From the heavily researched illustrated book, “Blantyre Glasgow Road – The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2017
Moving again northwestwards, further into Springwell, we next arrive at the former Smellie’s Land or Smellie’s Buildings (pronounced ‘smiley’), a surname well known throughout Lanarkshire.
Smellie’s Buildings at Springwell should not be confused with his buildings at Craig Street, Stonefield, which also was Smellie’s Land. These pages are about his Springwell properties on Glasgow Road, sometimes incorporated in census information as part of nearby Springwell Place.
The subjects consisted of a block of four, two storey stone tenements, with frontage directly on to Glasgow Road, commissioned by owner Alexander Smellie, a nearby flesher (butcher). The buildings were to be Alexanders’s retirement present to himself.
Alexander Smellie was born on 1st January 1852 in Carluke and married his wife Ellen (Helen Finlayson) in Larkhall in 1875. The couple set up their home there initially, with Alexander working as a butcher. In 1877 their daughter Mary was born, then a son John in 1881, both born in Larkhall. By 1885, the family had moved to Springwell, Blantyre renting a house at Allison Place (a tenement block) and working from a corner shop of at the property.
A daughter, Jeannie would follow in 1892, born in Blantyre.
By 1895, Alexander Smellie was working 3 different shops in Allison Place at numbers 12,13 and 41 (not the numbers of Glasgow Road, but the numbers within Allison Buildings). Working with them was his wife’s sister Kate. Alexander had already by that time bought houses in the newly formed Craig Street and was renting them out, further to the west in Blantyre, choosing to live at 43 Craig Street. He would later move to a larger home at 55 Craig Street by 1925.
In 1896, Alexander retired from being a butcher, not due to age as he was only 43, but having acquired so many homes in Craig Street and presumably from savings, he was able to step away from working that lifestyle and became a factor of homes. Expanding his property empire was key to this succeeding and having bought an empty square acre of Springwell land, directly beside his previous rented shops, he set about building his own tenements and shops.
In 1896, he constructed 4 terraced, two-storey stone tenements of varying sizes, on the south side of Glasgow Road, between McDougall’s Land and the entrance to Springwell Place, slightly stepped due to the fall of the land.
With no photos of Smellie’s Buildings forthcoming, we once again show how the tenement looked with a location line drawing, putting size, location and scale into modern context. This was quite a latter addition for Springwell, with many homes, shops and tenements around it by its time of construction. All together the buildings comprised of 13 homes and 2 shops, both at the western side at the corner with Springwell Place, (a former side street leading off Glasgow Road.)
The corner shop was let to John Tennant, a butcher, who was likely filling the vacancy created from Alexander’s sales departure in the area. Next door was James Allan, a relatively short lived tailor shop.
The back of the property was an open square yard with outside toilets. The upper homes were accessed by one single flight of steps at the rear with a long upper terrace leading to the doors. However, by 1908 an additional flight of stone steps had been built, with more private entrances created, possibly due to the homes being further subdivided to maximize rental capacity.
By 1905 Alexander had bought a similar good sized square plot of land at the south of Smellie’s Buildings and had constructed a hayloft, stables and a slaughterhouse. Of note then also, was his acquisition of the adjacent, existing 8 one-storey houses going by the name of McNair’s Buildings which ran north to south along the east side of Springwell Place. From 1905, the name ‘McNairs’ was gone, these homes incorporated into Smellie’s Land.
In 1905 the tenants renting Smellie’s Buildings (including McNairs) were mostly miners, carters or enginemen and their families. They were as follows; Mrs. Margaret Nelson, Samuel Liddell, Marion Davidson, Thomas Speirs (later to own McDougall’s Land), John Brenigan, Joseph Irvine, Agnes James, Boyd Thomson, William McGill, John Gray, Thomas Jamieson, Robert King, Hugh Wood, John Law, David Allan, George Hutch, Robert Nelson, Robert Lawson, Charles Neilson John Tennant and Alexander McGregor. You’ll notice 21 tenants, but only 18 houses, so some of these people may have been living in split or smaller rooms.
Rents ranged between £4, 9 and £5, 13 shillings per annum, with exception of tenant John Brenigan living in a double property paying £8, 11.
Around this time Smellie’s Buildings on the Glasgow Road were given postal addresses, namely homes 17 and 19 in the east, then 21 (shop) and 23 (corner shop) moving west.
