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From the illustrated social history book…
“Blantyre – Glasgow Road South, The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2018.
Early Glasgow Road
The main road from Glasgow to Hamilton and beyond to Lanark seems certain to have existed in Medieval times. Its very likely that even in the 13th Century at the time of the founding of Blantyre Priory, our oldest building, that a rough dirt track existed in the location we now know as Glasgow Road today running from northwest to southeast. Travellers on foot or on horse, carts and carriages would have seen nothing more than hedge or tree lines on both sides of the track, with untouched landscape for as far as they could see either side.
By the mid 1700’s, Blantyre’s population was still only around 500 people, most of them concentrated around the High Blantyre cross area. Small individual hamlets existed, such as Auchinraith, Barnhill and Bardykes to name a few. Low Blantyre and Glasgow Road however at this time was incredibly sparsely populated with just a few individual farms scattered just off the track. From south to north, even in 1750, only farms such as Newhouse, Woodside, Wheatlandhead, Cottshill, Bardykes and the Priory Bridge Mill were accessed from the road which would later become Glasgow Road. Even counting the population of these farms, it is safe to say that as late as 1750, the population along Glasgow Road was still under 50 people.
The construction of Blantyre Mills on the Clyde in 1785 caused a population explosion with an influx of workers coming to Blantyre, mostly weavers, seeking employment. A workers village sprang up and the track leading perpendicular from Glasgow Road down to the village, which would later become known as Station Road was formed.
Tolls were collected on the Glasgow to Hamilton Road at a tollbooth situated at the corner of Glasgow Road and Station Road, taxing passing trade for the privilege of using the road for their business. Around this area the small hamlet of Stonefield started to form.
By the end of the 1850’s, Glasgow Road however, was still very rural, indeed some farms like Newhouse had disappeared, replaced by Springwell House and Stonefield Farm. In 1859, from the boundary at Burnbank, all the way northwestwards to the bottom of Stonefield Road, there was still literally nothing but Springwell House, the isolated Winks Inn, Stonefield Farm and a few thatched houses opposite, the aforementioned tollbooth and a few homes opposite and a public house called Clive Place at the bottom of the Stonefield Road track.
With the exception of Stonefield Cottage and Westneuk, there was nothing else built either side of the Glasgow Road track until you reached Priory Bridge’s Black Mill at Blantyre’s Western boundary. An estimate of population in these building would be between 150 – 200 people. However, things were about to take a drastic change with the discovery of coal in the next decade.
Expansion of Glasgow Road
The arrival of coalmasters who sunk pits in 8 different places in Blantyre brought a huge population surge with workers coming from all over for the plentiful coal mining jobs. To the east of Glasgow Road at the boundary of Burnbank industries like Robertson’s of Springwell and the Greenfield Foundry offered plenty of employment, alongside the nearby Greenfield Collieries. Hamlets like Springwells, thrived and grew in such an ideal location. Businesses had excellent infrastructure with railways cutting through Blantyre in many places. Further west tied miners cottages at Craighead Rows and Merry’s Rows housed the miners and their necessary services sprang up on either side of Glasgow Road, with property owners choosing to build traditional 2 or 3 storey tenements to rent out, usually with shops on the lower floors.
In the 1870’s and 1880’s churches, schools, halls and public houses all appeared, with several side streets, some of them significantly large being created as communities all along Glasgow Road expanded out.
By the end of the 1890’s, Glasgow Road had become very densely populated, the population of Blantyre tripling in only 3 decades. More new churches were built, many pubs and more homes, including large villas now starting to appear along the north side of the street.
20th Century Glasgow Road
1903 saw the arrival of trams in Blantyre, with lanes laid from Burnbank all the way to Stonefield Road outside the St Joseph’s Church, being built around that time. The line was extended westwards later in 1907 to carry on into Halfway. There is no doubt that the trams further assisted the prosperity of businesses in those boom years.
By 1910, most of the properties on Glasgow Road on either side, had started to merge with each other, residents packed into homes, forcing the build of further homes like Mount Pleasant in Springwells and more villas this time on the south side, opposite the Parkville, then the home of the doctor. The exception to all this were homes and businesses on Glasgow Road in Springwells, which still sat in isolation, separated from the hive of activity on the rest of the street, by the railway lines crossing nearby. Further streets off shooting at perpendicular angles all along Glasgow Road were appearing, as were small parks and ground for recreation. By this time homes stretched almost all the way to the Westend, although not really beyond to the west.
The depression and strikes of the 1920’s did not affect the expansion of the street to any visible extent, certainly on maps and by the 1930’s with the selling of homes to private individuals, Glasgow Road had become an urban collection of private properties of hundreds of people, with population in their many thousands.
