From the book, “Blantyre Glasgow Road South – The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2017
Moving west of the Central Garage we come next to a former 2 storey stone tenement named ‘Nimmo’s Buildings’ or ‘Nimmo’s Land.’ During the late 19th Century and throughout the 20th, this building changed hands several times and was also known as “Whifflet Place” then for a short time “Hills Pawn Building.” However, during its lifetime for the longest period and in census information it was referred to as ‘Nimmo’s’ and that being relevant to the original constructor, is the primary name in this article.
The original owner and constructor of these buildings was Mr. John Nimmo, a former miner of Greenfield Colliery near Burnbank. In 1874, John clearly fancied a change in profession and is noted thereafter as being a grocer. The 1875 valuation roll confirms John Nimmo as owner and importantly notes that the tenants had been there “for less than a year.” His tenements were built at the same time as the nearby Stonefield Parish School was being built and when he first let his 6 houses out to miners families, they must have thought themselves very fortunate for their children to be so close to the school.
The buildings were constructed in 2 small blocks with frontage on Glasgow Road. The ground floor with shops, the upper floors, homes, a configuration common for many tenements on the expanding street. Access to the upper floors were via stone steps to the rear, accessed from a small lane neat to the eastern gable. At the rear were also a couple of glass houses suggesting the early tenants may have grown some food there or attempted some gardening.
John Nimmo opened a grocer in one of the lower 2 shops and in the other initially was Robert Watson Bakers. However, all was not well financially and John, being a miner likely staking all his savings on the venture was soon in financial difficulties. In May 1885, John Nimmo was declared bankrupt and his property was seized by “Hamilton Savings Investment Building Society Bondholders” acquiring the building as collateral. The circumstance prompted retirement for John Nimmo, but he would continue ironically, renting a house in the property he actually built right up until his death in 1903.
In 1895 the building society still owned the property which was now 4 homes and 3 shops. In Nimmo’s grocers, John’s son Zachariah Nimmo a former coalman was renting the shop. Zachariah went from being a coal miner to grocer and later to barman. He was well known in Blantyre and highly connected with the nearby Livingstone Masonic Lodge 599 reaching the heights of Vice President near his death in 1936 , aged 80. In the second shop was William Morrison a stationer. In the third shop James Bryce an ironmonger. Amongst the tenants in the upper homes in 1895 were Andrew Arbuckle, John Nimmo, Alexander Forrest and Daniel Cairney, a barman.
Change in Ownership and tenancy
Between 1899 and 1900, David Kerr a restaurateur bought Nimmo’s buildings. Converting the ground floor grocers on the eastern side into a restaurant, he acquired a beer license and opened a Public House serving food which was called “The Ale House”. The pub had a rent value of £40 per annum. With 3 shops, David a member of the Masonic Lodge lived with his family in one of the 6 homes.
David Kerr was living at Nimmo’s Buildings in the 1901 census. Born in 1861, the 40 year old was an Ale Merchant and married to Margaret Fleming (39) and with them Mary Ann Breen, a 15 year old servant girl. Following John Nimmo’s death, David looks to have named the building “Whifflet Place” perhaps to rid of the Nimmo’s legacy and to give the place his own stamp. Whilst researching this book, the only connection found to Whifflet, (a place in Coatbridge) was that it was the birthplace of his wife Margaret. However, with such short ownership, David’s renaming would not ‘stick’ and the properties continued to be referred to as ‘Nimmo’s’ for some decades after.
In 1905, along with his restaurant pub, William Wright shoemaker had moved into the premises formerly occupied by William Morrison stationers. In the other shop was Robert Sherkis ironmonger. By 1905 the greenhouses at the back of the building had been demolished. In 1905 the Edinburgh brewery who supplied ale to David Kerr was dissolved. Being a merchant for this brewery clearly impacted David’s business and he is missing from Blantyre in the following years, the buildings look to have been bought off him that same year.
