Merrys Rows, Blantyre

From the book, “Blantyre Glasgow Road South – The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2017

Merry’s Rows

   Merry’s Rows or Raws were built in 1876 to 1878 by coalmasters, Messrs Merry & Cunningham to house the workers of their nearby Auchinraith Colliery at Auchinraith Road. A local dialect of that time had them pronounced sounding similar to Murray’s Raws but the name is always written as ‘Merry’s’. In 1875 or so, around the same time their newly sunk Auchinraith Pit went into production, Merry & Cunningham (Coalmasters) obtained a long narrow field, formerly on the farm of Stonefield. The field is marked number ‘582’ on the 1859 map. Homes were built over 2 years. This was done to expand their existing row of tied homes built nearby slightly earlier in 1874 known as Auchinraith Row.

Merrys Rows zoned

Our 1936 Map highlighted to show Merry’s Rows, Low Blantyre

   Merry’s Rows were 89 houses numbered oddly from 1 to 89 on the west and evenly from 2 to 88 on the east, the upper numbers being near the Auchinraith Road end of the street During the first decade or so they were known as ‘1-89 Auchinraith’ and it would take until the turn of the 20th Century for the name “Merry’s Rows” to be more officially used in valuation rolls and census information. There were 50 single apartments, 46 double apartments, 3 three apartments and 1 four apartment house.

   The homes were brick built much like other miners rows of the time. The brick was rendered and whitewashed. Homes were all single storey, small and terraced. Every two homes shared a chimneystack. Each home had a front door opening out on to a small pavement at what is now modern day Elm Street, one window at the front, and one at the rear. The windows had wooden shutters on them. Roofs were pitched and slated with grey Scottish slates. Internal walls were not lathed and strapped, but were plastered on top of the brick. There was no damp course and floors were wooden and ventilated underneath.

Living Conditions

   Homes on the Eastern side were one continuous block of terraced properties stretching from Glasgow Road to the junction of Auchinraith Road. These homes were one roomed with the bedroom doubling as living area that had 2 beds recessed in the corners.

1913 merrys rows

1913 Merry’s Rows photographed from upper windows of Melbourne Place

   On the opposite western side of the road the houses, in 7 terraced blocks were larger, two roomed homes. These had one bed in the bedroom and 2 recessed beds in a separate living area. The homes had no hot water and no inside toilet. A coal fire heated the house and oven. The oven was located at the side of the fire and there was no control of the oven temperature; to complete the set-up, was gas lighting and a two-ring gas burner. On that western side, there is evidence that certainly initially, only 6 of the western blocks were lived in, for houses numbered 1 to 13, immediately beside Glasgow Road, do not appear in census records, yet the buildings are shown on old maps, perhaps having another use by the colliery. Coal cellars were located on the west side meaning residents on the east had to cross the street to get to them.

   Toilets were six separate outdoor conveniences, situated on the western side of the rows, shared by all residents and upgraded somewhat in the 20th Century. Two water taps provided water in the street in standpipes, serving the whole community. The standpipes were located midway along the road. Adjacent streets were later Church Street, Jackson Street, Glasgow Road and Auchinraith Road.

Pre WW1 Years

   There was no time to fetch water, when in March 1889, 2 year old Esther Jane Degnan’s nightdress caught alight, quickly burning the girl to death at her home at Merry’s Rows.

   The homes may not have been built to the best standard and even when sewers were laid in 1892 nearby, the consequences of such improvements would backfire. A report appears in the Glasgow Evening Post on 25th August 1892 stating, “This morning, at half-past four, the back wall of three houses belonging to Merry & Cunningham (Limited), occupied by their miners, fell outwards. On examination it was found that other three were in a dangerous condition, so that six families had to remove their furniture. Fortunately, the roof remained intact, and beyond the alarm injury or damage occurred. The houses, are of the usual type single-roomed brick houses, standing in a continuous block of forty without a break, the back walls being hollow fourteen inches thick. Mineral workings directly account for the occurrence, aggravated meanwhile by the laying of a sewer two feet below the foundation of the wall. For some time past the ground in the vicinity has been showing signs of subsidence.“

   By 1910, outside toilets had been upgraded and appeared at more frequent intervals including outdoor washhouses. Each family was allocated a washday. The washhouse had a large tub with a opening under it where you would light a fire to heat the water for washing of clothes, the children were next, followed by the men coming home from the pit. The house rent was deducted from the miner’s pay and 10% of the remaining was issued in the form of store credit, which could only be used in the Auchinraith Colliery store or shop, a clear sign that old fashioned “truck token systems” was still being abused and used by colliery owners.

   Evidence presented to Royal Commission on 25th March 1914 by a visiting housing officer commented, “We visited these two rows of miners’ houses on 24th March 1913. They are situated near to the Glasgow Road, in the Parish of Blantyre, and are owned by Merry & Cunningham, coalmasters. They consist of 46 single- and 50 double-apartment houses. They are built with brick, and were erected between thirty and forty years ago, and are a very poor type of house, low ceilinged and mostly damp. The rent per week, including rates, is 2s. 4d. and 2s. 11d. for single and double houses respectively. Within the last five years this property has been included in a special scavenging district, and consequently the sanitation of the place has been very much improved. The water is supplied by means of standpipes at intervals along the front of the row. There are no sculleries or sinks about the place, and all the dirty water is emptied into an open gutter. There is a washhouse to every six tenants, and a flush closet to every three tenants. Bins are in vogue, with a daily collection of refuse. No coal-cellars or drying-greens. A man is kept for tidying up the place.”