In October 1928 Mr. William Marr, at a council meeting took protest to the decision to employ only men from Hamilton and Blantyre to undertake the proposed Glasgow Road widening work and asked that the skills of men outwith these areas were also considered to ensure the job was done as efficiently as possible. In perusal of their intention to curtail the tram service, the Lanarkshire Tramways Company suspended the service of tramcars between Blantyre and Cambuslang, distance of four miles on Friday 10th May 1929. Work began that month. This was to see the removal of tramlines and the construction of a much wider Glasgow Road. Residents were to lose part of their gardens. By September 1929, several public buildings had also lost part of their front grounds and gardens to the widening operations. This included St Joseph’s Church and School, David Livingstone Memorial Church and Low Blantyre School. Pictured in the 1930’s, is the completed work to Glasgow Road, tramlines removed and this whole scene, must have at the time felt very modern and attractive.
Decline of Glasgow Road
Businesses came and went and slowly but surely the buildings got older, some not maintained too well. By the 1960s’, well before the redevelopment of Glasgow Road got underway, there were 36 shops on Glasgow Road and 13 pubs, a large number you may think, but not as great as it had been 50 years earlier. A large proportion of these shops were dominated by the Blantyre Co-operative Society, which were popular with lots of residents.
The East Kilbride News from Friday, June 28th, 1968, touched upon Glasgow Road looking unchanged for 70 years! Nothing could now be more further from that statement, with the subsequent 1970’s redevelopment of Glasgow Road transforming the old character through demolition of the old buildings, into the modern streetscape of today. The article touches upon the “ugly scars” on Blantyre by these old tenements, many of which were boarded up. Remember, this is reported in a 1968 context and although the following strays sometimes from the subject of Glasgow Road, it is worthy of inclusion here in this book as a reminder that Blantyre looked relatively unchanged. “Look clearly at this photograph. It was taken perhaps 60 years ago. Yet today, without the tram, the similarity is striking. It is a photograph of Glasgow Road looking towards Stonefield from a point just east of Herbertson Street. On the right are the Co-op buildings, while across the road that licensed grocers shop on the corner of the building is still a licensed grocers shop today. Well known Hamilton and Blantyre grocer, Andrew Gilmour, who also had a shop in High Blantyre near the Post Office, once owned it. The photograph is one of a collection in a booklet issued by Mr. Gilmour to his customers. Others show scenes from the banks of the Clyde, the old mill, Priory Colliery at the height of production and the old hermit’s hut at Calderwood Castle.
One of these booklets has come into the possession of “East Kilbride News” reader Mrs Janet Tennant of 12 John Street, Blantyre (now in my own possession via Betty). Now 73 years of age, Mrs Tennant has lived in Blantyre all her days and remembers many of the old scenes. Turning these pages of history, she recalls, “Gilmours also had a drapers shop where I used to buy trousers at 1/11 a pair.” Mrs Tennant’s boys were Tom, now living in Bath and George who is a salesman with Robertson of Springwells, the mineral water firm. The Blantyre woman also has 2 daughters Mrs Janet Mackie and Mrs Elizabeth Graham. Mrs Mackie is the wife of Mr. Willie Mackie, the Co-op butcher at High Blantyre and lay pastor of Blantyre Nazarene Church. Mr. Mackie’s father, who lived above the shop where his son now works, died about 10 years ago, aged 84. It was after his death that the book of photographs was discovered amongst his possessions and passed to Mrs Tennant. Although firmly steeped in the past, Mrs. Tennant also has an eye for the future and she speaks proudly of her granddaughter, 8-year-old Sandra Graham, who is dancing her way to fame with Mrs. Hislop’s School of dancing. Sandra has already gained many medals and cups and she participated in last Saturday’s dancing competition at the Community Centre. From her home in John St, Mrs. Tennant looks across at the rear of tenements, which are now an ugly scar on Blantyre’s main thoroughfare. She also sees the public park, which one-day if county plans materialise will stretch right to Glasgow Road. Indeed, at a recent Council meeting, Councillor Frank MacDonagh raised the question of whether the park could not be immediately extended to the road at the site of the former, “Blantyre Gazette” works, now recently demolished.
As for the building where Andrew Gilmour had his shop, only 3 of the 7 shops are still occupied by a butcher, baker and grocer. The pend close is still there and people still live above in the houses. Of the rest of the lower properties, only the former Victoria Cafe survives, as a development fund headquarters for appropriately enough, the Blantyre Victoria Football Club.”
By the end of the 1960’s, several properties had started to become boarded up and unfit for purpose, forcing some tenants and shopkeepers to move. The tenements were cold, badly insulated if at all and almost all in need of re-wiring and plumbing. Timber rot, rising damp and woodworm were amongst other problems, not to mention many still with unwelcome outside toilets. As the colourful and vibrant 1970’s approached and especially seeing the accomplishments in modern new towns like East Kilbride, something had to be done to save Blantyre’s retail district. A grand plan was unveiled by the Council but sat shelved for many years due to the perceived disruption it would all cause.
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