The next owner was Mr. Hugh Mair, a spirit merchant of Woodside Avenue, Hamilton. Hugh looks to have taken ownership of “The Ale House” licensed restaurant in 1905 or so which was to have address 193/195 Glasgow Road. In 1915 the adjacent shop had been converted to “rooms” which were empty. Further west on the ground floor at 199 Glasgow Road, a former shop was now a house. Upstairs above at 201 Glasgow Road was another 4 homes. Amongst the tenants were William Sullivan a barman of the opposing Central Bar across the street and Mr James Kelly, another barman. By 1915 Nimmo’s Buildings had address 193-201 Glasgow Road, where 201 were all the upper homes.
Military Medal Awarded
A military medal was gained in October 1917, the recipient being Private Peter Dorrington, of the A. and S.H., whose wife and family resided at 201 Glasgow Road, Blantyre in an upper house at Nimmo’s Land. He was a stretcher-bearer, and it was for a particular act of gallantry in bringing in wounded that he was awarded the honour. Private Dorrington was an old campaigner, having been through the Boer War in 1899. At the outbreak of WW1, the old martial spirit in him revived, and he immediately re-joined the colours for the services. During WW1, he had seen a lot of active service but was severely wounded at the Battle of Loos. Prior to joining up he worked as a miner in Craighead Colliery.
Further Owners & Change in use
In 1920 Mairs “Ale House” was the only commercial premise with all other premises being 7 homes. Hugh Mair died that year, aged 47 at his home in Hamilton and Nimmo’s Buildings were inherited by his widow, who continued to run the public house until around 1922. The Ale house had existed from 1899 until 1922 before being used for another purpose.
Around 1922, Hill Brothers (Pawnbrokers) Ltd of Glasgow bought Nimmo’s Buildings. The Ale House was converted into their large Pawn Shop which had a rated value of £20 per annum. In 1925, both adjacent ground floor properties at 197 and 199 were empty. Hill Brothers were already in Blantyre at Anderson Buildings further east, but they closed that premises in 1927 and focused their efforts in Blantyre at Nimmo’s Buildings. During the 1920’s Nimmo’s Buildings consisted of 7 houses and the pawn shop and it is in that decade that the name “Hill’s Pawn” building came into local use. These were boom times for the pawnbroking business, a decade of depression, miners strikes, unemployment and all the misery of life’s situations that would drive some Blantyre people to part with treasured possessions for a fraction of what they were really worth.
In 1927, the Central Garage opened up adjacent to Nimmo’s Building. By 1930, Hill Brothers still owned Nimmo’s Buildings their pawn shop rated at £45 a year, more than double what it had been just 5 years earlier. 197 is not noted as being used in 1930, 199 Glasgow Road by then a house with 3 homes above them all at 201 Glasgow Road.
Hill’s Pawnbrokers was relatively short lived at just over a decade, before others acquired the building in the late 1930’s. New owners restored and re-opened the public house as “The Ale House” prior to 1936. All the building at the back were cleared by 1936. The pub, supplied by Bernard’s Brewers of Edinburgh would remain at this location until the late 1950’s before closing down for good and becoming Whyte’s Plumbers. They had moved from the north side of the road beside the Gazette offices to this larger shop at 195 Glasgow Road. During the late 1960’s this became Oreste’s Chip shop, fondly remembered by many people as being one of the best in Blantyre and recognizable by a large blue door.
At 199 Glasgow Road, the shop in post WW2 years became Haddow’s dental surgery. When Haddow’s moved directly across the road, Alex Watt dentists moved into Nimmo’s building at the former Haddow’s surgery. Watts remained there into the 1970’s. Haddows and Watts surgeries had a feeling of similarity about them, with the waiting room seats looking the same.
Demolition was again the all too familiar story of Glasgow Road redevelopment and Nimmo’s Building was gone by 1979, paving the way for the construction of Clydeview Shopping Centre. Today, the corner ‘Salvation Army’ charity shop of the western side of Clydeview Shopping Centre stands on the site of former Nimmo’s Buildings.