The once splendid mansion, Priory House in Blantyre by 1967 had become a tumbledown slum. In fact, it had become SO bad, that tenants refused to pay rent by September of that year, demanding action by the county’s “fair rent” officer.
Priory House just before this time had been occupied by a doctor and his family until the early 60s. By the mid 60’s, Mr David Byars of Shaw Street, Larkhall was the new owner and not receiving rent in Summer 1967 said, “I’m going to evict them!“
By the 1960’s, Thornhill Avenue , near the Dandy, was becoming nowhere near the exclusive Blantyre address it had once been (something thankfully overturned these days!). The grand villa of Priory House had given way to become apartments of a sort.
Thirteen people on the top floor shared 4 rooms, one family per room! There was only one source of water for washing and cooking, a single wash hand basin in the one toilet. The dilapidated kitchen also was being used to store prams.
Downstairs, 3 families of 10 people shared another 3 rooms. The toilet and kitchen was in a dreadful state. There were holes in the floor, smashed windows and unprotected electric wires.
The tenants, 13 adults and 10 children claimed the new landlord would not fix anything or did little to address their complaints, since they all moved in 18 months earlier in 1965.
Tenants had resorted to putting pails in the loft to stop the water getting through below and regularly had to empty them after rainfall. Wiring was tied up unsafely, drains were rotten, smokey fireplaces and broken windows which wouldn’t open properly.
Essentially the problems were the communal areas of the building. This was in stark contrst to the rooms people lived in, which had been decorated and were tidy.
Tenants were paying between 25 to 35 shillings per week per room in rent. Some of the tenants are pictured. One of the oldest tenants was Mrs Frances Mair (58) who shared a room with her son (29).
Tenant Mr John Aitken (23) blamed the condition of the property causing illness to his son and had taken the case to the Blantyre Tenants Association, then pursing escalation with the County Council. Another tenant William Clarkin (22) was married with 2 girls (aged 3 years and 10 months). William paid 27 shillings for one small room with only one electrical plug, but had to make do to bring up his family. William told reporters at the time, “when my wife uses the iron, almost every time she’s nearly electrocuted!“
All tenants said they would still be happy to live at Priory House, if only the landlord could make some repairs. A sink had been replaced, but then was taken away again.
Landlord, David Byars was asked to comment and it was clear he had enough. He told reporters, “As far as I’m concerned, they’re all getting out.” It was discovered that Mr Byars had received a letter from the rent officer asking him to reduce his rents, but he was not interested in discussing the matter. He considered his lawyers were dealing with the matter and he advised he would like to see the house demolished.
He claimed, “Priory House was in a fair condition when tenants moved in and it is them who are responsible for its condition now. The windows have been broken, darts thrown at walls, meters raided, cracked sanitary-ware. I’m fed up of the whole situation.”
Mr Mitchell, the County Rents officer promised to intervene, a story for another day.
From “Blantyre Explained” by Paul Veverka (c) 2018