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From the illustrated social history book…
“Blantyre – Glasgow Road, The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2016 – 2018.
Jackson Street Western Homes
On the west side of Jackson Street near the corner of Glasgow Road were semi detached 2 storey tenements with addresses 4 and 6 Jackson Street. These were constructed around 1890 by William Sprott family (sometimes referred to as Sprat.) 4 Jackson Street had the name ‘Balgonie Cottage’, named after William Sprott’s wife’s hometown.
During the early 20th Century they were owned by 2 spinsters, part of the Sprott and Gray families. Margaret Gray was a teacher and in 1915 was renting each house out to ladies by name of Agnes Sprott and Margaret Gray, each for £11 per annum and most likely her family members. The Sprott family owned earlier homes and shops on Glasgow Road nearby and adjacent to these houses. The brick built tenements were demolished around 1977.
Sprott’s Buildings were former double storey stone tenements with frontage on at 127-137 Glasgow Road. Smaller than nearby Avon and Henderson’s Buildings they date from the same approximate era.
In the 1870’s, George Sprott (b1822) who had previously been a miner changed profession and became a shoemaker, taking opportunity to be involved in the growing expansion of Blantyre’s Glasgow Road. In 1879, nearing retirement he constructed these tenements on a plot of unused land, previously fields. Initially 2 shops and 3 houses, they would be hemmed in between a track to become Jackson Street to the east and the newly built Merry’s Rows (tied miners cottages) to the west. The prior construction of the rows meant Mr Sprott had to build his property with an oblique angle at one end to make it fit the plot of land.
The name is “Sprott”, and not “Sproat”, a written incorrect term never used in any documentation, census or valuation (but may have been the local dialect.)
The shops were on the lower floor, the homes on the upper, accessed by stone steps at the rear, entered from Jackson Street. This was to be a home for the large family of George Spott, an investment for their future.
Upon construction in 1879, the intention was to create a public house / spirit shop at the west side. However, when son, Robert Sprott applied for a license that year, he was initially turned down, on the basis of suitability of the premises. The following year, with the building complete, his license was approved. Robert Sprott (b1855) moved from Springwell and would run Sprott’s Public House at one end of the building and also a shoe shop at the other end, assisted by his brother George Sprott Junior.
In 1881 George Sprott is living in one of the houses with wife Helen, and grown up sons Robert and George Junior. With them are daughters Grace and Marion and Helen, who would later live in Jackson Street nearby. His eldest son William Sprott (b1850) lived in an adjacent house with wife Agnes and their son. William is noted as being a “Hostler” or sometimes called “Ostler”, a person who keeps horses for others, usually at an inn or public house. In the other house was David Gray a miner and his family.
In 1890, George Sprott Senior died, aged 68, two years after his wife did. Eldest son William Sprott was the main inheritor of the estate, the new owner of Sprott’s Buildings and he set about to construct further homes for the family on his land, heading up into Jackson Street. By 1895 he had split the homes and shops up further and there were now 4 upper homes and 5 lower shops (including Sprott’s Pub). Homes were occupied by Helen Sprott, William Sprott, David Gray and Walter Neilson, a miner.
Shops in 1895 from west to east were as follows; Sprott & Company shoemakers, Alexander Christie’s Clothes shop, Neilsons dressmakers, George Sprott Junior Grocery and Sprott’s Public House at the end. It is noted that the public house then sold ‘William Younger & Co Family Pale Ale’ which cost 2 shilling for each 12 pints.
Change of Ownership, tenants and businesses
In 1900 William Sprott died young aged 50. The full estate was sold on away from family, the new owner being Mr. William Imrie & Son who lived outwith Blantyre. Mr Imrie bought the land, shops, upper homes on Glasgow Road and the homes on Jackson Street adjacent. The buildings and Jackson Street homes are pictured here in 1950, rear overlooking a mission hall.
William Irvine who bought the property was born in Fife in 1847. He married Mary Ann Smith and his profession is noted in census information as wine and spirit dealer. In the 1901 census, he lived with family in Govan despite owning these Blantyre properties and looks also to have owned the Blantyre Arms Public House, elsewhere in Stonefield run by Mr Bremner.
