You may be forgiven for thinking that Miller’s Buildings along Glasgow Road was where David Miller’s modern fireplace shop was. That would be wrong, for whilst Davy did indeed have a fireplace shop on the north side of the road, it was actually located in McCaffrie’s Building in the 1990’s and post Millennium. Miller’s Buildings was actually on the opposite side of the road, on the south side and was older. Far older and once owned by an relative of Davy. The name is correct with “Miller” and not “Millar”. Before we explore that, however, we must go back to the building origins and constructor Francis Gebbie, not forgetting his hired builder, Blantyre’s William Roberts, a joiner.
Born in Strathaven in 1830, Mr Francis Gebbie was the son of a well known Victorian writer. In 1855, at the age of 25, he went to the bar and passed his exams, becoming a lawyer. He rose through the ranks in Glasgow, where he lived and took part in many legal cases and in September 1873 received the promotion to Sheriff Substitute of Mid Lothian. He was transferred on 4th February 1881 to the same role in Dumbarton.
Just prior to that, with the creation of Springwell Place in Blantyre and his office attending to the legal work for the sales of the emerging buildings in this district, Mr Gebbie’s interest was peaked when he saw potential in buying a plot of inexpensive land adjacent to the south of the Hamilton to Glasgow Road. Neighbouring Allison Place had already been built and Mr Gebbie intended to let homes of similar construction out to more miners families.
So, in 1879 he approached Blantyre joiner William Roberts, of Stanley Place, Stonefield and together they built what would initially be known as “Gebbie’s Buildings”, sometimes referred to as an extension of part of Springwell Place. William, a native of Lanark was 28 years old and on the cusp of being married, already had a good reputation of being a Blantyre housebuilder. We’ll explore more about William in other parts of this book, for he would later build many homes.
A rectangular plot was secured to build three, double storey stone tenements, internally framed in wood with slated roofs. The buildings were tenement in style with stone steps accessing the upper levels at the rear beside a large open yard. Length was approximately 115 feet with frontage all on Glasgow Road. A pedestrian close was located in the middle tenement offering easy access from front to back.
The 10 houses and shop were quickly sought after by miners and their families, with Robert Longmuir, a grocer taking the shop at the far western end.
Tragedy struck the property pretty fast. It was reported from Blantyre that on 5th January 1881 a girl aged four years, named Martha Burt, daughter of William Burt, miner, Gebbie’s Buildings, Springwell, Blantyre had died through injuries by burning. Her mother was apparently keeping a neighbour’s shop, and the girl accompanied her and was playing about when her clothes accidentally caught fire. The flames were instantly put out by means of wrapping a bed-mat, but not until the poor little thing was severely burned about the face, body, and legs. Taken to hospital, she died a short time later. The Burt family moved away, absent from the next valuation roll.
By 1885, only one 1 house remained empty. That year, Mr Gebbie’s tenants were aforementioned Mr. Longmuir, Constantine Kelly, Mrs Thomas Cairney, Mrs Donald Ferns, Charles McCallum, John Reid, Edward Burns, Mrs Sim.
Ten years later Francis Gebbie had split many of the homes, making them smaller and had squeezed in 16 families, each paying rent from £5, 9 shillings and up to £8. At the shop was John English, a dairyman. An outdoor dairy building had been built at the back by 1895. John was paying £12, 10 shillings in rent and may have been there since the late 1880’s.
In 1902, whilst living at Helensburgh, Francis Gebbie retired and put his Blantyre property up for sale. Gebbie’s Buildings had existed for 23 years by the time he sold to David Miller, a fellow solicitor and colleague of New Cross, Hamilton. From 1902, the property was known as ‘Miller’s Buildings’ and the change in ownership arrived at the same time as tramlanes outside the front windows.
