Child Mortality, 1916


In September 1916, Mr David Gilmour of the Lanarkshire Miner’s Union spoke at meetings of the poor accommodation miners had throughout Scotland and the lack of sanitary conveniences. Families of 7 or 8 people still shared the one apartment and a shocking statistic showed that many births and deaths happened in that one, same room.

With War raging in Europe, the housing crisis could not be solved by Private Enterprise and it was therefore up to local authorities to try and do something.  Conditions were appalling, space at a premium and in some cases it had been observed that coal was being stored under beds!

It created conditions where prioritised decisions were made, quite often single, young men being overlooked for housing in favour of families or couples. It pushed young men down the housing queue and many ended up in model or hostel lodgings, an environment which often resulted in deviating from the responsibilities of life and family.

It was little wonder that such crammed conditions in homes resulted in illness. The spread of disease was rampant. In 1916, Blantyre was mentioned in the words of Mr Gilmour. This mining village was used as an example of WHY something needed to be done for incredibly that year, infant mortality in children under 1 year old was over 14%! Yes, incredibly 143 children out of every 1,000 did not survive their first birthday. Bothwell, Bellshill, Holytown no better, again all mining communities.

Scottish miners paid rent for those homes, which were deemed the poorest in society, many of the tied miners rows being on wasteland, immediately adjacent to the dirt and grime of the associated pit.

This was a theme which resurfaced throughout the 1920’s and 30s until finally the County Council’s efforts of slum clearances took hold.

From the forthcoming book, “Blantyre Explained” by Paul Veverka (c) 2020. Photo for illustration only.

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

Drew Fisher It is sore to think of the conditions our parents and grandparents lived in, especially from our relatively privileged position.
Blantyre Project thats true, Drew. Generations not so far removed from comforts most of us take for granted now. Such change in such short time.
Elaine Baillie Times were so hard back then our poor families struggling in these conditions .
David Baillie Working in pits was hard job my grandfather used to say never work down a mine.Both my mum’s side of the family was miners and my dad’s family also.But my grandad Baillie worked on the buses in the 70s.
Elizabeth Grieve My husband great grandparents lost numerous kids during this time and some are buried in the common ground
Pamela Kelly Ducie Nearly all barefoot. My mum lost 2 brothers who died as babies/toddlers before she was born. My dad lost a sister as well.
Kay Gillies and her poor mum died shortly afterwards in her early twenties.
And we complain. I feel humble.
Jessie Caldow I wonder if anything was ever done to improve these horrific conditions after the Miner’s Union held their meetings. Certainly the owners were not concerned with how their miners lived. How sad!
Blantyre Project There definitely were actions in the following years to improve these conditions in Blantyre. From my notes, “The 5th January 1921 saw one of the most controversial meetings ever seen in Blantyre. Blantyre Parish Council had discussed a motion to provide boots and socks for the children of the unemployed but it was found that this had not been done, despite it being a priority the month before and still in the midst of winter! “
Betty Brown My mum and dad worked the pits, the female were called slagers, I lived the life, there was 7 of us in one room.
Peter Bird Don’t know how they did it

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  1. In January of 1897 or 8 my great aunt died an infant within a month of being born in the mining village nearby to Glasgow in Stonehouse. I was very sad to read of her death, as she would have been an adored great aunt. We were brought up with her sisters having lots to do with us enlarging our family experience, sadly my great grand father was killed in the pit not long after she was born, such tragedies happened daily.
    But, you know, we always heard how great grampa died but no one ever mentioned the death of a bonny wee baby, I only found out by doing family history in Edinburgh register. How sad that she was never spoken of.

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