Condition of Merry’s Rows

This brilliant old photo shows the former miner’s homes at Merrys Rows, Low Blantyre. These were located where Elm Street is today.

1940s Merrys Rows wm

Their proximity to Auchinraith Pit made them particularly susceptible to subsidence and as you can see, there are massive cracks, in what was generally considered housing of a poor standard.

Makes me wonder though if this was more than subsidence? That’s so severe for a single storey building. It would take a huge underground collapse to have caused that. A combination of poorly built houses, sewers softening and seeping into poor foundations. Perhaps the constant coal wagons and locomotives on the elevated railway beside it, especially the sidings going into the colliery, i suspect contributed to those cracks.

There’s good evidence though, all was not well here for a long time.

1892 – Aberdeen Weekly Journal   Thursday 25th August 1892, page 4:
Houses Collapse at Blantyre— Yesterday morning the back wall of three houses, belonging to Messrs Merry & Cunninghame, Limited, and occupied by miners at Blantyre, fell outwards, and on examination it was found that other three were in a dangerous condition. Six families had to be removed with their effects. The roof remained intact. No one was injured. The houses are of the usual single-room type, the walls being hollow. Mineral workings are the direct cause of the collapse, aggravated by a sewer now being laid two feet below the foundation.

1910 – Extracted from “The Housing Condition of Miners” Report by the Medical Officer of Health, Dr John T. Wilson, 1910.
Merry & Cunninghame Ltd – The mine-owners’ houses are situated at Stonefield, Blantyre and are known as Merry’s Rows : ― 46 One-apartment houses, Rental £3 14s, 50 Two-apartment houses, Rental £4 16s, 3 Three-apartment houses, Rental £6, 1 Four-apartment house, Rental £9 12s. Erected about 32 years ago ― One storey, brick ― no damp-proof course ― Walls not strapped and lathed, plastered on brick ― Wood floors, ventilated ― Some walls slightly damp ― Internal surfaces of ceilings good. No overcrowding ― apartments large. No garden ground, washhouses with water, coal cellars, but tenants of one-apartment houses required to cross the street to these coal cellars. Water-closets in the proportion of one to four houses. The introduction of water closets and wash houses at these rows has been carried out since daily scavenging was introduced. No sinks, drainage by surface channels. Gravitation water from pillar wells in front of houses. Scavenged at owners’ expense, but houses are now included in Blantyre Special Scavenging District.

1913 – Merry’s Rows, Blantyre
We visited these two rows of miners’ houses on 24th March 1913. They are situated near to the Glasgow Road, in the Parish of Blantyre, and are owned by Merry & Cunninghame, coalmasters. They consist of 46 single and 50 double apartment houses. They are built with brick, and were erected between thirty and forty years ago, and are a very poor type of house, low-ceilinged and mostly damp. The rent per week, including rates, is 2s 4d and 2s 11d for single and double houses respectively. Within the last five years this property has been included in a special scavenging district, and consequently the sanitation of the place has been very much improved. The water is supplied by means of stand-pipes at intervals along the front of the row. There are no sculleries or sinks about the place, and all the dirty water is emptied into an open gutter. There is a washhouse to every six tenants, and a flush-closet to every three tenants. Bins are in vogue, with a daily collection of refuse. No coal cellars or drying greens. A man is kept for tidying up the place.

1936 – Hamilton Advertiser, Saturday 19th September 1936
Insanitary Properties – Recently the Housing Committee of the County Council met with  deputation consisting of Mrs McAuley, Mrs McDowall and Mrs Shaw on the question of housing conditions in the Blantyre area. The deputation was heard regarding the condition of a number of insanitary properties in Blantyre and especially the conditions existing at Merry’s Rows in consequence of the construction of a sewer along the front of the houses. The deputation having withdrawn the committee agreed by a majority that the questions raised by the deputation and also the question of the erection of additional houses in the Blantyre area should be remitted to a sub committee consisting of the chairman (Mr Hall) and the Blantyre local representatives for consideration and report. With regard to the conditions complained of at Merry’s Rows in consequence of the construction of a sewer, the county drainage engineer undertook to take up the question with contractors at once.”

With thanks to Gordon Cook for this photo.

