Born in 1838 in Strathaven, William Semple came to Blantyre in 1881 with his wife, Christina. As a stonemason by trade and employer of others, you may recall from earlier in the book, around that time he built and sold Welsh’s Land to John Welsh. You’ll see from this chapter that later on in the early 20th Century, the Semple family of masons were an important family for Blantyre’s development, responsible for building many homes and shops and almost certainly the primary constructors of Auchinraith Road’s houses.
In 1881, William was 43 years old and was living at 37 Allison Place with his wife Christina (42) from Fort William along with daughters Agnes (19) and Gavin (8). Very much a tenant of others at this time, the Semple’s fortunes would change with the growing construction boom in Blantyre and Hamilton and work opportunities look to have been plentiful.
Between 1881 and 1885, William along with a neighboring joiner Andrew Frame had together bought a plot of land around 1 acre to the south of Allison Place at the south end of Springwell Place. Upon it, they initially built 2 small one storey homes for themselves and a workshop. For a short time, William was working on a contract in Kilwinning, Ayrshire, moving his family temporarily around 1885, letting his own house out to miner Henry Thomney for a year or so.
However William and his family were back in Blantyre in 1887, occupying the house he had initially built for himself. This is confirmed by their Blantyre presence in the 1891 census behind Allison Place again. William (53), Christina (53), daughters Janet (26), Elizabeth (22) and sons William (20) who was an apprentice Blacksmith and other son Gavin, an apprentice Stonemason helping his father.
In November 1894, whilst working for Warnocks & Horsburgh, wrights and builders in Rutherglen, William Semple was injured and on 28th November sued them for £500. (around £60,000 in todays money). The case must have seemed pretty watertight, for in January 1895 just as it was about to go to court, the company suddenly settled with William for £267, 8 shilling 6d. (almost £40,000 in todays money!)
With new found wealth and perhaps a diminished ability to work due to his injuries, this would go a long way towards securing further personal investments. So, later that year in 1895, William embarked on his next venture. His plan was to build many more homes outright on land already owned and rent out to miners and their families.
In 1895, William after buying out Andrew Frame, built a further 17 homes, all around the perimeter of his square acre. Two large stone tenement blocks were constructed, each with capacity to rent out to 6 families. A further 5 single storey houses were built from brick or stone too, and when finished, along with his former 2 single storey homes, the enclosure had a courtyard type appearance. This was Semple’s Land and part of Springwell Place.
William moved into the largest, which at £10 rated value was one of the largest in Springwell of the 19th Century.
The next 2 largest homes were occupied by his former business partner Andrew Frame and James Divine, both masons. They were renting from William for £8, 10 shilling per annum. The other 16 houses were let to miners, carters and in one instance, a widow each for £5, 10 shillings.
Other tenants in 1895 included miners and labourers, John Gray, William Nichol, Hugh Grant, Thomas Gray, Joseph Gray, Thomas McCall, William McEwan, James Clelland, Thomas Gray, Henry Steven, James Downie, Matthew Sorbie, James Forbes, Mrs Marion Davidson, Edward Briggs, William Waddell and Andrew Gibson.
With a guaranteed income coming steadily in, between 1895 and 1901, William could afford to upgrade his home and he is noticeably absent from Blantyre in 1901, choosing to move away to 2 Oxford Street, Shettleston, Glasgow.
However, in 1905, he still owned all 19 of the houses letting the double storey homes out for £6,10 shillings and the single storey houses, offering slightly more space for a family, at the lucrative, decent rent of £8, 10 shillings.
Much more of a presence and more well known were his sons William Semple Junior and Gavin Semple both masons. The successful brothers by 1905 had acquired many of the former Springwell Farm fields, especially those along nearby Auchinraith Road and had started to construct homes. Indeed, it is safe to say that William and Gavin Semple were the constructors of Auchinraith Road houses. Not just houses at the top, but major properties like Melbourne Place and Radnor Place as well as the opposing Bute Terrace. Gavin Semple, b1873 was especially prominent in house ownership.
