Fair Holidays, 1908

I have to admit being quite shocked by this next story, hearing something that I didn’t previously quite fully appreciate.

I perhaps naively thought that workers, especially miners who were so used to working in the dark depths, would look forward to the Glasgow Fair holiday, which started out as a long weekend. A time off work with families above ground in the summer sunshine, certainly I thought would be appealing, but a newspaper report confirms something quite the contrary.

The problem was that as the summer fair holiday became a week long, not everybody was happy at this arrangement, especially miners who in general felt the holiday was too long, wondered how they would occupy themselves and of course, importantly, meant that not working, meant no wage would be coming in that week. To those unaccustomed to trying to save anything and with most miners living from one weekly paypacket to the next, the Glasgow Fair holiday presented an unwelcome problem!

One reporter covered this event, himself finding the holiday shocking and his own realisation of the poverty Blantyre was experiencing at that time. He wrote at the end of July 1908 , “It cannot be said that the holidays invariably come as a boom and blessing to most men but undoubtably they come as a week of miserable existence to others. The streets of Blantyre last week proved this fact with large groups of men standing at street corners idling away their time or walking aimlessly to and fro and it was quite apparent from the absence in shops and pubs, that money was an unknown commodity to them.”

As the popular Glasgow phrase “doon the watter” meant taking off on a boat down the Clyde to beaches and seaside towns, “Doon the watter” in Blantyre had a different meaning, with many miners and their families heading to the edges of the Clyde in Blantyre itself. However, this wasn’t a rosy picture being painted. The Reporter continued, “It was here on the banks of the River, that one could see the abject poverty in which some men found themselves and it was pitiful in the extreme to watch the many hundreds of men, women and children lying idly on the braes, without a bite to eat or picnic. It was quite common to see many who had not so much as a bite of breakfast, except here and there with some man sharing a slice of dry bread with his children. Water for drinking being fetched from the river itself from a bottle. Here again, you could see a man smoking and other men coming to him asking, ‘Could you spare a smoke of tobacco? I’ve not had a smoke today.’ “

These things were unfortunately common and this reporter couldn’t pass between these groups of ‘holidaymakers’ without feeling sadness as he observed the acute destitution amongst the working classes. With high unemployment also an issue, there was firm conclusions in the reporter’s observations that poverty was existing in Blantyre in a higher magnitude than ever before.

Pictured in this era are families gathering at the Clyde near Bothwell Bridge. Whilst a few are dressed rather finely, I thought the photo being local and of that era discussed, represented quite well the gathering of people on local holidays, who had nothing much to do in general once they got there. I’m in no doubt the miners and their families described above would have had far less than those in this photo.

I’m left with the overwhelming sadness for their predicament, which the reporter obviously was so moved by.

1900 Bothwell Bridge (PV)

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  1. Oh Paul, such an awful account of the poverty our ancestors suffered, I’m so saddened by it as my maternal family line were part of this era, the poverty sickness and ill health they endured a testament to their also survival. I recall as a girl, the men still standing about corners, post war Blantyre as miserable for some even then, men with blackened burnt faces, limbs blown off, it was so sad. No wonder my Dad wanted to get us away.

  2. Once again a very informative article on our history. You could say that 1908 is echoing into 2022. Poverty? – still here. Lack of food? – still here. Lack of funds to enjoy a holiday? – still here.

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