Education & Tenancy

   Children likely attended the nearby Auchinraith School, which was still relatively new. The families living in the houses at that time, according to the 1915 census were: Patrick Skelton at number 13, Robert Graham number 14, John McGauchie at 15, Robert Regan at 16, George Wyndham at 17, William Blair at 18, William Hughes at 19, William MacConnell at 20, John Campbell at 21, Patrick Taggart at 22, William Robson at 23, Robert Duncan at 24, Patrick Donnelly at 25, John Syme at 26, William Gardner at 27, James Kennedy at 28, Hugh Dunsmuir at 29, James Cook at 30, Robert MacConnel at 31, John Bell at 32, John MacGeoghegan at 33, 34 was empty, Thomas Carrol at 35, Peter Ford at 36, William Allardyce at 37, Robert Milligan at 38, John Elder at 39, Robert Black at 40, John Walsh at 41, George MacGregor at 42, James Doyle at 43, Richard Docherty at 44, Frank Wilson at 45, 46 was empty, David Simth at 47, Andrew Burns at 48, Frank Croft at 49, Charles McIvor at 50, David Langmuir at 51, Donald Glen at 52, Andrew Connor at 53, Alexander Martin at 54, William McCall at 55, Patrick Donnelly at 56, Robert Elliston at 57, Hugh Tonner at 58, William J Tennyson at 59, William Lindsay at 60, James Allan at 61, Charles Duddy at 62, Hugh Gallagher at 63, Frank MacInally at 64, Andrew Dyer at 65, James McCormack at 66, John Duddy at 67, Thomas Buchanan at 68, Frank Skelton at 69, Edward Bradley at 70, Thomas Brown at 71, William Anderson at 72, Robert Orr at 73, David Orr at 74, James Connor at 75, James Stevenson at 76, Thomas Regan at 77, James Speirs at 78, Alexander Schlothauer (a German who later renamed the family Slater) at 79, Edward Cummerford at 80, Alexander Dunsmuir at 81, James Orr at 82, William Kennedy at 83, James Hunter at 84, Alfred Harris at 85, Duncan Goodwin at 86, John Pate at 87, Hugh Paterson at 88 and finally John Phillips at number 89.

did-you-know-that-600x450   In October 1916, Police arrested David Orr of 74 Merry’s Rows who was seen leaving McCaffries pub in Springwell in prohibited hours. Upon arrest, David spoke most unpatriotically of the current war in Europe, adding to his charge

   In March 1917, Mr McWilliam offered his field to Blantyre Parish Council for 12 allotment plots behind Merry’s Rows.

The 1930’s

   Duncan Slater, whose family lived later at number 79, added, “The four households used the one toilet, it was located around the back, accessed by the space between the blocks, Nell said that our toilet was the most popular toilet as Mr./Mrs.Carabine, who lived at #81, had eight children.” The Slater family would later move to 1 Priory Street in 1937.

   While the above is a 1930’s description of Merry’s rows, it was typical of the working miners family home in most of Britain even before the First World War. During the war, men who joined the military, traveled and saw how the other half of the population lived; this led to a lot of unrest; the communist party tried to unite the workers, but if any of the men attended a meeting they were sometimes fired and evicted from their tied miners house.

   In 1930, Mr. Andrew Kalinsky of 20 Merry’s Rows was one of 6 men killed in the Auchinraith Pit Disaster. Other men in the rows were injured.

   According to the 1930 Valuation Roll, Merry & Cunninghame at that time still owned the odd numbered houses 13 to 89 inclusive and the even numbered houses from 14 to 88. Following the closure of the Auchinraith Pit in 1931, many families left, but others took up work at Craighead pit and the homes were adopted by the coalmasters there, meaning those particular mining families could stay on. Other homes were taken up by squatters, as the 1930s saw a large housing deficit in Blantyre.

   It was said that heading north up Merry’s Rows you could be “saintly” and go left to the church, or be a “sinner” and go right to the corner Smiddy Inn, although not on the same day! On the western corner of Glasgow Road and Merry’s Raws, beside the bus stop was an open air toilet, very handy for the public houses nearby.

   It is no wonder those pubs flourished with so many miners living nearby at Merry’s Rows.

   Sometime after the Auchinraith Pit closed in 1931, the homes and land were bought by the County Council.

1930 Ellen, Sarah & Katie Slater at Merrys Rows wm

   Whilst the houses are still all shown on the 1936 map, by then many of them were empty, unfit for purpose and families were promised to be rehoused. In January 1937, the remaining residents of Merry’s Rows were told they would have to move out that summer, with the old miners homes scheduled to be knocked down. Some of the last families included the Carabines, Crofts, Duncans, Longmuirs, Patterson and aforementioned Slaters.

   Many of the families living at Merry’s Rows moved in summer and autumn 1937 to new homes built not far off at Calder Street and Priory Street.  

   It is thought Merry’s Rows were subsequently demolished in winter 1937 to pave way for modern homes and a new street layout. Following demolition of Merry’s Rows, Elm Street was formed, joining Auchinraith Road to Glasgow Road at an angle running northwest to southeast, with wider pavements and modern homes on either side. The next page features the Slater family outside their home at Merry’s Rows in 1930, courtesy of Duncan Slater.

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