Neglect at Shuttle Row, 1909

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.

On Saturday 17th July 1909, A Blantyre couple stood in Hamilton Sheriff Court, accused of neglecting their two little children, a charge which was proven.

Michael Cairns and his wife Christina McIntyre lived at Shuttle Row, which was in 1909 a dire slum. The charge was that on 10th July, they had ill treated their daughter Jane (3) and little John (18 months) through neglecting them. The court heard how they had failed to provide any proper food for the children, leaving them starving and without clothing or bedding. Furthermore leaving them unattended between 3pm and 11.30pm each day. The evidence showed the couple were not house proud, it being poorly furnished and in dangerous state of repair.

On the day of this discovery, female neighbours had heard crying late in the evening from the children and intervened accessing the flat and making the discovery that the two children were alone so late at night. They found the three year old lying on the floor hungry and the 18 month old toddler bending over a pail of filth.

The police were called for and ultimately through the night. Mrs Cairns was found at her mothers but bizarrely when told of the children’s condition, she refused to go home. It was later found there were often quarrels between her and her husband.

Unfortunately, this story is just one typical of the day and child neglect was all too common at Shuttle Row. There are further stories around these years of other families in that building, also neglecting their wee ones whilst out at work on in jail. Parents struggled in much worse conditions than today, and in that era before any proper social care, I wondered if a jail sentence made it worse? Who looked after children whilst their father was in jail or the mother was struggling? The neighbours perhaps, but it changes nothing. In this case, the Cairns mother and father would likely still have to go back to work, assuming their employers let their return and I can’t help but feel there may have been domestic issues going on beyond caring for children.

Residents of Shuttle Row are pictured at this time. Perhaps these were the women neighbours who looked in on the children or maybe Mrs Cairns is even pictured!?

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