The ‘Westend’ is a current 2 storey stone tenement building located at the eastern corner of the junction of Glasgow Road and Bardykes Road. When looking at it historically, it should not be confused with ‘Westend House’ in Auchinraith, High Blantyre. The ‘Westend’ name in modern times tends to refer to the Public Bar at the corner of this building, although the name is applicable to the whole building, including the homes and shops. Such a prominent, well known building in Blantyre, we have explored this in detail.
On 12th May 1876, a contract of sale was drawn up between Robert Craig, spirit merchant residing at Clive Place, Stonefield Road, Blantyre, his sister Margaret Craig and with Mr. John Jackson of nearby Barnhill who owned the land. John Torrance Weir of Blantyre Park was witness. Mr. Jackson sold a long, rectangular corner plot of land to the Craig siblings (grown up offspring of Thomas Craig) with good frontage on to both Glasgow Road and Bardykes Road. It is described then as such, ‘1 Rood 8 yards of ground, bounded on the west by the Road from Barnhill to Cambuslang Turnpike Road and on the north by said Turnpike Road, being part of the lands of Barnhill, in Parish of Blantyre.”. Previous to this contract Robert Craig had been a wright, or blacksmith at Stonefield, a profession his own son would later adopt. The acquisition of the land saw Robert become a spirit merchant. Contrary to others assumption, the building was never a wholesale grocers and the public house has always been a public house since construction to the present day.
The Craig’s neighbour at Stonefield Road was Mr. James Walker, joiner and family friend and as such may have been Mr. Walker who built the Westend building, employed by Robert and Margaret. Further information supporting this was the fact that Mr. Walker certainly built the 2 former adjacent buildings of Causewayshott Place and Walkers Buildings.
In April 1877, Robert Craig applied for a license to sell alcohol, clearly thinking ahead to his building being completed. Interestingly, the license was made for ‘Craighall Place’, Blantyre, which appears to have been the original intended name for the Westend Building. (It’s easy to see how Robert and Margaret Craig arrived at the name ‘Craighall’). However, the application was refused and in October 1877, just before Blantyre’s Pit Disaster occurred, he applied again. This time his license was in the chosen name of ‘Westend Place’, the official name for the whole proposed tenement. Feu disposition documentation eludes that Robert and Margaret may have had access to the land since 1875 or been planning the building since then, although could not start their venture until the feu disposition was drafted.. The document was a contract of co-ownership drawn up between Robert and his sister Margaret, dated at 10am on 3rd October 1877. It asked for a hedge to be put up around the whole plot, for it to be maintained and within the space of 1 year, for a substantial building of stone, lime and slates to be constructed with a value no less than £200. Construction of Westend Place was therefore between October 1877 and October 1878.
The building had shops at the lower eastern end and the Public house was located on the western corner, as it is today. Above the shops and pub was a sign saying “Robert Craig – Wholesale Spirits”. Robert Craig was never a grocer as has incorrectly been assumed in the past. Above the signs were homes, flats accessed by stairs to the rear. Six sets of double windows face out to Glasgow Road, with a diagonal corner single window on the western side.
The County of Lanark search sheets 89-606 and 89-607 provide the details of ownership and sale (deeds) for this property, which has proven to be instrumental in forming this article.
In 1885, Robert Craig took ownership of Clive Place, the family pub of his grandmother, further eastwards along Glasgow Road. By the mid 1880’s Robert was managing two pubs. In those early days, the West End Bar was often being frequented by miners and agricultural labourers, a public house being used as a farmers club. During the 1880’s, Westend Place was not just a public house, but also 9 homes. There were no other shops at that time. Tenants may have been chosen carefully by Robert. Some were blacksmiths and metalworkers, a profession Robert was in prior to becoming a spirit merchant. Other tenants included a teacher and engineers. This wonderful photo exclusively obtained and shared here for the first time in print shows the Westend homes and public house during that era.
Public House break in
On Saturday 6th October 1888, Robert Craig closed his pub at Westend Place for a short time during the afternoon. On returning after a quarter of an hour, he found his back window open and his place had been ransacked. The thieves were Thomas MacKenzie and Edward Smith miners of Larkfield. They had been found that evening in a pub in Larkfield celebrating their haul. Stolen was three bottles of whiskey, £2 of money and a revolver. They were both sentenced, guilty.
