end of the 19th Century and first decade of the 20th Century as “Speirs Land”, (which should not be confused with a building of the same name around this era in High Blantyre). The fashion for naming a building after the owner was on its way out when, at the turn of the Century, the Glasgow to Hamilton Road became known simply as ‘Glasgow Road’ and buildings along it were given proper postal addresses, each house numbered with the odd numbers on the south. In 1915 George Speirs therefore lived at 11 Glasgow Road, Duncan McDougall at 13 Glasgow Road, James McLelland a craneman also at 13 perhaps looking after elderly George. The workshop being allocated 15 Glasgow Road and the 4th house at 17 Glasgow Road occupied by John Hamilton, a lorryman at £4 per year.
By 1915 the workshop was empty and would be demolished by 1920. This may not be surprising. By the First World War, Blantyre, Greenfield and Burnbank had expanded enormously, offering tremendous business opportunity. That’s where profit and trade lay. Springwell was becoming a hamlet, detached and trapped between those popular areas. George may have lost the workshop due to economic progression elsewhere and the same was for his stables, as it was abandoned too. Things were about to change even more the following year.
On 28th November 1916, Mr. George Speirs died, aged 76. His son Thomas Speirs moved from nearby McNair’s Land into 17 Glasgow Road at one of his father’s homes and was there when the death was registered. In 1920 with Thomas Speirs inheriting the 4 houses, John Tenant was renting 11 Glasgow Road, Duncan McDougall as always at number 13 Glasgow Road, James McLelland now at 15 Glasgow Road (15 became a house after the workshop was demolished.) However this caused some problems, for earlier the building next up the road had been given number 17 beyond the number 15 Glasgow Road workshop. When it was demolished, it meant there were two number 17s. One at McDougalls Buildings and the other in the block further, up not yet explored here.
Thomas was not as lenient on rent as his father had been and in 1920 Duncan McDougall’s rent increased from £7 to £8,11. James McLelland’s was raised from £4 to £4,18 shillings. Thomas also fenced off the large open plan space to the rear after demolishing the small separate house. The former stable was turned into a piggery, considered far more lucrative a business.
By 1925, the occupation hadn’t changed much although Thomas had moved into 11 Glasgow Road. Thomas was a miner and only owned McDougall’s Buildings for approx. 10 years.
On 21st December 1925 Duncan McDougall died aged 88. His death certificate lists ‘senility’ and it would trigger a different path for the property. Upon his death and their inheritance, Robert and James McDougall, Duncan’s sons who had grown up in the building, bought all 4 homes from Thomas Speirs in early 1926. It was an end to 34 years of Speirs ownership. If there was any doubt to that, in 1930 James McDougall occupied 11 Glasgow Road, his brother Robert at 13 Glasgow Road and all change at 15 with Irvine Fleming a miner renting for £5,4 shillings and a single lady, Barbara Paterson at number 17.
The property had come full circle and was once again truly “McDougall’s Land.”
The 1930’s saw many changes. The road outside widened, the Greenfield Foundry expanded so much at the south it practically touched the boundary fences of McDougall’s property and of course neighbouring properties McLelland’s and Welsh’s Buildings were demolished, the land cleared. The piggery was sold off to a man named McCallum.
McDougall’s Building was home to many other people throughout the 20th Century and existed well beyond WW2. Robert McDougall would operate a Fruit and Veg business, growing some of his produce at the back during the mid 20th Century. His burgundy delivery van was a regular sight right up until his property was completely demolished in the 1960’s.
Today, there are billboards and grass on the land it once occupied. It was an old part of Springwell that had gone forever.
From exclusive paid research by Paul Veverka and featured in his book, “Blantyre Glasgow Road – The Real Story” (c) 2017
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