Tragedy struck the family when in 1907, William Semple Senior died at his home in Shettleson, aged 68. Brothers William Junior and Gavin inherited their father’s property at Semple’s Land and set about splitting some of the homes, as was commonplace in that era, in order to maximize rental capacity. Their 18 homes ended up being 26 miners homes, which would have seen inadequacies in space manifest. William and Gavin lived in their respective new villas one of which was ‘Dunedin’ on Glasgow Road.
By 1915, the Semple brothers, too old for war, had built further homes on Auchinraith Road along with partner William Ritchie, a joiner of High Blantyre. They owned shops there too, a smithy and had moved their attention to building several of the large villas on Glasgow Road beyond Parkville.
In July 1915, something prompted the Semple Brothers to sell the land and property at Springwell. Perhaps due to the buildings becoming hard to maintain, or subsiding (as some buildings to the north were) or perhaps due to consolidating their property empire to new, better built homes, they put Semple’s Land up for sale.
The houses still hadn’t sold by October, so the price was dropped to just £625 (around £60,000 in todays money), which even at that time was inexpensive for 26 homes and the land itself. The advert states £173 rental capacity, meaning any purchase should have in theory been in profit just after 3.5 years. If there was nothing wrong with these buildings, on the face of it, it appears a bargain.
Two local men formed a partnership to buy the land and houses later that year. Mr Charles A Easson of 58 Auchinraith Road and Mr Thomas H Bell of 52 Glasgow Road. Each man owned their own homes at those addresses but had no other property. It is unknown how much they paid for the private purchase.
The name Semple’s Land was gone by the end of 1915. By 1920, the partners renamed their land and homes ‘Dalzell Place’, which continued to be part of Springwell Place. Most tenants continued to live there even with a hike in rents by the new owners.
At the Sheriff Court, on Friday 1st June 1917, Abraham Swain, Semple’s Buildings, Springwell, was charged at the instance of D. W. Hiddleston, solicitor, acting for Blantyre School Board, with failing to comply with attendance orders issued in respect of his two children, Mary and Martha. He admitted the offence of keeping them out of school, and was fined £2, together with £1 3d of expenses, or twenty days’ imprisonment.
Also in 1917, authorities reported that a large increase in the number of people paying rates in Springwell had been reported in that previous year, indicating at that time the whole area was becoming very populated.
Easson & Bell continued to rent out the 26 houses right up until 1927, no doubt making a good return on their investment. Near the General Strike ending in 1926, the sanitary department were trying their best to force landlords to introduce running water, sinks, toilets etc. improving their premises, but many were reluctant to spend the money, so a lot of properties were just left to decay year after year. Add to this they may have been badly built in the first place and it paints a horrible picture. By the end of 1927, because of its sub-standard condition, Dalzell or Dalziel Place had been completely decanted. However, the owners then, without any legal permission from the Council, let the properties out again at the beginning of 1928. There were 13 one-apartment houses and 6 two-apartment houses and 9 of these were re-let to what must have been fairly desperate people. Eventually, the Council obviously got wind of this and started legal proceedings against them.
First, they traced the “reputed owner” and fined him £5 (or 30 days’ imprisonment) and then they went after the tenants. Seven of the tenants removed themselves after being threatened by the Sheriff, who then ordered the other two to quit within 14 days. After the fortnight passed, there was still one defiant tenant refusing to budge and he was summarily convicted and fined £3 (or 15 days’ imprisonment), it was after all this that the buildings were finally of no use to anybody.
Dalzell Place was entirely demolished in 1929, the land cleared entirely. Some of the buildings had only lasted 32 years. Residents of Dalzell Place made good use of brand new Blantyre council houses moving to the Crescents and to Welsh Drive. The square acre formerly Semple’s Land would be acquired by the council a decade later in preparation for their new expansive Springwell Housing Estate.
The grassland occupying that space now is still owned by the council today.
From the book, “Blantyre Glasgow Road – The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2017