By 1895, tenants at Westend in the 9 homes were all metalworkers with exception of Andrew Clelland, a cattle dealer and Duncan MacFarlane, a waiter.
On 26th April 1895 Margaret Craig died of cancer, aged only 47. The daughter of Thomas Craig and Helen Roxburgh (who outlived her), she must have been very ill, for just 2 days before, she wrote out her intention to transfer her share of Westend Place over to her brother, Robert. This was officially recognized legally on 15th August 1895 and from that date onward, Robert Craig was the sole owner of Westend Place. Robert had been with Margaret at the time of her death at her home at Clive Place. Her death certificate confirms her cancer of the breast, stomach and liver, something she had lived with for nearly 9 months.
Margaret Craig left absolutely everything she owned to Robert, even her clothes valued at £5 and £10 cash in the house. Her total estate came to £670 and 6 pence, and when medical bills were deducted and the property share added, she had left £1,270, a sum worth nearly £170,000 today.
Tenants however, were largely unaffected and the miners and metalworkers living at the Westend would continue to rent from Robert Craig.
We’ve explored Robert Craig’s life a little earlier in the book under the article about his other pub, “The Old Original”, but it is certainly worth touching upon further details given the West End Bar had been his outright, somewhat longer.
Robert Craig married Maggie Thomson in Paisley in 1899 at the age of 48 and together they would have a young son, Robert Junior in 1904. Robert Craig was a wealthy man. As well as being a successful businessman, his inheritance from his sister in 1895 and then from his mother in 1903 only bolstered his financial standing further. During 1903, Robert used this new added wealth to demolish Clive Place and build the current pub, ‘The Old Original.’
Robert based himself at the Old Original Pub from 1903 and solved the problem of running the West End Bar, by employing James L Bennett, a spirit dealer to do that. James Bennett, who lived above the pub, held the license from around 1903, but would never own the pub, nor would it be called his. James was killed in action on 26th April 1915 near St Julien during WW1, and Robert Henry Clark took over the license, renting from Robert Craig.
Another important worker that Robert Craig relied upon was Walter Stewart. Walter was the barman at the Westend Bar during 1900 and certainly still there in 1905. He was employed by Robert Craig and looked after Westend Place on Glasgow Road also as watchman. Following 1905, Walter’s time in Blantyre was short lived and eventually he moved to Perthshire as a gamekeeper, a job amongst many he had in his life.
It was said Walter’s mother went into labour in the old Westend washhouse, which possibly is the old garage (or other outhouse in the yard). Walter Stewart used his spare time to write about and undertake his other passion of bird watching. He was a noted ornithologist and some of his stuffed birds ended up at the Hoolets Nest Pub on display in glass cabinets in the 1970s and perhaps also at the pub in High Blantyre which became Matts Bar.
One evening around 1900, someone had broken into the West End Bar whilst Walter and his young family were asleep upstairs. He took his gun from the cupboard and went out onto the external backstair where he spotted the thief bending down in the road – he took aim to shoot the thief in the rear end, however things went terribly wrong and the thief stood up and the bullet hit the intruder in the spine, crippling the intruder for life. However, Walter was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing when it went before the court.
At the height of WW1, on 28th March 1917 Robert Craig died aged 66 at his home at Craigrock, Glasgow Road, Blantyre. However, his son young Robert Craig was only 13 and could not inherit anything from the Craig Estate, strictly as per will agreements, until he turned 25 years old. Young Robert would have to wait until 1929 and meantime the property would be held in trust for him. If they so desired, the will also permitted the trustees to retain their interest partially on the properties, strictly with agreement from young Robert Craig at the time of his succession.
Robert’s inventory and will following his death makes good reading. He held stocks and shares and was perhaps distrustful in banks, holding just as much in cash at his home, as he did in the bank! He held life insurance and his possessions also had considerable value, indicating he may have like the finer things in life. His estate was £2,143 less £679 debts and funeral expenses plus £4,450 property for Westend Place and Old Original. It totaled a whopping £5,913, 16 shillings, which if compared to an equivalent £500,000 today, had been devalued hugely by the economic strife caused by WW1. It was still a huge sum and responsibility to leave to trustees.
Robert Craig Senior had owned Westend Place for 40 years, which to this current date, is still the longest ownership of this building for any one individual.