Featuring Blantyre Project Social Media with permission. Strictly not for use by others on or offline, our visitors said:

Kate Mcinulty Poverty stricken areas. Now we have food banks for people who are struggling. Call that progress ????
Margaret Mary OSullivan Kate Mcinulty Yes, we are regressing. It used to be that each generation expected the next generation to do better. That is what indeed happened in the time of my parents and grandparents. Not any more. Absolute scandal and heartbreaking.
Kate Mcinulty Margaret Mary OSullivan it is that my x
Margaret Brown Burns My great grandparents stayed here in what were terrible conditions
David Tremble Fascinating insight into previous housing conditions. Can anyone explain the meaning of the scavenging mentioned in the article?
Blantyre Project Scavenging is waste collection. Visiting binmen, waste usually taken to a destructor, which for Blantyre was at the end of John Street.
Moira Macfarlane How did people survive in these disgraceful conditions,but there again they had to,,
Elizabeth Weaver I suppose a lot of them didn’t survive. I wonder what the infant mortality rate was, and how many of the adults succumbed to TB and so on. Absolutely heartbreaking that the mine owners treated their work force this way while they lived in clean dry houses themselves.
Jiae Jiae As far as I know many infants did die. I heard a story about my Great auntie Bella McCrum fighting to be rehoused because of the damp, poor conditions they were living in, in fact the water was running down the inside of the walls. The same Bella who took folk in during the War, she came from Hawick and she was a really, lovely lady but stood up for others.
John McArdle My family stayed there bells letham and donnelly 1920 30
Caroline McDougall My dad was born in one of these wee houses. How my nana managed I will never know.
Margaret Duncan My dad’s family stayed in Bairds Rows and he had happy childhood and I never heard him saying anything about being impoverished – his mum (granny) ran a wee shop from the house
May Mulholland Sad & shocking conditions
Bridie Croll I think I was born into a better world. People nowadays Are full of hatred. Racism is rife. Education is totally out the window and governments are corrupt. It must be stopped before there is a real disaster
Al Kemal the megalomaniac in WM and his pal Farage the unprincipled sleekit B
Archie Peat I grew up in Blantyre in the 1950s and I think that was the high point in its history. there was still plenty of jobs around and I dont remember there being much sub standard housing except Craighead Raws which were demolished in the early 50s .There was a Community Centre , lots of pubs and at least 5 churches , had its own Post Office , two cinemas and a busy Co-op with 4 branches
Elizabeth Weaver Plus beautiful public parks
Archie Peat Elizabeth Weaver I tried to list the things we dont have now , of course beautiful public parks , Livingstones , a fantastic Miners Welfare , a YMCA and a Hibernians Club and not forgetting two thriving Junior Football Clubs
Andrew Mclinden Lived in Bairds Raws happy days ,just got on with it ,became World Masters Half-Marathon Champion at 62 ,and won the South Lanarkshire Sports Award this year at 68 never done me any harm !
Jane Maxwell Dixon’s Rows was our family home until l was 4/5 we then got a prefab at the top of Parkville Drive. Happy days.
Marian Maguire The wall surrounding the door is almost on the point of collapse, usually the door surround is the strongest part. Such a shame to have to live like this. Shame on all the coal owners who allowed this. My dad came from Ireland to live with his Aunty as a young man and work in the pit, he moved into the rows with them, 5 children and 2 adults and him In This tiny house.
Moyra Lindsay Paul, no wonder my great granny lost four children.
Elizabeth Knowles My grandparent lived on Merry’s Rows but they were demolished early 40s I can remember Elm St being built, it was the start of a large building programme in Blantyre. Bairds Rows were much better built, but still had very little facilities, shared outside toilets, gas lights, radios needed batteries as no electric.
Lori McCulloch My great grandparents Thomas Stewart Brown & Eliza Aitchison lived at 29, 79 & 71 Merry’s Row and raised 10 or more children there c 1898-1931. One of my 1st cousins described it as dreich. Thanks for the post.
Janet Vining Mitchell My great great grandfather and his family, including my great grandfather, Thomas Bow and James Bow, lived in these houses from 1879 to 1885.
Jana Zimmer Isnt it interesting how, the older we get, the more we want to know about our ancestors?
Janet Vining Mitchell Jana Zimmer absolutely. I am fascinated and researching genealogy quite a lot. None of my ancestors had it easy.


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  1. Archie, thanks for a great summary of how Blantyre was in the fifties, where I grew up as well. It was a great place to live back then and I have plenty of great memories.

    I recently went home to Blantyre, again to feel “my feet on the ground”, my “Turangawaewae”, Maori here in New Zealand have this word for their birth place and see it as the place where one can stand firm and strong!

    I was a bit shocked and dismayed by what I saw and felt, a town which seemed unkempt, uncared for by the powers that be, and I suppose I felt a bit angry for it. I can only support and care for it myself by donations? in the hope that the younger generation can somehow restore it.

  2. Very very sad, My father has many memories of Merry’s Rows having lived there with his foster parents, Sarah and Jim Cook. My Dad recollects and drew a picture of what the room that they lived in looked like and gave a word picture as well as much as he could remember. He recalls being sent to hospital possibly around age three years old or four, (1930 approx) having developed diptheria. He remembers having all his hair razored off and being exceptionally hungry when eventually he was sent home, sitting in the food cupboard and ravenously consuming a loaf of bread. They were rehoused to “Calder Street” sometime after that.

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