A fascinating insight into the life of Bob Brown, former owner of Hastie’s Farm, written by his grandson, Lon McIlwraith. This article puts to bed, a myth or two and corrects some things that have been written incorrectly online in the last decade or so.
Pictured is another photo of Bob and Sally. (Not sure of the significance of the long walking stick and the sheepskin jacket. He would have been roasting in front of the fire!)
Bob Brown was a bricklayer to trade, and during the Second World War he worked at the Motherwell steel works. His job was to replace the refractory brickwork inside the blast furnaces (when they had cooled down, of course), and this occupation exempted him from military service. Incidentally, he was a coal miner, which meant he was exempt too.
Sometime after the war, Bob Brown opened a brickmaking business at Bogs Brae near Bellshill which certainly existed in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He later had a building business which he ran from offices and the yard behind his home in Calder Street, directly opposite the present sandwich shop. He left the building business when he opened (or bought) the National petrol and service station, at Hasties Farm. Of course, he kitted out the Victoria Street end of the old barn building opposite the petrol pumps to open the café, later licensed restaurant, and the rest is history.
As Hasties Farm became more and more popular, Bob worked a deal to swap his house in Calder Street for the home beside the National petrol station, meaning he now lived right beside his business.
His grandson Lon, added “As I worked between the bars I soon found out what the regulars and staff were up to. There was rampant thieving, which culminated in a fierce ‘all staff’ meeting where Bob laid out the truth, and a few people were outed and fired on the spot. There were quite a few affairs and other personal shenanigans over the years, and a few tragedies as well.
There were two lovely waitresses whose faces I can clearly see. One was quite tall with dark hair; the other quite short and with a slight speech impediment. They both had young children. One evening when they were both working, their kids had been left with a babysitter (or relative) in one of their homes in Burnbrae Road or a nearby street. There was a fire and all the children died. I still remember the scenes in Hasties, as everyone was in shock at this terrible tragedy.”
Hasties Farm made Bobby Brown rich, although none of his family saw any of it. He was a hard taskmaster and didn’t believe in anyone getting handouts, although many of the ‘hingers-oan’ that surrounded him borrowed lots of cash from him. He distrusted the taxman and had most of his money in care of his lawyer, not the bank. He also thought that insurance was a scam, and would have nothing to do with it, which leads to the most common rumour people talk about Hasties… that he deliberately burned Hasties down for the insurance money. This myth is disproved here. There was no insurance policy. Bob rebuilt Hasties Farm with his own money, and using his many contacts in the building trades to get the job done quickly. There was no obvious motive for the fire, it was an accident. Hasties was as busy as ever after the fire, but Bob’s heart had gone out of it. He opened a fish shop in Glasgow, and also had a mussel farm somewhere doon-the-watter. He would disappear for days then return home with great rolls of cash. The family were astonished by how much money he carried around.
Bob was also famously known in Blantyre for his Rolls-Royce cars. He had three in succession. The first two were second-hand, but the third was ordered brand new, painted gold. One night he was visiting his ‘fancy piece’ in Glasgow, and thought his gold roller would be safe if he parked it in the grounds of a nearby church. He returned to find it a burned out wreck the following morning. This event, more than anything else, sickened him of everything.
It was shortly after this that he sold Hasties Farm, for close to £250,000, a fortune in those days. (about £1.5m today.) Bob and Kathy bought a house in Inverkip, overlooking the Clyde and they seemed very happy there. His cabin cruiser Hasties was moored in Kip marina.
Bob died in 1982. He checked into hospital in Glasgow to have an aortic aneurysm repaired. He even drove himself there in his Volvo estate car, thinking to drive home, a new man, a few days later. He never came out. Cardio-renal failure, followed by brachopneumonia, carried him off. His wife was devastated, but there was worse to come. He had paid cash for their Inverkip home, and there was plenty left over, so she thought she would be quite comfortable. Her daughter was staying with her during that time, and what she discovered next destroyed everything.
Bob had mortgaged the house almost entirely a few months before he died. His daughter went to see Bob’s lawyer to find out what was going on. He informed her that there was only about £15,000 left. The lawyer had no explanation for where all the money had gone (no paper trail). Mrs Brown and her daughter could prove nothing.
Also, his Volvo had disappeared from the hospital car park, his boat vanished from the marina, the fish shop and mussel farm were untraceable. Instead of retiring happily, Kathy Brown was left in poverty.
In the words of his grandson, “That’s the legacy Bob Brown left behind.”
The man himself, in his younger days, looking very dapper in big coat and golf bunnet. This is at the bottom cross end of Quarry Street in Hamilton. The gable end behind him is Fraioli’s café.
Note: This article has been amended to remove some personal details, suitable to put up to a wider audience on Social media.
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