Robert Henderson , Tenant of Westend Place
Mary O Neill, shared this photo of her great grandfather, Robert Henderson who resided above the West End Bar for 50+ years.
This photo was taken about 1949-50 and he would have been approx. 85 years of age. He was born in 1865 in Clelland and the Henderson family moved to Barnhill when Robert was a young boy. The Henderson family lived in an upper apartment at the Westend from around 1900 – 1953.
Robert worked initially as a miner, then as a gardner for the Jackson family at Bardykes House on Bardykes Road, nearby to his home. Apparently Mrs Jackson’s eyesight wasn’t the best. One day, Robert and his son John were walking towards the Bardykes House and Mrs Jackson pointed her rifle at them shouting at them to stop. Robert shouting back ‘it’s alright Mrs Jackson it’s only me Robert and my son John’. She sounds like a lady not to be messed with! His wife Elizabeth Mary Neillans was killed in 1943 when she was hit by a chieftain bus on Glasgow Road. They lived in the end apartment furthest from the door to the bar. Samuel Henderson, Robert’s father worked for the blacksmith John Templeton at Barnhill, who was also his brother in law Samuel maybe helped build parts of the infamous “early aeroplane” as he worked there about that time. Unfortunately Samuel died suddenly in 1868 after a drinking session in the Barnhill Tavern, when he fell down some stairs.
OK, let’s get back to 1917 and Robert Craig. Upon Robert’s death, William Francis Benham of Stonefield Road took over ownership of Westend Place. As a trustee William Francis (known as Frank) was the cousin of Robert Craig’s wife and had been a neighbor and trusted friend. He had been added to Robert’s will in 1910 when one of his trustees had died suddenly that year. Frank already had business interests in his own shop at Stonefield Road but stepping up to the Craig legacy, he continued to let the nine Westend homes and the Bar out to Robert Henry Clark of Langside.
In December 1921, the license holder Robert Henry Clark was charged with selling alcohol in a vessel which was neither corked or capped to a child under 14 years of age. He was fined £2 which was paid.
A minor boundary clarification in April 1924, resulted in Robert Craig’s trustees having to pay another 6 shillings, 7 pence per annum in feu duty to the Jackson family of Barnhill, which looks like it was resolved quickly.
In 1925 William Francis Benham died, then John Anderson Gray, another trustee took over as proprietor of both the Westend home and the Bar.
Gray & Craig Ownership
On 14th August 1929, coming of age, young Robert Craig officially inherited 50% of Westend Place, the other 50% remaining in the hands of Robert Craig senior’s surviving trustee, John Anderson Gray. Young Robert was living at 275 West Princes Street, Glasgow at the time. This may have been a complex transition for the pub and indeed the shops rental income and for the homes would now need to be divided. Young Robert may have conflicted with his older business partner in what was best for the pub or perhaps which landlord should occupy it, for just 3 months later, the pub was empty, lying vacant. The 1930 Valuation roll confirms that in Springtime that year, the Pub was still empty. John Anderson Gray and Robert Craig, as owners needed a new landlord, somebody to run the West End Bar, which was rated that year as being worth an annual rent of £50. It’s noted in 1930 that ‘Westend Place’ had address 487 to 497 on the lower floor, pub was 497. Above, the homes were 499 and 501 Glasgow Road.
Although the whole building is Westend Place, the public house is written as “The West End Bar”, the words ‘west’ and ‘end’ separated as it is on the title deeds and original MacNeil sale documents. However, it is often written as ‘Westend Bar’, primarily on social media and in modern advertisements, indicating both are used and equally acceptable.
The pub was then empty for 3 or 4 years, but not for long. Fortunes favoured the continuation of the public house, when in 1934 following lowering rents to £30, dedicated new license holders were found in Joseph MacNeil & his wife, Elizabeth.
Joseph MacNeil was born at Mingulay just south of the Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. When he was 17 he came to Glasgow and joined a merchant steamer, serving as the chief officer in WWI on an armed trawler and saw some action. In 1920 he gained his Captain’s certificate, but four years later he got a really bad hand injury that forced him to quit the sea.
