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From the illustrated social history book…paid research by Paul Veverka
“Blantyre – Glasgow Road South, The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2018.
Within the square acre of Smellie’s Land was another block of miner’s homes, although much more modest, initially known as ‘McNair’s Land’. These were brick built small, one storey homes, running north to south along Springwell Place, directly behind Smellie’s Buildings and opposing Allison Place.
Constructed in 1879 by Mr. James McNair, a builder of Cambuslang, his purpose seems to have been to sell them once built, for by 1881, they were in the hands of a Hamilton lady, Mrs Hannah Craigen. Hannah was a factor of homes and lived at 120 Almada Street at Almada Cottage. She was the bondholder in possession. This was to be a long term investment for her, renting out to 8 families. Or should we say 7 families initially, as up until 1905, one of the homes appears to always have been empty, perhaps used for a different purpose or store?
The houses were all of the same size, 2 homes to each block. There were only 2 rooms to each home, only 1 of which had a window. Toilets were out to the rear but adjoining the back of the building. Let to miner’s and labourer for similar rents, the homes were often classed as Part of Springwell Place, the dead end street between McNairs and opposing Allison Place. Despite Mrs Hannah’s ownership, the buildings remained known as “McNair’s Land” until subsequent owners got hold of them.
In 1885, Hannah was renting out to miners Robert Lawson, Andrew Finlayson, Tom Barr, Dan Richardson, William Carmichael, William McGill Watson and John Breingan. Rent was £3 and 12 shillings for most of the properties, only 3 being more expensive at £3, 16 shillings per annum.
Ten years later in 1895, rent had increased considerably up to £4, 16 shillings. Tenants that year were Robert Lawson, Peter Devlin, Alexander Russell, Walter Neilson, George Leick, William McGill Watson and John Breingan.
Due to sitting back off that main road the houses didn’t originally have Glasgow Road postal addresses, but were numbered 1-8 McNairs Land until around 1905 when due to the purchase of the houses by Alexander Smellie, they were incorporated into Smellie’s Land, becoming part of Smellie’s Buildings and eventually all of McNair’s were allocated as being part of 19 Glasgow Road.
The name “McNair’s Land” vanished very quickly following 1905. Tenants in 1905 were familiar in Robert Lawson, William McGill Watson and John Breingan. Alexander let out the empty property and that year all 8 homes were occupied, the others being Joseph Irvine, Boyd Thomson, Thomas Spiers, Mrs Agnes Jones (w) and John Gray.
On Saturday 30th May 1914, McNair’s Buildings caught fire. During the same week elsewhere, suffragists continued to battle for women’s vote, the first airmail was delivered over the Channel, war was fierce in Europe and Ireland declared home rule. The alarm was raised about one o’clock in the morning and all the tenants were woken up and required to leave immediately with their families. So rapidly did the fire spread through the building due to timber rafters and wooden internal walls, that none of the occupants had time to go back to retrieve their belongings, clothing or furniture. It was a sad sight as concerned neighbours awoke in nearby Smellie’s Building and Allison Place to offer their assistance to the stricken miner’s families. Considerable excitement occurred when it looked at a time that the fire may spread to nearby Smellie’s 2 storey Buildings, which thankfully did not happen.
When the Lanarkshire County Fire Brigade arrived from Bellshill, it was seen that nothing could be done, the homes and contents all lost. Damage was estimated at around £600. The firemen confining the flames to McNair’s Buildings only determined the fire had started by a fallen paraffin lamp, filled with fuel. The tenants burned out were John Briengan, James Reid, Samuel Copland, John McGill, Robert Agnew, Edward Liddle, Charles McGoughan and James Flannigan. Of course all their families were too, with 8 whole families losing their homes and possessions.
You can only imagine the misery in them picking through the ruins as sunlight arose the next day.
The building was only partially insured, but owner, Alexander Smellie ensured the whole lot was rebuilt. However, it is clear from the valuation roll the next year in 1915, that some families never returned. Following the death of Smellie in 1935, the Lawson family who had been living in Springwell since around 1881, acquired the properties, which were adjacent to their grocery shop.
Despite the demolition of many other houses nearby, McNair’s Land lasted quite some time throughout the 20th Century right into the early 1970’s, ironically possibly due to it being rebuilt.
