On Tuesday 18th May 1858, fire broke out in the Village store at Blantyre Works, completely destroying the one storey building. A sum of money amounting to £96 in bank notes was also consumed. It had been rebuilt by 1859 and was sublet out in May that year by Mr Miller as a Store, Bakery and Spirit Cellar. It would not be the only time this old building would burn down!
There is a story of debt and despair attached to this fire. Mr. Robert Barclay was a storekeeper and businessman initially commencing work in Blantyre at Blantyre Works.
He first went into business in Canning Street, Glasgow in 1852 continuing there with a starting capital of just £50 until 1854. He made some money and used £200 to move to Blantyre. In late 1854, he took lease of the Blantyre stores at Blantyre Works.
Needing more money for that acquisition, he consulted his colleague, Mr. John Orr and borrowed money. Mr Orr was a partner of the Western Bank, which collapsed, leaving Robert £1,000 in debt. The £1,000 was obtained by further borrowing that sum from William Teacher, using stock, household property and heritable property as security.
In gradual repayments, Mr Orr’s money was repaid partially. Robert’s problem all stemmed from the fact that on 18th May 1858, his stores were burned down. He lost between £500 and £600, a portion of items not covered by his insurance policy, primarily valuable stock. Immediately after the fire, Robert started building himself a house in Blantyre in order to operate his business from there thereby reducing rents, but construction costs of £400 more than he planned only compounded his debts in the short term.
By July 1861, debts were £3,461 and spiraling. Despite valuation of £800 by the Building Society, he had sold his house for the reduced price of £150 to Mr Orr, but the sale had little impact on the overall debts. In April 1861, he sold his household furniture to Mr Orr too. Robert Barclay was made bankrupt that month in an examination in Hamilton. In 1860 Slaters Directory, he is noted as being a grocer, flesher and spirit dealer. In the1862 Handbook of Hamilton, Bothwell, and Blantyre & Uddingston Directory he is recorded as being a Blantyre businessman based at Stonefield, clearly resurrecting business after moving away from the village in July 1861.
Pictured is another fire at the exact same location, later in 1931.
From the book, “Blantyre: Through the Flames” by Paul Veverka (c) 2018