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From the illustrated social history book…
“Blantyre – Glasgow Road South, The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2018.
Origins of Craig Street
Craig Street leading between Glasgow Road and Auchinraith Road, started off simply as a field boundary. At some point during the 1870’s, a track was formed along the edge of this field and upon expanding nearby population, became a small road, initially called, “The Slag Road.”
Perhaps due to the proximity to the Auchinraith Pit, the name may have been given from the pit ash used to form the rough road surface, an effort made to prevent the track being muddy. It was a quick route to get from Stonefield up to Auchinraith, most notably for miners who chose to settle on Glasgow Road.
By 1898, nothing at all existed either side of the Slag Road, not even at the corners of a busy Glasgow Road, with exception of the Congregational Church midway up the Slag road, where it is today. At that time, the church sat isolated beside this track completely surrounded by empty fields. At the top of the Slag Road, at the junction with Auchinraith, near to Auchinraith Pit Rows, the road ran under the raised railway track.
The most radical change this road ever saw was in the short period from 1898 to 1910 which saw quality, well built homes built on either side from Glasgow Road up to the church, then up the eastern side towards the brand new Auchinraith School. These houses would have had a lovely, rural view across open fields before any of the Crescents were built. Such construction deserved the renaming of the road, for who would want to live on a road named after ‘dirty, auld shale deposits’? The name ‘Craig Street’ was chosen after prominent former land owner, Mr. James Craig of Birdsfield, sponsor of the church, owner of the farm fields and constructor of some of the homes.
With other property owners including the Smellie family, Craig Street had arrived and would have been a desirable place to live in the 1910’s by comparison to some of the nearby more populated and older, miners homes.
Born in 1840 in Ireland, William McVaney and his wife Agnes Gilmour moved to Blantyre during the 1880’s. In 1891, they lived at Greenside Street (then called Green Street) on the north side of Glasgow Road, not far from where the traffic lights are now at Clydeview Shopping Centre.
Sometime between 1892 and 1894, directly across from his rented home, William bought a fairly decent sized plot of land at the western corner of the Slag Road, (later Craig Street). The rectangular plot looked out upon fields to the south and was located quite near the Stonefield Infant School. Upon his land, he built a small house and adjacent shop all on one storey, with a byre to the back. William McVaney was a dairyman and whilst he utilized the byre, his little shop was in 1895 leased out to Miss Marion Russell, a dressmaker.
The house and shop was likely built in stone or brick, for one cannot imagine in the 1890’s building a wooden structure amongst so many other ‘modern’ stone tenements. Needless to say, the little house was unusual, out of place and dwarfed by other more prominent buildings all along Glasgow Road. The house had a pitched roof, the shop to the west being smaller. The land around it was fenced off by wooden fences.
However, this was to be short lived premises and does not appear to have been previously explored by Blantyre historians until now.
On 13th September 1896, William McVaney died aged 56 due to sudden heart problems. Dr. Grant confirmed his passing and his death certificate was duly signed by a loyal friend by name of McKerrell in Henderson’s Buildings.
His widow Agnes McVaney is not in the Blantyre 1901 census, perhaps telling that she moved away. In 1905 she still however, owned the little house but that year it was empty as was the shop and byre. The couple never had any children, so it’s possible the area had too many sad memories for her and she moved away from Blantyre. There’s a possibility though that with good frontage on Glasgow Road, Miss Russell’s dressmaker shop may have existed right up until 1905. Between 1905 and 1910, the byre at the back was demolished and by 1915, the shop and house had been demolished too, the land vacant and a prime spot on a thriving, bustling busy Glasgow Road.
I own a wonderful painting of McVaneys in 1905 was drawn by modern local artist Harry Rankine, showing all the charm of that era.
Following WW1, the land would be purchased and would later become the site of the Central Garage, then in more modern times, the Western side of Clydeview Shopping Centre. It is difficult to imagine how much this has all changed. In the following drawing, we’ve highlighted how the building would have looked in a modern context to give you an idea of where it was exactly.
Central Garage (Harper’s Garage)
The Central Garage was a former vehicle garage in the 20th Century once situated on a fairly large plot of land at the western corner of Craig Street and junction of Glasgow Road. The approximate location today is where the central traffic lights and hardstanding is at Clydeview Shopping Centre.