The Sprott family would largely move away with exception of Mrs Sprott, then a widow. Another family member a different William Sprott would perish in 1930 in the Auchinraith Pit disaster.
In 1905 homes were occupied by Mrs Agnes Sprott (w) who died in 1916, Hugh Cumberford a miner, James Cathcart a miner and James Graham, all renting from William Imrie & Son. The shops changed somewhat. That year from west to east were Blantyre Co-operative Society’s bread shop, Alexander Christie Clothes shop, Jemima Walker dressmakers, John Machie’s Confectionery shop then the Public House.
The Smiddy Inn
The Smiddy transformed from Sprott’s Public House and became the Smiddy Inn in 1900 although of course had been a public house since 1880. The name was given by William Imrie for an unknown reason, for there were no blacksmiths anywhere near this location prior to this or at that time. It may simply have been a “working mans” name he liked, hoping to attract the nearby clientele of miners at adjacent Merry’s Rows. (later Elm Street)
The Smiddy Inn was run by William Imrie Junior, who did not live in the buildings, but simply worked there. The public house had address 135 and 137 Glasgow Road and was popular with miners for its wide variety of ales. At the time the Smiddy Inn took up much of the western part of Sprott’s Buildings and had a distinctive small single storey store on the western side, which may once have been used for offsales, and would later to become a ‘snug’. After his death in 1922, the Smiddy Inn would pass to his widow, then later to another owner Mrs. N Wilson.
It was a real working mans pub. Sawdust on the floor, pipes and had a darts team.
In latter years supporters buses for the football left from this location in Blantyre, right outside the pub. Following acquisition of the Smiddy Inn by Vincey McGuire in the mid 20th Century, it would be renamed “The Smiddy Bar” , a name which existed up until its demolition in 1979.
Change to Imrie’s then Kidd’s Building
Of course change in ownership of the building, eventually meant that the name ‘Sprott’ was forgotten perhaps in just one generation, for this building became known for 30 years as Imrie’s Buildings and was being referred as such by WW1.
In 1915, 127 Glasgow Road corner shop at Jackson Street was now Samuel Gilmour’s Dairy Shop, which would exist there until 1936. Next door at 129 Glasgow Road was George Valerio’s Confectionery shop with Alexander Christie Clothes shop now moved out. The Co-op’s rented shop had moved further along the building to 131. Next door at 133 Glasgow Road was Isa Botteril’s boot shop, then at 135/137 Glasgow Road, The Smiddy Inn. Homes on the upper level had address separated into a,b,c and d.
In 1920, the same configuration existed except at 129 now occupied by John Clark and the Co-op had left 131 which became James Smith’s restaurant, perhaps a family member of Mrs Imrie’s.
On 12th January 1922 William Imrie died aged 75 in Glasgow and his wife inherited his estate. Mary Ann Imrie (nee Smith) lived in Mount Florida in Glasgow and her son William Imrie Junior would continue to operate the pub on her behalf. During 1925, at 131 James Smith’s Restaurant was now Hugh Kidd’s Restaurant, a man in his early 30s.
In 1930 Mrs Imrie was renting all the homes out. Shops were leased by Samuel Gilmour at 127, Hugh Kidd’s restaurant at 129 and 131, James Botteril bootmaker at 133 and William Imrie Junior’s Smiddy Inn at 135/137. The boot shop also had machinery being leased.
Mary Ann Imrie died in 1930 and the building was bought over by prominent business owner, Mr. Hugh (Hughie) Kidd. From 1931 onwards the building was to be known as Kidd’s Building and the name Imrie’s Buildings would, like Sprotts, be forgotten to time.
Mid to Late 20th Century
When Samuel Gilmour died in 1936, his dairy at 127 Glasgow Road became Willie Weirs bookmakers. William Weirs (a bookmaking commission agent who had 2 telephone lines in his corner office with Blantyre telephone number 470 prior to WW2. This shop would latterly merge with neighbouring 129 Glasgow Road to become Mecca Bookmakers during the 1970’s.
Hugh Kidd’s Restaurant which had existed from the mid 1920’s would evolve at 131 Glasgow Road into Hugh Kidd’s fish and chip shop, remembered by many people as being one of Blantyre’s best “chippies.” In the 1970’s it would become it its final years, ‘The White Elephant”, a second hand goods outlet which sold toys and household items.