Unable to find any further remarkable or noteworthy stories for this small block, we’ll move on.
Springwell Social Club – Rejected
In May 1929, license was refused for a proposed club in Springwell. The Sheriff saw through the real plan behind the club, which incredibly was proposed for a space no larger than about 6 foot by 5! The report in the Motherwell Times on 31st May 1929 reported,
“Sheriff Mercer has refused the application of Springwells Social and Recreation Club, Blantyre, for certificate of registration under the Licensing Acts in respect of premises at Blantyre, the ground that the premises, if registered, would be used mainly as a drinking club. Objection to the application was taken by the Chief Constable of Lanarkshire. In his interlocutor, Sheriff Mercer explained that an accountant, examined for the applicants, calculated on an estimated attendance of 400, the gross annual drawings for food at £430, from mineral waters at £93, and from tobacco £291.
He accepted the estimate of the objectors of gross drawings at £1139. “I consider.” says the Sheriff, “an estimated membership of greatly exaggerated, and it would, in my opinion, be highly undesirable to attempt to house a registered club membership of anything like that number in apartment 28 feet square.”
Gambling at Springwell
Elderly man, Thomas Dunsmuir Hartman lives in Chicago, but is formerly from Logan Street, Blantyre. Around 2007, he wrote a short social history article making it available online about his recollections in Blantyre during the 2nd quarter of the 20th Century. This valuable account gave an insight into life in PreWW2 Springwell. He writes,
“Part of Springwell’s history in those days was Gambling. Every Friday it was not uncommon to see some of the miners wives go up to the entrance of the mines to collect the wages that the miners had made that week. This was before they went and drank and gambled what they had made.
This was indeed a very common occurrence for the miner to go to the pubs directly from the pithead, if she (the miner’s wife) was not fast enough to waylay him on his way home invariably he finished up at the pub and most times drank most or gambled what he had made. One can feel the frustration of this life they led and much more so for the women with their children. To the men this was an every day occurrence and the pubs were their only way of blowing off steam.
The Gambling was big! We called it Tossing or Heads and Tails, played with two copper pennies of the realm. You tossed them a good distance in the air and allowed them to fall without touching anyone in the huge crowds which attended these Tossing Schools. Springwell was well known around Lanarkshire for its Sunday after church Tossing School. This was planned in great detail, from the lookout for the police who were stationed at various intersections or highpoints to see any police in the near vicinity and give warning of a raid.
There was one person in charge of the gambling school and he was called the Baber. It was his job to collect all the bets and to pay out if the lad tossing the coins tossed two tails. Two heads you are a winner, a head and tail you toss again, until you turn up two of a kind. If you say that you have 10-30 men all gambling and most of them big strong miners I think you have to consider this to be a rather large crowd and such a crowd which easily could get out of control especially if they are on the losing side of the toss. So this Baber had to have his own henchmen and he himself was one very capable person to handle a situation when it arrived , and it did! Constantly.
You always found that he was without a doubt the local punch drunk bully and if you did not believe it to be the case he was willing to take you on to prove it to the crowd attending the tossing, and they did come along to try their luck at gaining this position, as it had quite a large financial pay out to the Baber.
If anyone tossed three heads in a row he was a winner and the Baber always got a cut of the winnings. This could go on all day and each time someone tossed three heads in a row he was pocketing a fair amount of money so much so, I can recall as a boy watching the Baber walk away with all of the money. At this particular tossing, he had pocketed so much money that he could compete in the game and finished up the big winner. Who is going to argue with the local toughie.
I have to mention the raids with the police. This was great fun for us kids to watch about 30 men being chased by, at the most at anytime say four police, this was considered a big raid, I think they called in reinforcements from the surrounding police stations. I can only remember two policemen at the Blantyre station. I can never remember seeing anyone caught, just a lot of puffing and grunting going on. I don’t think the police ever really wanted to catch anyone. Just a lot of show on their part. Talk about the Keystone cops, they had nothing on this lot!”
Springwell Place was a former dead end street on the south side of Glasgow Road. It is first referenced in 1878 and last appearing around the mid 1920’s.
