Prior to WW1, there were many slums in Blantyre, houses of such poor condition, condemned as unfit for human habitation, which unfortunately many families lived in and endured. One such property at the time was Shuttle Row and that building and its inhabitants is the subject of our story today.
In Hamilton Sheriff Court on Monday 21st February 1910, Charles McGuigan, a miner of 9 Shuttle Row, Low Blantyre. was charged with having, during the period from November 1909 to 15th February 1910, ill-treating and neglecting his three young children whose aged ranged from four to ten years. It was alleged he left them alone and unattended for long periods and by keeping them in a filthy and verminous condition.
The court heard evidence that McGuigan’s wife was sadly in the asylum and that and that he and the eldest son worked in the pits, both bringing in good wages. However, shifts were long hours and it left a situation of having no childcare. McGuigan left the 10 year old in charge of the siblings and this was noticed by neighbours. At different times several neighbour women attended to his family, washing and feeding them but in recent weeks that cold winter, and owing to conversations with McGuigan and his subsequent conduct, they had refused to do this any further, pleading for him to take action to avoid authorities being involved.
The children were again consequently left alone in the house, starved and unwashed. It was said in court that McGuigan was frequently intoxicated he beat and he beat and ill-treated in particular one of the young boys. Sheriff Thomson found the charge proven and sent him to prison for one whole month with hard labour.
Unfortunately, this story is just one typical of the day. Single parents struggled in much worse conditions than today, and in that era before any proper social care, I wondered if the jail sentence made it worse. Who looked after the children whilst their father was in jail? The neighbours perhaps, but it changes nothing, in that McGuigan would still have to go back to work, assuming his employers let his return!
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So so sad, unfortunately this state of affairs went on and on and why, when I proudly said to one acquaintance, “I come frae Blantir'” that person rebutted with “I’m awfy sorry, its no your fault”, I took this to literally mean a put down and felt very offended. I saw my birthplace with rose coloured glasses for a long time. But the stories I have uncovered in my own family leave me gasping with wonder at how they actually survived!