Blantyre Minstrels

Although not at all politically correct these days, there is a sensitive subject I’d like to comment on regarding part of Blantyre’s history. The subject of being ‘entertained’ by Minstrels.

Minstrels were of course white people with painted or blackened faces. In those different times, it’s very likely no malice or ill intent was being perceived by the audience and although considered nowadays to be most racist, minstrels were commonplace in local theatres in the 19th and 20th Centuries and later on TV right up until the late 1970’s.

Pictured in this previously unseen photo are 5 Blantyre boys sometime between 1895 – 1915. The photo is most certainly over a 100 years old, (possibly even 125 years old!) coming from the incredible photo collection taken by local early photographer David Ritchie.

The children don’t look particularly happy pictured outside with their musical instruments.

In May 1893, Mr Arthur Hannah dressed as a minstrel entertained crowds in High Blantyre Masonic Hall, part of Mr Scipira’s Entertainment company. It was noted the price of entry was unusually low. Jim McQueen was a comedian who accompanied him and took the house by storm! It was said that the proprietor, Mr Struthers even took part in the show himself to the amusement of all.

A little later in 1897 and 1898, a Kinderspiel (children’s entertainment show) took place in High Blantyre. The Hamilton Herald said the conductor was none other than, wait for it….David Ritchie, who had perfected the children’s voices to near perfection! This piece of research is important and knowing the conductor was also the photographer of this picture, I feel the photo dates from around 1897 or 1898 or so.

The tradition of minstrels in concert continued in Blantyre for some time with visiting troupes to our concert and church halls.

Even a couple of decades after this, Blantyre folk were entertained on the evening of Friday 6th July 1928 by The Kentucky Minstrels. Documented here only for these events did take place, the Kentucky Minstrels were a local combination band, the creation of Mr. Thomas Simpson of Low Blantyre.

The venue was the Welfare Hall at Auchentibber and news reports of the time stated “The Kentucky Minstrels provided a most pleasing and happy entertainment to a crowd which was packed out to the door. In their repertoire they have a large variety of negro songs and dances, and their patter and witty sallies and jokes were quite refreshing and kept the audience in roars of laughter.”

With the performance of unnamed “artists”, Mr Simpson established himself and the Minstrels as popular entertainers of the time and they later appeared in Hamilton and Burnbank in other concerts.

Not a part of Blantyre’s history that should be dwelled upon, but the picture was worth sharing, if only as a good reminder how far we have all come since those times.

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