A sidenote, Mr Francis Gebbie died on 4th April 1908 at his home in Helensburgh. His successes in life, inheritance and hard work had seen him accumulate a fortune. He was 78 years old and had not survived a major operation. He was well respected, well known and his loss was felt by many people. His will left £32,071, a considerable sum, which in today’s money would be around £4m!!
Now, you may be wondering why we haven’t called the buildings Gebbie’s Buildings. The answer is simple, they existed for longer as Miller’s Buildings, around 29 further years.
Nothing changed too much when David Miller took over. In 1905, rents were only modestly raised in all 16 homes between £6 and £9 per annum, the dairy now occupied by Samuel Moore.
In 1905, William Sharpe of Millar’s Buildings, was fined in 7s 8d or three days for breach of the peace on a tramcar. He had two old tickets in his possession and refused to pay his fare when challenged, and created a disturbance. He explained that he had bought his ticket in Wishaw to take him to Hamilton, but had come off at Motherwell and was resuming his journey on a different car.
By this time, the back of the properties offered views out over farm fields, and the Auchinraith junction of the N.B Railway and Auchinraith Pit Bing would have been clearly visible.
David Miller would not own the buildings for long, passing away in 1907 at his home in Hamilton. He was 57 years old, although his wife Janet Miller inherited the property and would continue to let the houses out to miners families. The buildings continued as “Miller’s Buildings”.
By 1915, all 16 houses were let out. Glasgow Road postal addresses were allocated and Miller’s Buildings became officially 35 – 49 Glasgow Road. The shop at the end became a larger home, occupied by miner Hugh Logan. Rents varied between £8, 4 shillings and £11, 15 shillings.
Events of 1917
In 1917, Mr Logan was one of 40 people injured in a spectacular train collision in Ratho Station, Edinburgh. Although he survived, 11 other people died.
“We broke Into this bouse. We are the Brass Button Gang and you will find a dead man in this room.—T.B.B.G.” This mysterious and cryptic message was found scrawled on a piece of paper attached to the door handle of a room in a house at Craighead Estate. Blantyre, in March 1917. T.B.B.G stood for the Brass Button Gang. This lawless and apparently bloodthirsty and formidable gang of supposed ruffians turned out to be four boys all residing at Miller’s Buildings, Springwell. their ages ranging from 8 to 14—a very harmless looking quartette. The Court was not a little amused when the terrible message, signed T.B.B.G.” was read to the Fiscal, and they beheld the miscreants in these four boys, whom their fathers declared had been soundly thrashed for their misdeeds. The Fiscal stated that they had done a good deal of mischief in house, besides taken away a number of articles. As the accused were all at Court for the first time in their lives. Sheriff Shennan continued the case against them till 28th March, and meantime advised the parents to put their heads together and make suitable reparation to the occupant of the house which the boys had partly dismantled.
By 1920 again all 16 homes were let out, although the larger former shop which had become a home 10 years earlier, was now home to James Semple, a miner. In 1925, the shop house was split and Mr. B Fisher operated his business from there working as a cooper. The other part was empty. Rent of this shop in 1925 was a lofty £28 per annum. With the shop split, there were actually 17 homes at Miller’s Buildings going forward.
The empty property was a warning of what was to come. As huge slum clearances took place throughout Blantyre, Miller’s Buildings in 1930 were laying empty. All 17 homes vacant, with the exception of Mr Joseph Middleton, who may have been squatting. Many of the former residents were rehoused in the new modern homes at Victoria Street, although with the closure of the pit at Auchinraith in 1930, several other families disappeared from Blantyre altogether.
Miller’s Buildings look to have been demolished around 1931. As noted previously, the council then acquired the land and built the current terraced block of council homes in 1933 , numbered 25-41 Glasgow Road.
It wasn’t the end of the Miller’s business dealings in Springwell. A descendent of David and Janet Miller, another David Miller would return to Springwell in the late 20th Century, setting up “Miller’s Fireplace” shop on the north side of Glasgow Road, a story for another time.
From the book, “Blantyre Glasgow Road – The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2017