Tragedies at number 19
At 19 Glasgow Road the Swain family were renting in 1916. Tragedy struck the family when little Eddie, the 1 year old son of James and Margaret died on 27th April. Following the infants death, the family moved out and new tenant was Gavin McLelland. However, fate was not finished with 19 Glasgow Road.
In August 1918, it was reported that Private Gavin McLelland of the Scottish Rifles, who was the fourth son of Hugh and Grace McLelland of Hamilton, had dead. Gavin had left 19 Glasgow Road to head off to war, which during his time away was vacant. However, injured in a fight against the Germans, he died from his wounds. Another Blantyre solider taken by war.
In 1914, McNair’s Buildings went on fire, with everything gutted inside. The story is told later when we properly explore them, but the properties were rebuilt.
By 1915, whilst war raged in Europe, John Tennant was still renting the butcher shop at 23 Glasgow Road, for £12 a year. He was doing well for he had bought the hayloft, stables and former slaughterhouse from Alexander Smellie. John Tennant, who you may remember earlier in the book receiving compensation for being injured in a tram accident in 1904 had also moved out to Burnbrae Cottage in High Blantyre Road. John Tennant would operate his butchers business from 23 Glasgow Road from around 1896 until the early 1920’s. In 1920 he was paying £16 a year rent. By 1925, David Berry was the shopkeeper, signifying an end to Tennant’s butchery business between 1920 and 1925. John passed away in 1947.
Fleshing or butchery was and still is, a traditional line of work. In the industrialized world, slaughterhouses used butchers to slaughter the animals, performing one or a few of the steps repeatedly as specialists on a semiautomated disassembly line. The steps include stunning (rendering the animal incapacitated), exsanguination (severing the carotid or brachial arteries to facilitate blood removal), skinning (removing the hide or pelt) or scalding and dehairing (pork), evisceration (removing the viscera) and splitting (dividing the carcass in half longitudinally).
These practices would have been done at the back of the property in John’s slaughterhouse, situated some distance from homes. It may be he utilized the neighbouring piggery to obtain much of his meat and poultry.
After the carcasses were chilled (unless “hot-boned”), John would have had to select carcasses, sides, or quarters from which primal cuts can be produced with the minimum of wastage; separating the primal cuts from the carcass; trimming primal cuts and preparing them for secondary butchery or sale; and storing cut meats. Secondary butchery involves boning and trimming primal cuts in preparation for sale. Historically, primary and secondary butchery were performed in the same establishment, but the advent of methods of preservation and low cost transportation largely separated them. It would have been a messy job, not for the faint hearted, but one necessary to keep the growing Springwell population happy.
Next shopkeeper was David Berry but it is unknown what he sold. He was at 23 Glasgow Road from the early 1920’s for only a couple of years.
In 1915, the neighbouring shop at 21 Glasgow Road had changed occupants, being run by Mrs. Margaret Reid, a shopkeeper with James Allan, the tailor, no longer there. This was a short term arrangement, for by 1920, Mrs. Jeanie Lawson, a grocer was the shopkeeper, also renting for £16 a year. (This lady was not Alexander’s daughter Jeanie).
By 1930, Jeanie Lawson and her sister, Margaret had moved into the larger corner shop where they would continue their grocery business right up until WW2 at that location. Beyond that time, Lawson’s grocery shop was also run as a bakery, owned by relative Meg Lawson who may have acquired the whole building after Smellie. By the 1930’s, 21 Glasgow Road then became another house for rent, meaning there were 6 homes at 17 Glasgow Road, 8 homes at 19 Glasgow Road and 5 homes at 21 Glasgow Road, as well as the 8 homes at former McNair’s land.
Alexander Smellie lost his wife in 1921. He seemed to have done well building good quality homes. Smellie’s Buildings existed right into the 1970’s and many of the families who lived there doing so through several decades and generations. It’s noticed that many of the tenant surnames in the 1930’s were the same in 1905.
Today, the site of Smellie’s land is nothing more than a little grassy area, with some trees becoming more established, where once the yard was. There is no reminder of the tenement on the site at all.
With his quality homes built in Craig Street, even up until his death on 18th February 1935 in Larkhall, aged 83, Alexander Smellie would have undoubtedly been respected, well known with a good name in Blantyre.
(c) Paul Veverka
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