Crossbasket’s New Year Dance, 1899

On the evening of Thursday 5th January 1899, Mr and Mrs Neilson, the owners of Crossbasket House and Estate put on a lavish New Year celebration for the household servants and employees of the Estate. A number totalling 60 people. Such was their desire to show their appreciation, no expense was spared.

A supper and dance was put on with entertainment. The supper room was artistically decorated with evergreens and Chinese lanterns by Mr Bell the gardener and his efficient assistants which gave the room a charming and seasonable appearance.

After the large company had done ample justice to the large spread of seasonal food prepared by Mrs Grant the Cook, the health of Mr and Mrs Neilson were proposed by Mr Watters the Butler. A response followed for “all the honours three”.

Mr Bell then proposed toasts of health to the young members of the family which was received by applause. The whole company then adjourned to the ballroom where dancing was kept up to the spirited strains of the violins of Messrs Rodger and Frase till far beyond “the wee short hours ayont the twal.” During the evening other songs were rendered in a very pleasing style by Messrs Utterson and Scott and Messrs Bryden, Watters, Black and Davidson. Mr Morrison officiated as M.C and under his cause all went “merry as a marriage bell”. Thanks were given to Mr Watters for the way everything had been arranged.

The whole night was brought to a close by the full company singing “Auld Lang Syne” in a late hour.

Hearing of servants, cooks and butlers for this couple living in such privilege was a reminder that despite their intentional kindness to those working for them, this was NOT the norm for the rest of Blantyre, many of whom were mining families, whom in those years, in the midst of a harsh winter would only enjoy a couple of days off at New Year, struggling to make ends meet. These were indeed different times.

Illustration by AI.

On social media, the following comments were provided by readers:

Elizabeth Weaver I don’t suppose there was much left to do by the time the gardener and his assistants had decorated the supper room, and Mrs Grant the cook had prepared all the food, with Mr Watters the butler supervising the below-stairs staff. Maybe Mr and Mrs Neilson did the cleaning and fire-lighting and got up early the next day to do the breakfasts as a special treat for the staff.  I’m glad I wasn’t around in 1899 – I’d have been permanently raging at the injustice of it all

Blantyre Project this was a privileged life. No doubt. The Neilson family had more domestic servants in the house than family members. All this was on the doorstep of hard working mining families living close by and the contrast would be very apparent. For all the injustice of ‘class division’, I will say this about George Neilson, he did donate handsome amounts to the community in Blantyre for various projects and buildings, fought to improve miners welfare as well as buying the Spittal colliery when it closed. He put over 300 men and boys back into work, after they lost their jobs when the previous owners closed the mine. This did lift many families out of the hardship of losing their homes at Spittal Row. A different era. After he left Crossbasket, the subsequent 20th Century owners, never really put the necessary investment into the upkeep of the building and it slowly declined ironically just as Blantyre’s mining industry did.

Rena Caullay Such beautiful dresses.

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