Robert Clark sent in an ancestry request saying, “I’m trying to find out about John Fraser, (Blacksmith at Priestfield,) and his family. I’d be grateful for any info you could give me.”
Not a lot to go on here, so I had to start right back at the beginning. I did manage to uncover quite a bit about this man, who should not be confused with John James Fraser, the labour candidate in Blantyre during the 1930’s.
John Fraser was born in 1840 in Thornhill, Dumfries-shire, to Hannah Young, age 22, and Alexander Fraser, age 22. He grew up in Dumfriesshire and married on 30th June 1863 to wife Mary Germery, who was 5 years his junior. During their lives, the couple had 7 children.
It is thought John, (known as Jock) came to Blantyre with his family sometime just after Dixons set up business in Blantyre around 1872. His arrival in Blantyre looks to be between August 1872 and end of 1873 and specifically he began a long career working with Dixon’s Collieries in High Blantyre. It is likely he answered the call by Dixon’s for workers of specific trades. It coincides nicely with many miners and colliery workers leaving Dumfriesshire for the Central Belt Collieries.
They arrived at High Blantyre and were given a rented property at Priestfield Row, right next to the colliery. This would have been where Hillhouse Road is now near the entrance to the Technology Park.
Life would still have been difficult for Jock and his family. However, Colliery blacksmiths worked almost exclusively on the surface. Much of their work involved heating metal goods in the forge so that they could be shaped or worked. They may have helped shoe pit ponies as well as working on the bracings for the pit. In most deep mines, with gas a constant danger (especially in Blantyre!), metal goods heated to high temperatures underground could have caused explosions and so there was a forge above ground near the pithead. General smithy work also included forging work connected with plant or chains, or heat treatment of drawbars and chains, or capping and recapping of ropes, etc.
He moved to Dixons Rows in Carfin Street, Blantyre during the 1880s, a move no doubt tied to his work. However, this was not home for long and a move back to High Blantyre was on the cards.
By 1901, he was living at Kirkton Cottage on Sanders Laun, the former name of Douglas Street. Renting a house that only had 2 rooms with windows, he lived there with family. One of his daughters married into the Clark family.
In 1911, Jock Fraser was 70 years old, still working at Dixon’s Collieries in High Blantyre and living at the blacksmiths house at 2 Douglas Street, right at the corner of Main Street at High Blantyre Cross, near the graveyard. With his was wife Mary, 65 and two of their grown up children, a son John (32) also a blacksmith and daughter Williamson, a domestic servant (44).
I’ve managed to obtain a photo. He’s pictured around that time here in this photo, the man with the whiskers. The Photo was taken at Dixons’ Pit, this particular location now where the entrance is to Priestfield Cemetery. There is a possibility that the man standing to him on the right his son also John Fraser.
Jock Fraser died at home at 2 Douglas Street on Boxing Day in 1917, aged 77 towards the end of WW1. He had pneumonia and left behind Mary, now a widow. Mary died the very next year.
I hope the interesting stories of these hard working people can be kept to the forefront of Blantyre history, for after all , these are the workers who built Blantyre, who worked in such terrible conditions and I for one am glad Jock probably spent much of his time above the ground!
With thanks to Alex Rochead for retrieving John Fraser’s will.