In post WW2 years, 133 Glasgow Road became an extension of the Smiddy Bar at 135 and 137.
Hugh Kidd passed away in 1964 aged 70 in East Kilbride. The whole building was sadly a casualty of the Glasgow Road compulsory purchase order and redevelopment and was entirely cleared in 1979. Sprotts Building by name existed for 20 years, then as Imrie’s Building for 30 years followed by Kidd’s Building for another 34 years and lastly , by others for its final last 15 years.
The former property if it had survived would have been located on grass in front of flats (home to the Masonic Lodge in 1980) on the south of Glasgow Road at the eastern corner of Elm Street.
Merry’s Rows or Raws were built in 1876 to 1878 by coalmasters, Messrs Merry & Cunningham to house the workers of their nearby Auchinraith Colliery at Auchinraith Road. A local dialect of that time had them pronounced sounding similar to Murray’s Raws but the name is always written as ‘Merry’s’. In 1875 or so, around the same time their newly sunk Auchinraith Pit went into production, Merry & Cunningham (Coalmasters) obtained a long narrow field, formerly on the farm of Stonefield. The field is marked number ‘582’ on the 1859 map. Homes were built over 2 years. This was done to expand their existing row of tied homes built nearby slightly earlier in 1874 known as Auchinraith Row.
Merry’s Rows were 89 houses numbered oddly from 1 to 89 on the west and evenly from 2 to 88 on the east, the upper numbers being near the Auchinraith Road end of the street During the first decade or so they were known as ‘1-89 Auchinraith’ and it would take until the turn of the 20th Century for the name “Merry’s Rows” to be more officially used in valuation rolls and census information. There were 50 single apartments, 46 double apartments, 3 three apartments and 1 four apartment house.
The homes were brick built much like other miners rows of the time. The brick was rendered and whitewashed. Homes were all single storey, small and terraced. Every two homes shared a chimneystack. Each home had a front door opening out on to a small pavement at what is now modern day Elm Street, one window at the front, and one at the rear. The windows had wooden shutters on them. Roofs were pitched and slated with grey Scottish slates. Internal walls were not lathed and strapped, but were plastered on top of the brick. There was no damp course and floors were wooden and ventilated underneath.
Homes on the Eastern side were one continuous block of terraced properties stretching from Glasgow Road to the junction of Auchinraith Road. These homes were one roomed with the bedroom doubling as living area that had 2 beds recessed in the corners.
On the opposite western side of the road the houses, in 7 terraced blocks were larger, two roomed homes. These had one bed in the bedroom and 2 recessed beds in a separate living area. The homes had no hot water and no inside toilet. A coal fire heated the house and oven. The oven was located at the side of the fire and there was no control of the oven temperature; to complete the set-up, was gas lighting and a two-ring gas burner. On that western side, there is evidence that certainly initially, only 6 of the western blocks were lived in, for houses numbered 1 to 13, immediately beside Glasgow Road, do not appear in census records, yet the buildings are shown on old maps, perhaps having another use by the colliery. Coal cellars were located on the west side meaning residents on the east had to cross the street to get to them.
Toilets were six separate outdoor conveniences, situated on the western side of the rows, shared by all residents and upgraded somewhat in the 20th Century. Two water taps provided water in the street in standpipes, serving the whole community. The standpipes were located midway along the road. Adjacent streets were later Church Street, Jackson Street, Glasgow Road and Auchinraith Road.
Pre WW1 Years
There was no time to fetch water, when in March 1889, 2 year old Esther Jane Degnan’s nightdress caught alight, quickly burning the girl to death at her home at Merry’s Rows.