Although the entrance is still there today, there are no homes or businesses at the address and as such the name has fallen out of use.
This should not be confused with Springwell Terrace which was directly opposite on the north side of Glasgow Road.
Former properties on either side of the road included McNair’s Land and Allison Place. Springwell Place was also the only entrance into the former slaughterhouse and Semple’s Land, located to the south at the back of Allison Place. A footpath now connects this former Street with High Blantyre’s Strathyre Rd. Today, it looks like this:
Semple’s Land (Dalzell Place), Springwell
Born in 1838 in Strathaven, William Semple came to Blantyre in 1881 with his wife, Christina. As a stonemason by trade and employer of others, you may recall from earlier in the book, around that time he built and sold Welsh’s Land to John Welsh. You’ll see from this chapter that later on in the early 20th Century, the Semple family of masons were an important family for Blantyre’s development, responsible for building many homes and shops and almost certainly the primary constructors of Auchinraith Road’s houses.
In 1881, William was 43 years old and was living at 37 Allison Place with his wife Christina (42) from Fort William along with daughters Agnes (19) and Gavin (8). Very much a tenant of others at this time, the Semple’s fortunes would change with the growing construction boom in Blantyre and Hamilton and work opportunities look to have been plentiful.
Between 1881 and 1885, William along with a neighboring joiner Andrew Frame had together bought a plot of land around 1 acre to the south of Allison Place at the south end of Springwell Place. Upon it, they initially built 2 small one storey homes for themselves and a workshop. For a short time, William was working on a contract in Kilwinning, Ayrshire, moving his family temporarily around 1885, letting his own house out to miner Henry Thomney for a year or so.
However William and his family were back in Blantyre in 1887, occupying the house he had initially built for himself. This is confirmed by their Blantyre presence in the 1891 census behind Allison Place again. William (53), Christina (53), daughters Janet (26), Elizabeth (22) and sons William (20) who was an apprentice Blacksmith and other son Gavin, an apprentice Stonemason helping his father.
In November 1894, whilst working for Warnocks & Horsburgh, wrights and builders in Rutherglen, William Semple was injured and on 28th November sued them for £500. (around £60,000 in todays money). The case must have seemed pretty watertight, for in January 1895 just as it was about to go to court, the company suddenly settled with William for £267, 8 shilling 6d. (almost £40,000 in todays money!)
With new found wealth and perhaps a diminished ability to work due to his injuries, this would go a long way towards securing further personal investments. So, later that year in 1895, William embarked on his next venture. His plan was to build many more homes outright on land already owned and rent out to miners and their families.
In 1895, William after buying out Andrew Frame, built a further 17 homes, all around the perimeter of his square acre. Two large stone tenement blocks were constructed, each with capacity to rent out to 6 families. A further 5 single storey houses were built from brick or stone too, and when finished, along with his former 2 single storey homes, the enclosure had a courtyard type appearance. This was Semple’s Land and part of Springwell Place.
William moved into the largest, which at £10 rated value was one of the largest in Springwell of the 19th Century.
The next 2 largest homes were occupied by his former business partner Andrew Frame and James Divine, both masons. They were renting from William for £8, 10 shilling per annum. The other 16 houses were let to miners, carters and in one instance, a widow each for £5, 10 shillings.
Other tenants in 1895 included miners and labourers, John Gray, William Nichol, Hugh Grant, Thomas Gray, Joseph Gray, Thomas McCall, William McEwan, James Clelland, Thomas Gray, Henry Steven, James Downie, Matthew Sorbie, James Forbes, Mrs Marion Davidson, Edward Briggs, William Waddell and Andrew Gibson.
With a guaranteed income coming steadily in, between 1895 and 1901, William could afford to upgrade his home and he is noticeably absent from Blantyre in 1901, choosing to move away to 2 Oxford Street, Shettleston, Glasgow.
However, in 1905, he still owned all 19 of the houses letting the double storey homes out for £6,10 shillings and the single storey houses, offering slightly more space for a family, at the lucrative, decent rent of £8, 10 shillings.
