1903 was a year of significant change at the Glasgow Road junction of Stonefield Road. Leading that evolution was the construction of the tall and impressive St Joseph’s Church on the north side, so distinct in style by use of its red sandstone, by comparison to other grey stone used in Glasgow Road. Trams had started running along Glasgow Road with the terminus directly outside Clive Place, the former public house directly opposite.
Robert Craig, in 1903, was a 52-year-old Blantyre wine and spirit merchant, whom after acquiring the Craig family inheritance following the death of his grandmother, built the ‘Old Original Bar’. Robert had owned Clive Place since 1885 and was also owner of the Westend, a public house he established over 2 decades earlier. Clive Place had been the family’s ‘Old Original Bar’, hence the fitting name for his new venture.
‘The Old Original Bar’, is of tenement style with frontage on Glasgow Road and Stonefield Road, initially with 2 or 3 shops on the ground floor on Stonefield Road. There were homes above the public house. Robert’s chosen design may have been inspired from seeing a similar public house constructed in High Blantyre at Broompark Road by Arthur Blakely some 9 years earlier. However, it looks more certain to have been influenced by the tall church being built across the road to the north. Indeed, his chosen red sandstone matches the colour of the church exactly, dare we even suggest possibly from the same quarry, obtained and hauled to Blantyre at the same time?
The religious influences witnessed daily during Robert’s construction, may also have influenced the design of his pub. Three large arched doorways, faced by red sandstone, quoin blocks adorn the ground floor of the pub, of similar design to the church doorways, opening out on to the pavement. It appears Robert’s Architect had put some thought into the design to ensure a complimentary appearance to larger, nearby emerging structures.
There’s no doubt Robert Craig would have been proud of his modern, new public house and setting nostalgia aside for a moment, perhaps he was glad to see the old Clive Place building, no longer fit for purpose. Certainly, in 1903, Robert must have witnessed many Blantyre public houses being upgraded or built in the previous decade and this would be his further imprint upon Blantyre.
At 2 storeys and L-shaped on plan, there’s a door on each of Glasgow Road and Stonefield Road as well as the corner itself. The corner is ornate, especially the upper part, which features 2 large column turrets and 2 smaller. Upper windows have small “French” style railing balconies. Cellar access was via hatches in both Stonefield Road and Glasgow Road pavements. The roof has always been slate covered.
Inside was, and still is a large central island bar, enabling bar-staff to serve in full 360 degrees. Some of the original interior features remain in the pub, including woodwork and plaster architraves.
Taking time to commission a ‘1903’ date stone at rain gutter level facing on to the Church, Robert also included an ornate and impressive carving containing his overlapping initials ‘RC’ directly above the central, corner doorway.
There would be no doubt. This was ‘Craig’s Pub.’
‘The Old Original Bar’ would have had a regular clientele, primarily of miners and the proximity to the miner’s homes of Dixon’s Rows is noted. It’s highly likely the regulars of former Clive Place Public House came to frequent the new ‘Old Original.’ From the time of his marriage in 1899, Robert Craig lived at “Craigrock” at 312 Glasgow Road, a short distance away. His wife died young in 1914, aged 49. Business consumed Robert’s life, not married until 49 years old. He was driven to make his pubs as successful as they possibly could.
By 1915, ‘The Old Original Bar’ had address 283/285 Glasgow Road and the homes above 287 Glasgow Road, the homes referred to as the resurrected name, ‘Clive Place’ until WW2. In later years, the cellar at 283 was dropped from addresses to give ‘The Old Original Bar’ its modern address simply 285 Glasgow Road.
Robert Craig died during WW1 on 28th March 1917 aged 66 from prolonged bronchitis. ‘The Old Original Bar’ had been his pub for only 14 years. With one underage child, young Robert, his estate was to be held by trustees.
William Francis (Frank) Benham
After Robert’s death, his good friend, tenant, cousin-in-law and trustee of his estate, Mr. William Francis Benham expressed an interest in owning the bar. William Francis (known as Frank) Benham had attended Robert’s house just before his death and had been there at the time.
When William Benham took over ‘The Old Original Bar’ in 1917, he lived at ‘Craigrock’ villa at 310 Glasgow Road, next door to Robert Craig at 312. He would live there with family for the rest of his life. On 7th April 1917, Frank Benham applied for a alcohol license, which was granted by authorities.
We’ve dated this photo of Frank as being definitely 1921 according to worldwide news posters which were on the side of the shop, on the rest of the picture. (not featured). Frank Benham was too old for war, but was a known character in the area.
Born in 1857 in Edinburgh, he moved from Glasgow to Blantyre in Summer 1893, initially living at nearby Dervoch Cottage as a booksellers assistant, with wife Elizabeth (Lizzie) Ann Pearson Craig and his 3 daughters, Elizabeth Jackson Benham (Bessie), Margaret Ann Benham (Meg) and Jane (Jean) Craig Benham. His only son died in 1895 as an infant, prompting a house move, this time to St Clair Cottage in Rosebank Avenue by 1901. The family moved to Glasgow Road by 1911.
