Within the square acre of Smellie’s Land was another block of miner’s homes, although much more modest, initially known as ‘McNair’s Land’. These were brick built small, one storey homes, running north to south along Springwell Place, directly behind Smellie’s Buildings and opposing Allison Place.
Constructed in 1879 by Mr. James McNair, a builder of Cambuslang, his purpose seems to have been to sell them once built, for by 1881, they were in the hands of a Hamilton lady, Mrs Hannah Craigen. Hannah was a factor of homes and lived at 120 Almada Street at Almada Cottage. She was the bondholder in possession. This was to be a long term investment for her, renting out to 8 families. Or should we say 7 families initially, as up until 1905, one of the homes appears to always have been empty, perhaps used for a different purpose or store?
The houses were all of the same size, 2 homes to each block. There were only 2 rooms to each home, only 1 of which had a window. Toilets were out to the rear but adjoining the back of the building. Let to miner’s and labourer for similar rents, the homes were often classed as Part of Springwell Place, the dead end street between McNairs and opposing Allison Place. Despite Mrs Hannah’s ownership, the buildings remained known as “McNair’s Land” until subsequent owners got hold of them.
In 1885, Hannah was renting out to miners Robert Lawson, Andrew Finlayson, Tom Barr, Dan Richardson, William Carmichael, William McGill Watson and John Breingan. Rent was £3 and 12 shillings for most of the properties, only 3 being more expensive at £3, 16 shillings per annum.
Ten years later in 1895, rent had increased considerably up to £4, 16 shillings. Tenants that year were Robert Lawson, Peter Devlin, Alexander Russell, Walter Neilson, George Leick, William McGill Watson and John Breingan.
Due to sitting back off that main road the houses didn’t originally have Glasgow Road postal addresses, but were numbered 1-8 McNairs Land until around 1905 when due to the purchase of the houses by Alexander Smellie, they were incorporated into Smellie’s Land, becoming part of Smellie’s Buildings and eventually all of McNair’s were allocated as being part of 19 Glasgow Road.
The name “McNair’s Land” vanished very quickly following 1905. Tenants in 1905 were familiar in Robert Lawson, William McGill Watson and John Breingan. Alexander let out the empty property and that year all 8 homes were occupied, the others being Joseph Irvine, Boyd Thomson, Thomas Spiers, Mrs Agnes Jones and John Gray.
On Saturday 30th May 1914, McNair’s Buildings caught fire. During the same week elsewhere, suffragists continued to battle for women’s vote, the first airmail was delivered over the Channel, war was fierce in Europe and Ireland declared home rule. The alarm was raised about one o’clock in the morning and all the tenants were woken up and required to leave immediately with their families. So rapidly did the fire spread through the building due to timber rafters and wooden internal walls, that none of the occupants had time to go back to retrieve their belongings, clothing or furniture. It was a sad sight as concerned neighbours awoke in nearby Smellie’s Building and Allison Place to offer their assistance to the stricken miner’s families. Considerable excitement occurred when it looked at a time that the fire may spread to nearby Smellie’s 2 storey Buildings, which thankfully did not happen.
When the Lanarkshire County Fire Brigade arrived from Bellshill, it was seen that nothing could be done, the homes and contents all lost. Damage was estimated at around £600. The firemen confining the flames to McNair’s Buildings only determined the fire had started by a fallen paraffin lamp, filled with fuel. The tenants burned out were John Briengan, James Reid, Samuel Copland, John McGill, Robert Agnew, Edward Liddle, Charles McGoughan and James Flannigan. Of course all their families were too, with 8 whole families losing their homes and possessions.
You can only imagine the misery in them picking through the ruins as sunlight arose the next day.
The building was only partially insured, but owner, Alexander Smellie ensured the whole lot was rebuilt. However, it is clear from the valuation roll the next year in 1915, that some families never returned. Following the death of Smellie in 1935, the Lawson family who had been living in Springwell since around 1881, acquired the properties, which were adjacent to their grocery shop.
Despite the demolition of many other houses nearby, McNair’s Land lasted quite some time throughout the 20th Century right into the early 1970’s, ironically possibly due to it being rebuilt.
Unable to find any further remarkable or noteworthy stories for this small block, we’ll move on.
From the book, “Blantyre Glasgow Road – The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2017