The garage would also be known as Harper’s Garage, but Harper was not the original owner and indeed there were 2 owners before him.
Sometime between 1921 and 1924, Mr. Thomas Johnstone bought former McVaney’s Land, which at that time was entirely clear. Seeing opportunity in the growing popularity of mechanized vehicles Johnstone constructed a repair shop and petrol tank. Thomas Johnstone was a motorbus proprietor and mechanic and his repair shop is noted in the 1925 Valuation roll. The repair shop had a front entrance out to Glasgow Road, and was long stretching its length on Craig Street, with a pitched roof.
My Johnstone’s ownership came to an abrupt end, when in March 1927, Mr. William Mullen sued Thomas Johnstone for personal injuries he sustained in a vehicle accident, asking for nearly £1,000. In court, he settled for £350, but had to put up his repair shop up for sale in order to make the injuries payment. It is unclear if this bankrupted Johnstone.
In 1927, The Blue Line Motor Spirit Company Ltd bought out Mr. Johnstone and opened the premises naming it “The Central Garage”, a name first appearing in the 1930’s valuation roll. Managing their garage and petrol pump, renting it from Blue Line was Mr. Gilbert Harper, a motor hirer since 1919, and who had previously been a flesher at the Masonic Buildings. This was the primary Garage in Blantyre, the most well known for repairs throughout the 20th Century. In the 1930 valuation roll, it is noted being at 163 Glasgow Road but we suggest this may have been an error in the roll and that the garage was actually at 189/191 Glasgow Road. At that time Mr. Robert Patterson was a driver at the garage.
Gilbert Harper had in 1899 fought in the Boar War. He moved to 4 Craig Street in 1922 which was situated 2 houses up from the garage on Craig Street on the same side. He may have previously used small garages and a former coachhouse at the back of his home prior to renting the Central Garage in 1927 for £35 per annum. His business looks to have flourished for in 1930 he had moved home to a larger house ‘Forestlea’ at 16 Craig Street.
When Gilbert died in November 1934 , Barbara Harper (w) took full control of the Central Garage and that year concluded the purchase of the premises from former Blue Line Motor Spirit Company Ltd. Trading under the name G Harper Ltd, they are pictured with their renamed “Harper’s Garage”. Following Gilbert’s death, the garage and G Harper Ltd was managed by James Ramage, a motor hirer until he started his own business in the 1940’s. The Harper family extended the building to the west in the 1940’s.
Note: Another Blantyre website has published that ‘Gilbert was the original owner.’ This is not the case. Gilbert was neither the original owner and in fact never even owned the Central Garage at any time, only renting. It was after his death in 1934 that the family through his estate, bought the garage after closing their existing little garage in the 1930s nearby at 16 Craig Street. The Central Garage was a much more prominent business location and good investment
In the 1960’s, Brian McLaughlin who owned a local undertakers/lorry business and a mechanics business in Glasgow Road (Felix Mclaughlins) purchased Harper’s garage and gave it back its original name of “The Central Garage”. As well as repairs and motor sales, Brian also leased out Limousine cars for funerals and weddings and continued to be successful and used frequently by Blantyre residents.
This prompted a major rebuilt of the garage to accommodate more vehicles. The extensive renovations saw older parts of the building removed at Craig Street and rebuilt with larger more rectangular frontage on to the more busy and prominent, Glasgow Road.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, cars appeared in the showroom windows. Vehicles such as Austin / Morris 1000’s, Minis and later Cortina made an appearance and often tempted locals. A common service was repairing punctures and as well as providing petrol, the garage sold pink and blue paraffin.
When petrol rationing started in the 1970’s, staff were very generous to Blantyre people, letting them fill up perhaps more so than other garages. It created many loyal customers. Across the road was Hart’s Building which housed the Cosy Corner Public House and Peter’s ice cream parlour.
Further up from the Garage was ‘Watts’ the dentists which later became Oreste’s Chip Shop.