Frank rented and ran a popular newsagent shop, adjacent to the large pend close at the bottom of Stonefield Road at number 11, between Valerio’s café and Blantyre Post Office, his full story covered in another Blantyre book.
He died on 13th December 1925, at his home at Craigrock, his will read on 8th April 1926 with eldest daughter Elizabeth Jackson Benham inheriting £901, 13 shillings and 6 pence. (Around £50,000 in today’s money). However, Craigrock and the shop at 11 Stonefield Road were rented and did not form part of the estate. The Old Original Bar was however part of the estate and would be sold on. His barmen at the time were John Gibson and Felix McBride.
The next owner of the Old Original Bar from 1926 until into the 1940’s was Mr. James Jones, a traveller of 30 Calderwood Road, Rutherglen. He kept on Felix as barman. He also took ownership of the adjacent shops at 4 and 6 Stonefield Road, which once were part of the Old Original building. Elizabeth Benham and her sister Meg would continue to run their fathers old shop at 11 Stonefield Road.
Throughout WW2, ‘The Old Original Bar’ was still a real miner’s pub. Dominoes, darts, talk about sport, the hardships of work and war, a pint after work type of place. Some of these old miners would frequent the premises well into their elderly years, long after the pits closed.
During a fierce storm in January 1968, residents in nearby Stonefield Cottage were woken by an almighty crash as the chimneystack on the gable of The Old Original crashed to the ground. It is alleged the same thing happened across the road at Mayberry Place.
A poem by the late Blantyre historian, Jimmy Cornfield, all about the Old Original Bar and its characters remembers the past. The poem is accompanied by a very suitable photo, courtesy of the Cornfield family. As follows:
The “Old Original Bar” Mob
(Craig’s Tae You An Me)
A bunch O the boys were whopping it up outside Craig’s Auld Original Baur,
They had all been in and had a good sup, now they were home for the war!
Whilst standing in the cold rain, a photo was taken by McGuire,
The ale had given them Dutch courage, to face she who sits by the fire.
Up spoke a voice from within the bunch,”I’m hame for the trouble I’m intae”
The rest looked in awe at this brave man, whose name was Jim McGinty.
Cousin Hugh then spoke, but he was alright, for a bachelor man was he
Not for him, the fear O` a woman, he was a gentleman and fancy free
James McFauld and Todd were another two, both single the same as Hugh
Not for them the wrath o` a woman, so they drunk the whole day thru.
McBride McGaulley and Morris, Coulter, Cummiskey and Finnegan
Cowardly looked at each other, then turned and went back in again.
I look at this photo now and again, taken in days O` lang syne,
The reason I’m not in it? I was in the loo at the time!
“Now the moral of this tale, is never be a liar
Don’t get a photo taken outside a pub in Blantyre”
Just be like me and go for a pee and never tell McGuire……..
By James Cornfield 2008
Amongst those who latterly worked there are John Rundell, Davie McKean. A couple named Bernie and Bella worked there from 1968 for a few years. Other workers included John and Mary Welsh and their 3 daughters Ann (who married Bobby Rooney who also worked in the pub), Mary and Josephine (who married into the Mooney family). Also Brenda McGuigan. Other bar managers were Katie O’Brien Anderson managed the pub for many years, living above it in the corner flat. Donald Storrie owned the Old Original for a time, employing Sam (Sammy) Johnston as his barman in the 1980’s. Jim Quigley, another manager.
The pub went up for lease again in 2013. In 2015, Punch Partnership held the license for trading and still own it, under the watchful eye of current landlady, Betty. When it was taken over by Punch, they painted the exterior signage bright red, as opposed to the black which had been there for many years prior. Visiting in November 2017, we took the next photo of the interior, on one of the quieter days.
In the flat above the corner door a family by the name of Forrest lived there. Three sons Charles, Jim, William and a daughter Lynn. The other two flats facing Glasgow Road, one was occupied by Mrs. Bell and her son Jim, and the other by Mrs. Bell’s daughter.
Today, the rear yard is accessed by a path to the west of the building. There is an open space behind the pub which seems largely unused. The pub itself, remains open with tidy neat signage, clean paintwork although the stonework has seen better days. A sign of the times are the multiple satellite dishes on the upper floor, not just for the pub, but for resident’s homes. A line of artificial grass adorns the façade midway up, containing anti bird roosting equipment, preventing Blantyre’s birds from doing their business. From what we witnessed on our visit, staff are attentive and engaged in playful banter with all the punters whilst going about their job. You won’t get to the bar without somebody telling a story.
As with all pubs in Blantyre, it has its own set of regular and loyal customers. It is safe to say at time of writing and at 115 years old in 2018, ‘The Old Original Bar’ is one of the few pubs left in Blantyre which still retains an interior with the old, nostalgic charm and a character people look back fondly upon.
From the book, “Blantyre Glasgow Road South – The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2017
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