Much more of a presence and more well known were his sons William Semple Junior and Gavin Semple both masons. The successful brothers by 1905 had acquired many of the former Springwell Farm fields, especially those along nearby Auchinraith Road and had started to construct homes. Indeed, it is safe to say that William and Gavin Semple were the constructors of Auchinraith Road houses. Not just houses at the top, but major properties like Melbourne Place and Radnor Place as well as the opposing Bute Terrace. Gavin Semple, b1873 was especially prominent in house ownership.
Tragedy struck the family when in 1907, William Semple Senior died at his home in Shettleson, aged 68. Brothers William Junior and Gavin inherited their father’s property at Semple’s Land and set about splitting some of the homes, as was commonplace in that era, in order to maximize rental capacity. Their 18 homes ended up being 26 miners homes, which would have seen inadequacies in space manifest. William and Gavin lived in their respective new villas one of which was ‘Dunedin’ on Glasgow Road.
By 1915, the Semple brothers, too old for war, had built further homes on Auchinraith Road along with partner William Ritchie, a joiner of High Blantyre. They owned shops there too, a smithy and had moved their attention to building several of the large villas on Glasgow Road beyond Parkville.
In July 1915, something prompted the Semple Brothers to sell the land and property at Springwell. Perhaps due to the buildings becoming hard to maintain, or subsiding (as some buildings to the north were) or perhaps due to consolidating their property empire to new, better built homes, they put Semple’s Land up for sale.
The houses still hadn’t sold by October, so the price was dropped to just £625 (around £60,000 in todays money), which even at that time was inexpensive for 26 homes and the land itself. The advert states £173 rental capacity, meaning any purchase should have in theory been in profit just after 3.5 years. If there was nothing wrong with these buildings, on the face of it, it appears a bargain.
Two local men formed a partnership to buy the land and houses later that year. Mr Charles A Easson of 58 Auchinraith Road and Mr Thomas H Bell of 52 Glasgow Road. Each man owned their own homes at those addresses but had no other property. It is unknown how much they paid for the private purchase.
The name Semple’s Land was gone by the end of 1915. By 1920, the partners renamed their land and homes ‘Dalzell Place’, which continued to be part of Springwell Place. Most tenants continued to live there even with a hike in rents by the new owners.
At the Sheriff Court, on Friday 1st June 1917, Abraham Swain, Semple’s Buildings, Springwell, was charged at the instance of D. W. Hiddleston, solicitor, acting for Blantyre School Board, with failing to comply with attendance orders issued in respect of his two children, Mary and Martha. He admitted the offence of keeping them out of school, and was fined £2, together with £1 3d of expenses, or twenty days’ imprisonment.
Also in 1917, authorities reported that a large increase in the number of people paying rates in Springwell had been reported in that previous year, indicating at that time the whole area was becoming very populated.
Easson & Bell continued to rent out the 26 houses right up until 1927, no doubt making a good return on their investment. Near the General Strike ending in 1926, the sanitary department were trying their best to force landlords to introduce running water, sinks, toilets etc. improving their premises, but many were reluctant to spend the money, so a lot of properties were just left to decay year after year. Add to this they may have been badly built in the first place and it paints a horrible picture. By the end of 1927, because of its sub-standard condition, Dalzell or Dalziel Place had been completely decanted. However, the owners then, without any legal permission from the Council, let the properties out again at the beginning of 1928. There were 13 one-apartment houses and 6 two-apartment houses and 9 of these were re-let to what must have been fairly desperate people. Eventually, the Council obviously got wind of this and started legal proceedings against them.
First, they traced the “reputed owner” and fined him £5 (or 30 days’ imprisonment) and then they went after the tenants. Seven of the tenants removed themselves after being threatened by the Sheriff, who then ordered the other two to quit within 14 days. After the fortnight passed, there was still one defiant tenant refusing to budge and he was summarily convicted and fined £3 (or 15 days’ imprisonment), it was after all this that the buildings were finally of no use to anybody.
Dalzell Place was entirely demolished in 1929, the land cleared entirely. Some of the buildings had only lasted 32 years. Residents of Dalzell Place made good use of brand new Blantyre council houses moving to the Crescents and to Welsh Drive. The square acre formerly Semple’s Land would be acquired by the council a decade later in preparation for their new expansive Springwell Housing Estate.
The grassland occupying that space now is still owned by the council today.
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