Retired from service, he came to Blantyre in late 1925. In 1926 he was renting a pub and house above at 346 Main Street (near Kirkton Cross). He had renamed it, “The Caledonian Bar”, locally nicknamed by customers as, “The Heilandmans” for obvious reasons. Rents were paid to Mr. Pearson, a trustee of Mr. William Barr, (a retired shoemaker and pub owner.) Joseph MacNeil never bought or owned the pub in High Blantyre at any time. However, in 1933, Captain MacNeil received some unwelcome news that the building he was renting at Main Street was subjected to compulsory purchase order by the county council so that the road could be widened and was to be demolished. Having no control over this, he was forced to find new premises and the vacant public house at the corner of Bardykes Road seemed ideal.
At the end of October 1933, Joseph MacNeil applied for a license at the Westend, which was granted and he commenced trading there in New Year 1934 moving home too. People in High Blantyre may have been sad to see this spirit merchant move after being there for just over 7 years. At the time Joseph moved to his rented pub at the Westend, John Anderson Gray and young Robert Craig were still the owners.
The MacNeil’s initial years at the Westend were touched by tragedy when Joseph and Elizabeth’s daughter Margaret MacNeil died on 12th September 1936.
Naming the pub, the “West End Bar”, Joseph & Elizabeth MacNeil continued to rent the pub right through the 1930’s and into the 1940’s from owners Gray & Craig. When Joseph died on 4th September 1941, Elizabeth continued to rent and run the pub, renewing each license upon their expiry.
On 4th December 1947, William Anderson Gray inherited his father’s 50% of Westend Place. In those immediate post WW2 years of change, fresh starts and looking to the future, both William Anderson and Robert Craig (by then living in Sydney, Australia) decided to bale out and sell Westend Place. It took just 3 months for a sale to complete and on 28th February 1948 a new owner was found. Just £500 was paid for the whole building, a bargain worth around £20,000 in today’s money due to the fragile and recovering economy, the sum also indicating a quick sale and goodwill to the new buyer. That same day, the Craig era of spirit merchants in Blantyre, that had existed for 4 generations spread out over 100 years came to an abrupt halt.
The new buyer? It was Mrs. Elizabeth Currie or MacNeil, from the family who had been renting the pub for the previous 14 years. MacNeil outright ownership commenced in 1948 and would continue in one form or other with family members right up until 2008, some 60 years later.
By the 1940’s, Elizabeth was already an established wine and spirit merchant. She would own the entire Westend building, all shops, all homes and of course her own public house. It is around this time we see the name ‘Westend Place’ being used less commonly and more referred to simply as ‘The Westend.’ The building was not known as “MacNeils Building”.
In 1952 and 1953, the back yard of the Westend was used by contractors for their cabins and equipment whilst they built nearby Cloudhowe Terrace.
Incredibly, Westend Place was held intact as one property for nearly 100 years following its construction until 8th April 1971, when Elizabeth Currie MacNeil decided to sell part of the building. The farthest part to the east, with address 487 Glasgow Road had previously been a hairdressers shop for many years during the 1960’s leased by Margaret McGlynn. However, in 1971 it was sold by the MacNeil family to Ercole Di Vito of 1 Wallace Place, Hamilton, who rented it out to Jameson Newsagents and then to Hughes Photography for a few years before moving in himself opening Di Vito’s Fish and Chip shop, which still exists today.
Elizabeth Currie MacNeil passed away on the 4th January 1979.
On 18th February 1981, the Westend Building including the pub was transferred by sale to the MacNeil’s daughter Mary Josephine, who lived in the flat above the pub at 501 Glasgow Road. The exception to this was of course the part owned already by Ercole Di Vito.
When Mary Josephine MacNeil died on 8th February 1991, she was buried at Barra alongside her sister and parents.
Her will asked for her estate to be divided up amongst her immediate family. The document asked on 26th February 1992 that Christine MacNeil of Troon should inherit her house, the flat above the pub at 501 Glasgow Road.
The West End Bar would go equally on 9th March 1992 to Annie Winifred McGhie of 497 Glasgow Road and to Joseph MacNeil of Priory Bridge, Blantyre. According to the title deeds, on 16th January 1995, Joseph would sell his half of another upper house over to Annie, the details of that sale deliberately not written here to respect the privacy of the MacNeil family. As seen next, the rest of the building would go to the MacNeil family.