The garage was next managed by Willie Richardson, his wife Peggy and her sister Isa MacMillan. These ‘Richardsons’ were of no relation to the family who later ran the garage of that name further west. One September weekend the garage was robbed, the same day as a garage at High Blantyre, and despite being only a few hundreds yards away, and to frustration of staff and owners, the police took hours to get to the scene.
Many people worked there as mechanics, clerks, attendants over the years including Kenneth Crombie. Marion Aitchison worked in the garage up until it closed. The site of course changed forever when it was demolished in 1979, to pave the way for Blantyre’s development and the subsequent building of Clydeview Shopping Centre and Asda.
Moving west of the Central Garage we come next to a former 2 storey stone tenement named ‘Nimmo’s Buildings.’ During the late 19th Century and throughout the 20th, this building changed hands several times and was also known as “Whifflet Place” then for a short time “Hills Pawn Building.” However, during its lifetime for the longest period and in census information it was referred to as ‘Nimmo’s’ and that being relevant to the original constructor, is the primary name in this article.
The original owner and constructor of these buildings was Mr. John Nimmo, a former miner of Greenfield Colliery near Burnbank. In 1874, John clearly fancied a change in profession and is noted thereafter as being a grocer. The 1875 valuation roll confirms John Nimmo as owner and importantly notes that the tenants had been there “for less than a year.” His tenements were built at the same time as the nearby Stonefield Parish School was being built and when he first let his 6 houses out to miners families, they must have thought themselves very fortunate for their children to be so close to the school.
The buildings were constructed in 2 small blocks with frontage on Glasgow Road. The ground floor with shops, the upper floors, homes, a configuration common for many tenements on the expanding street. Access to the upper floors were via stone steps to the rear, accessed from a small lane neat to the eastern gable. At the rear were also a couple of glass houses suggesting the early tenants may have grown some food there or attempted some gardening.
John Nimmo opened a grocer in one of the lower 2 shops and in the other initially was Robert Watson Bakers. However, all was not well financially and John, being a miner likely staking all his savings on the venture was soon in financial difficulties. In May 1885, John Nimmo was declared bankrupt and his property was seized by “Hamilton Savings Investment Building Society Bondholders” acquiring the building as collateral. The circumstance prompted retirement for John Nimmo, but he would continue ironically, renting a house in the property he actually built right up until his death in 1903.
In 1895 the building society still owned the property which was now 4 homes and 3 shops. In Nimmo’s grocers, John’s son Zachariah Nimmo a former coalman was renting the shop. Zachariah went from being a coal miner to grocer and later to barman. He was well known in Blantyre and highly connected with the nearby Livingstone Masonic Lodge 599 reaching the heights of Vice President near his death in 1936 , aged 80. In the second shop was William Morrison a stationer. In the third shop James Bryce an ironmonger. Amongst the tenants in the upper homes in 1895 were Andrew Arbuckle, John Nimmo, Alexander Forrest and Daniel Cairney, a barman.
Change in Ownership and tenancy
Between 1899 and 1900, David Kerr a restaurateur bought Nimmo’s buildings. Converting the ground floor grocers on the eastern side into a restaurant, he acquired a beer license and opened a Public House serving food which was called “The Ale House”. The pub had a rent value of £40 per annum. With 3 shops, David a member of the Masonic Lodge lived with his family in one of the 6 homes.
David Kerr was living at Nimmo’s Buildings in the 1901 census. Born in 1861, the 40 year old was an Ale Merchant and married to Margaret Fleming (39) and with them Mary Ann Breen, a 15 year old servant girl. Following John Nimmo’s death, David looks to have named the building “Whifflet Place” perhaps to rid of the Nimmo’s legacy and to give the place his own stamp. Whilst researching this book, the only connection found to Whifflet, (a place in Coatbridge) was that it was the birthplace of his wife Margaret. However, with such short ownership, David’s renaming would not ‘stick’ and the properties continued to be referred to as ‘Nimmo’s’ for some decades after.
In 1905, along with his restaurant pub, William Wright shoemaker had moved into the premises formerly occupied by William Morrison stationers. In the other shop was Robert Sherkis ironmonger. By 1905 the greenhouses at the back of the building had been demolished. In 1905 the Edinburgh brewery who supplied ale to David Kerr was dissolved. Being a merchant for this brewery clearly impacted David’s business and he is missing from Blantyre in the following years, the buildings look to have been bought off him that same year.
