In 1905, ‘Messrs Merry and Cunninghame, one of the largest mining firms in Scotland, were working a coal mine at Bardykes (Spittal) in Blantyre.
Owing to some obstructions with met within their operations, they had lost some £3,000 within a very short period. Considerable sum worth around £400,000 today. The landowner, the Jacksons of Spittal as was the case of extensive land owners who owned the mineral rights below, wanted to see their royalty profits increase quicker and exceedingly anxious to increase this income, which was already very large, pushed for more.
At this most difficult and unfortunate of times where coal could not be got to without breaking through a large worthless seam, he initiated legal proceedings to the coal masters advising of his intent in asking for increased royalties, beyond that of their agreement. Back in 1905, the landowner could do this, with Westminster law on their side for all they owned on the land, above it and below. It happened often, but the Coalmasters had to negotiate a deal and of course this threat actually worked both ways, as the Coalmasters could choose to dig in a particular directions at any time below the ground, outwith and away from the landowner completely. In this case though, the landowner knew perfectly well of the fortunes which lay below the obstructive rock.
Instead of facilitating their stock, this demand upon the Coalmasters made it necessary for them to entirely close down the mine. The landowner looked on helplessly as Merry & Cunningham removed their machinery at considerable expense and filled up the shaft. And they didn’t stop there….
They paid off all 700 miners, who were also warned out of their houses. The tied colliery houses, rows of brick homes at Bardykes, named Bardykes Rows, so many they were almost a little village in itself, were partially and for the best part dismantled, so that the landowner or others could not make use of them.
The mine went begging for new tenants for many months In the advertisement columns of newspapers until in 1908 George Neilson came along with his Summerlee Company and re-opened the shaft and began working the mine again. I had heard a story of how the Jacksons just before this time had sold up and emigrated, leaving Spittal and Scotland. Later, during their new life over the Atlantic often reflected of the fortunes they had left behind, even at one time trying to make a claim for it.
Back in 1908, the new leases paid a reduced rent, until they had set up their machinery and restored the working of the mine to its normal condition. In this case the land-owner lost heavily, the capitalists lost, and unfortunately, as is usually the case it was the suffering of miners and their families which were the most painful of all.
This had been one of the largest employers and pits in the area. These men and their families were thrown into starvation; lost their homes and for many, their purpose. It had a profound knock on effect, with the men from whom they bought their food, clothes, furniture and other necessaries from, deprived of their continued custom.
The whole problem of unemployment with its hundred evil associations which follow it, sprang up immediately with a notable rise in crime and squatting as families tried to survive. Many moved away.
As a final note, there was not a vestige of mystery or complexity about the cause of unemployment for those miners. The resentment they felt about leaving their homes, having no work, wasn’t directed to their Employer. The miners and their leaders saw that real cause standing out clear and obtrusive in the sole action of the land owner, and they held large demonstrations to protest against that action, before accepting the futility of it all.
As for Bardykes Rows, only a handful of the Bardykes Rows ruins were ever rebuilt, to be renamed Spittal Terrace from 1908.