The remaining part of the building, essentially ‘The West End Bar’, a month later (on 6th February 1995) was sold with joint agreement of Annie McGhie and Joseph MacNeil to five other members of the MacNeil family for their legacy to continue. The Bar’s new owners were equally Rosemary MacNeil, and Elizabeth Ann Campbell both of Priory Bridge, Catherine Clark of Calderglen, Mary Josephine McGhie of Halfway and Felix MacNeil of Jura Gardens. All living locally, the new owners were passionate about looking after the ‘West End Bar’ and building it into a thriving business.
End of an era
Time was called on the MacNeil ownership in October 2008. On 8th November 2008, the Daily Record ran an interesting article on the MacNeil’s time in Blantyre although incorrectly noted that Joseph had bought his High Blantyre Pub and overstated the length of his ownership. Otherwise aside from typos on the spelling of names, the article was first class, a dedication to the service of the MacNeil family and is reprinted here in full: “A Blantyre family have called last orders – after running The West End Bar for the past 74 years. In 1934, the MacNeils took over ‘The Farmers Club’, which is now known as The West End Bar. Since then, the pub has been run by several members of the MacNeil family including Donald, Mary, Ian, Joseph and Nan McGhie, who is now the last surviving member of the original family. Nan, who was the licensee of the pub, celebrated her 80th birthday in August. The third generation of the MacNeil family – Elizabeth Campbell, Kathryn Clarke, Mary-Jo Furlong and Felix MacNeil – continued to run the pub until October this year.”
On behalf of the whole family, Mary-Jo commented: “Throughout the years, most of the family have continued to work and live in Blantyre. The pub has, and continues to be, a well-known landmark and is renowned for its support to local groups. It was a very difficult decision for the family to leave the licensing trade. So many of our patrons are extended members of our family. Generations of the same Blantyre families have journeyed with us through the years. But none of us have children and there was nobody to pass the reins to. We all have other jobs and Felix, who was the bar manager, is looking for a new career.”
Today the pub has address 493 Glasgow Road. The pub has expanded a little over the years, the current lounge once a separate room and scullery. The traditional Scottish Bar sits at the heart of the community and a warm welcome awaits everyone who visits there. The West End Bar is open 7 days a week with a warm atmosphere. There’s live entertainment many weeks with some top acts performing. People will remember gigs by local bands like the Rocksox. The Function Lounge is also used regularly for a variety events and is available for hire free of charge and is perfect for Birthday Parties, Engagements, Christenings and Baby Showers. The Men’s Darts Team went unbeaten for nearly five years and have a fantastic trophy collection on show in the bar. Licensing hours are open until 1am on Saturday, and midnight every other evening. The McCormack family (Maura McLaughlin and brother Mick McCormack) have run the pub since, their family once living at Cloudhowe Terrace and Belvoir Place.
Update: As of 2nd July 2018, the West End Bar has been sold to LISINI, owned by Harry Hood, also owner of the Parkville. Then again taken over in 2019.
This detailed article is dedicated to the hard work of all current and previous West End Bar owners and especially to the memory of Nan McNeil, who sadly recently passed away December 2017, aged 89.
From the book, “Blantyre Glasgow Road South – The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2017
Blantyre Project Social Media:
Margaret Duncan: “Mary MacNeil was the music teacher at St Joseph’s Primary School and her mother owned the bar. They came from Barra originally and at one time lived at Hardie Street at the corner house.”
Helen McGowan Munday: “I remember the Westend always known as Maw MacNeils.”
Jim Canning: “The MacNeils let a newsagents where number 3 is.”
Christine Forrest: “I remember the Hairdressers before it became the Newsagents, which also sold all types of food. I used to buy sweets before waiting for the bus. It was empty for years and I think became a fish shop at one time. My mother got her hair done at the hairdressers in the 1960’s. I remember buying foreign stamps in the newsagents in 1967.”
Catherine Davidson: “As of November 2017, Di Vitos has been there 35 years. Franco at Di Vito’s Chip shop told me this only recently.”
Stephen McCall: “The MacNeils I remember are Mary and daughter Christine. Joe married to Rosemary. Nan married Peter and had daughters Kathleen, Liz, Margaret-Mary, Mary-Jo, Annmarie. Iain was the father of Vincent and Felix. There may have been a son Andrew too.”
Featuring Blantyre Project Social Media with permission. Strictly not for use by others on or offline, our visitors said,