The next owner was Mr. Hugh Mair, a spirit merchant of Woodside Avenue, Hamilton. Hugh looks to have taken ownership of “The Ale House” licensed restaurant in 1905 or so which was to have address 193/195 Glasgow Road. In 1915 the adjacent shop had been converted to “rooms” which were empty. Further west on the ground floor at 199 Glasgow Road, a former shop was now a house. Upstairs above at 201 Glasgow Road was another 4 homes. Amongst the tenants were William Sullivan a barman of the opposing Central Bar across the street and Mr James Kelly, another barman. By 1915 Nimmo’s Buildings had address 193-201 Glasgow Road, where 201 were all the upper homes.
Military Medal Awarded
A military medal was gained in October 1917, the recipient being Private Peter Dorrington, of the A. and S.H., whose wife and family resided at 201 Glasgow Road, Blantyre in an upper house at Nimmo’s Land. He was a stretcher-bearer, and it was for a particular act of gallantry in bringing in wounded that he was awarded the honour. Private Dorrington was an old campaigner, having been through the Boer War in 1899. At the outbreak of WW1, the old martial spirit in him revived, and he immediately re-joined the colours for the services. During WW1, he had seen a lot of active service but was severely wounded at the Battle of Loos. Prior to joining up he worked as a miner in Craighead Colliery.
Further Owners & Change in use
In 1920 Mairs “Ale House” was the only commercial premise with all other premises being 7 homes. Hugh Mair died that year, aged 47 at his home in Hamilton and Nimmo’s Buildings were inherited by his widow, who continued to run the public house until around 1922. The Ale house had existed from 1899 until 1922 before being used for another purpose.
Around 1922, Hill Brothers (Pawnbrokers) Ltd of Glasgow bought Nimmo’s Buildings. The Ale House was converted into their large Pawn Shop which had a rated value of £20 per annum. In 1925, both adjacent ground floor properties at 197 and 199 were empty. Hill Brothers were already in Blantyre at Anderson Buildings further east, but they closed that premises in 1927 and focused their efforts in Blantyre at Nimmo’s Buildings. During the 1920’s Nimmo’s Buildings consisted of 7 houses and the pawn shop and it is in that decade that the name “Hill’s Pawn” building came into local use. These were boom times for the pawnbroking business, a decade of depression, miners strikes, unemployment and all the misery of life’s situations that would drive some Blantyre people to part with treasured possessions for a fraction of what they were really worth.
In 1927, the Central Garage opened up adjacent to Nimmo’s Building. By 1930, Hill Brothers still owned Nimmo’s Buildings their pawn shop rated at £45 a year, more than double what it had been just 5 years earlier. 197 is not noted as being used in 1930, 199 Glasgow Road by then a house with 3 homes above them all at 201 Glasgow Road.
Hill’s Pawnbrokers was relatively short lived at just over a decade, before others acquired the building in the late 1930’s. New owners restored and re-opened the public house as “The Ale House” prior to 1936. All the building at the back were cleared by 1936. The pub, supplied by Bernard’s Brewers of Edinburgh would remain at this location until the late 1950’s before closing down for good and becoming Whyte’s Plumbers. They had moved from the north side of the road beside the Gazette offices to this larger shop at 195 Glasgow Road. During the late 1960’s this became Oreste’s Chip shop, fondly remembered by many people as being one of the best in Blantyre and recognizable by a large blue door.
At 199 Glasgow Road, the shop in post WW2 years became Haddow’s dental surgery. When Haddow’s moved directly across the road, Alex Watt dentists moved into Nimmo’s building at the former Haddow’s surgery. Watts remained there into the 1970’s. Haddows and Watts surgeries had a feeling of similarity about them, with the waiting room seats looking the same.
Demolition was again the all too familiar story of Glasgow Road redevelopment and Nimmo’s Building was gone by 1979, paving the way for the construction of Clydeview Shopping Centre. Today, the corner ‘Salvation Army’ charity shop of the western side of Clydeview Shopping Centre stands on the site of former Nimmo’s Buildings.
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