In 1908, an event occurred which threatened the eviction of almost all the residents at the former mining community of Caldervale (Fin Me Oot).
A huge strike at the nearby colliery in late Summer/ Autumn of 1908 saw 450 miners “down tools” in protest at the “contracting out” system. By the end of the 12th weeks, miners hadn’t worked in all that time and were fiercely picketing to prevent any “less resilient” miners getting to work. A posse of police from Hallside and Blantyre took up position every day at Blantyre Ferme Colliery as the pit was idle.
The Coalmasters (Messrs A.G Moore & Company Ltd) however, were far from idle!
As they dug in deep, refusing to bend to Union demands, events seemingly under their control in September took a more sinister turn. With no work occurring for 3 months, the coalmasters were counting the cost and decided they would sack the entire work force, firstly evicting them from the tied miner’s houses nearby at Caldervale and Towie Place. It was of little concern to them and it was made known they would simply employ men willing to work.
Suddenly, the 450 men faced not just a lack of work and money coming in, but the very homes their families lived in were in jeopardy. Blantyre Ferme House, a former mansion house in the area being derelict on the colliery estate, was being converted into small houses for the few workmen still working so they could avoid passing through picketlines, providing accommodation for around a score of miners families.
So, on Wednesday 23rd September 1908, Andrew Watson, Sheriff Officer of Hamilton arrived at Caldervale Rows and along with two assistances, began serving summons on 64 families there and at Towie Place. The documents asked for all the families to appear at Hamilton Sheriff Court the following Friday morning at 10am, with the intention of them being evicted. The summons explained that because the residents failed to evict themselves when asked, they were now being asked to do so as a matter of law, punishable if ignored by fines and jail.
This affected practically 300 men, women and children. The serving of notices was done so without violence or opposition but many families commented they would stay until the bitter end.
The escalation was actually what was needed for talks to progress more meaningfully. Thankfully, in the week which followed, the summons were overturned as deals were struck, which would enable the men to return to the workface. However, the whole matter was a stark reminder of how fragile and expendable the community was, with the miners ultimately deciding for themselves they had endured, overcome and had their intended victory.
Pictured in later decades are the children of Fin Me Oot families, who themselves would have been quite used to, even in their early years, being part of a mining community.
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The coal companies “owned the people” since they lived in company-owned houses and bought in company-owned stores. The words of the 1950’s song “Sixteen Tons” says it all “They owe their souls to the company store”. Check out this song on YouTube.