Not since the Blantyre riots of February 1887, had there been a more serious incident of rioting and disorder in Blantyre than the disruptive events which occurred on Saturday 25th May 1907. This is the little known story of riots on Glasgow Road and police attempts to regain order.
It started when the Hibernian R.C Flute Band was invited from Bridgeton to visit Blantyre that day. The two bands met up at the Station and marched together through the village, gaining quite a following behind. They then marched up Station Road, turned left and along Glasgow Road to their headquarters at Stonefield in the small Hall opposite the junction of Victoria Street (pictured).
Whilst the bandsmen were in the hall, some little disturbance occurred outside, which resulted in the arrest of two men. The police were in the act of conveying the arrested men to a lock up when they were surrounded by a mob, intent on preventing the police arresting the two. During the scuffle and escalated incident, the police let go of the two men and turned their attention to another man who was “Egging” on the crowd and seemed to be a ringleader. He was apprehended and the police now numbering 8 officers once again turned their attention to the arrest of the original two men.
The crowd had swelled, rowdy and braying for their own justice. A frightening situation arose as close to 1,000 people had gathered, the majority of whom were intent on ensuring the two men would not be arrested. The 8 police officers were set about, two of whom quickly becoming unconscious in Glasgow Road from the punches and kicks received.
A gang within the group spied a wooden fence on the north side of the road (pictured) which they pulled and used its wooden stobs and battens to batter the remaining 6 police officers. The officers stuck in the middle of this escalating riot were completely surrounded, but bravely held on to their two prisoners even whilst they were being pelted with stones.
Although it was only a couple of hundred yards to the police station (then on Glasgow Road), it took the officers nearly half an hour to get the two men into their lock up vehicle, so hostile was the angry crowd. By now, the crowd had swelled again into thousands of men, women and children onlooking as the incident unfolded, the passing tramcars having to pause or stop to avoid the numbers of people.
The growing menace of such a large crowd gave all the surrounding shopkeepers and residents a fright, seeing such disorder on their doorstep and many old timers remembered the damage the riots of 1887 had caused. The outlook was so alarming to them, that they took measures to close shutters and protect plate windows, fearing the worst and seeing the lack of control the police had.
Police reinforcements arrived and as batons were drawn, the crowd on Glasgow Road started to dissipate, the incident de-escalating quickly. However, not before the police had rounded up the prominent combatants.
Trials were set quickly, indeed only 2 days later on the Monday in Hamilton Sheriff Court. Before Sheriff Thomson, 7 Blantyre men appeared charged with acts under the Prevention of Crime Act. Mostly miners, the arrested men were Patrick Martin and Thomas McGowan of Dixon Rows, Charles McGuigan of Middle Row, John Griffen of Merry’s Rows, James McAleer of Larkfield, James Dorran a platelayer from John Street and William Cairney from Silverwells, Bothwell.
They were each charged with having on the previous Saturday night between Stonefield Public School and the Police Station, having attacked Constable Ronald Harvey and another 7 officers by seizing hold of them, struggling with and beating them with fence paling, kicking them and striking them with a large number of stones, bricks and other missiles. The accused all pled not guilty and bail was set at £8 each, the trial adjourned until June. During the subsequent weeks another eighth man was arrested. John Tomalty of Low Blantyre.
At the eventual trial, it did not end well for all the accused, with jail sentences handed out.