The homes may not have been built to the best standard and even when sewers were laid in 1892 nearby, the consequences of such improvements would backfire. A report appears in the Glasgow Evening Post on 25th August 1892 stating, “This morning, at half-past four, the back wall of three houses belonging to Merry & Cunningham (Limited), occupied by their miners, fell outwards. On examination it was found that other three were in a dangerous condition, so that six families had to remove their furniture. Fortunately, the roof remained intact, and beyond the alarm injury or damage occurred. The houses, are of the usual type single-roomed brick houses, standing in a continuous block of forty without a break, the back walls being hollow fourteen inches thick. Mineral workings directly account for the occurrence, aggravated meanwhile by the laying of a sewer two feet below the foundation of the wall. For some time past the ground in the vicinity has been showing signs of subsidence.“
By 1910, outside toilets had been upgraded and appeared at more frequent intervals including outdoor washhouses. Each family was allocated a washday. The washhouse had a large tub with a opening under it where you would light a fire to heat the water for washing of clothes, the children were next, followed by the men coming home from the pit. The house rent was deducted from the miner’s pay and 10% of the remaining was issued in the form of store credit, which could only be used in the Auchinraith Colliery store or shop, a clear sign that old fashioned “truck token systems” was still being abused and used by colliery owners.
Evidence presented to Royal Commission on 25th March 1914 by a visiting housing officer commented, “We visited these two rows of miners’ houses on 24th March 1913. They are situated near to the Glasgow Road, in the Parish of Blantyre, and are owned by Merry & Cunningham, coalmasters. They consist of 46 single- and 50 double-apartment houses. They are built with brick, and were erected between thirty and forty years ago, and are a very poor type of house, low ceilinged and mostly damp. The rent per week, including rates, is 2s. 4d. and 2s. 11d. for single and double houses respectively. Within the last five years this property has been included in a special scavenging district, and consequently the sanitation of the place has been very much improved. The water is supplied by means of standpipes at intervals along the front of the row. There are no sculleries or sinks about the place, and all the dirty water is emptied into an open gutter. There is a washhouse to every six tenants, and a flush closet to every three tenants. Bins are in vogue, with a daily collection of refuse. No coal-cellars or drying-greens. A man is kept for tidying up the place.”
Education & Tenancy
Children likely attended the nearby Auchinraith School, which was still relatively new. The families living in the houses at that time, according to the 1915 census were: Patrick Skelton at number 13, Robert Graham number 14, John McGauchie at 15, Robert Regan at 16, George Wyndham at 17, William Blair at 18, William Hughes at 19, William MacConnell at 20, John Campbell at 21, Patrick Taggart at 22, William Robson at 23, Robert Duncan at 24, Patrick Donnelly at 25, John Syme at 26, William Gardner at 27, James Kennedy at 28, Hugh Dunsmuir at 29, James Cook at 30, Robert MacConnel at 31, John Bell at 32, John MacGeoghegan at 33, 34 was empty, Thomas Carrol at 35, Peter Ford at 36, William Allardyce at 37, Robert Milligan at 38, John Elder at 39, Robert Black at 40, John Walsh at 41, George MacGregor at 42, James Doyle at 43, Richard Docherty at 44, Frank Wilson at 45, 46 was empty, David Simth at 47, Andrew Burns at 48, Frank Croft at 49, Charles McIvor at 50, David Langmuir at 51, Donald Glen at 52, Andrew Connor at 53, Alexander Martin at 54, William McCall at 55, Patrick Donnelly at 56, Robert Elliston at 57, Hugh Tonner at 58, William J Tennyson at 59, William Lindsay at 60, James Allan at 61, Charles Duddy at 62, Hugh Gallagher at 63, Frank MacInally at 64, Andrew Dyer at 65, James McCormack at 66, John Duddy at 67, Thomas Buchanan at 68, Frank Skelton at 69, Edward Bradley at 70, Thomas Brown at 71, William Anderson at 72, Robert Orr at 73, David Orr at 74, James Connor at 75, James Stevenson at 76, Thomas Regan at 77, James Speirs at 78, Alexander Schlothauer (a German who later renamed the family Slater) at 79, Edward Cummerford at 80, Alexander Dunsmuir at 81, James Orr at 82, William Kennedy at 83, James Hunter at 84, Alfred Harris at 85, Duncan Goodwin at 86, John Pate at 87, Hugh Paterson at 88 and finally John Phillips at number 89.
In October 1916, Police arrested David Orr of 74 Merry’s Rows who was seen leaving McCaffries pub in Springwell in prohibited hours. Upon arrest, David spoke most unpatriotically of the current war in Europe, adding to his charge
In March 1917, Mr McWilliam offered his field to Blantyre Parish Council for 12 allotment plots behind Merry’s Rows.
Duncan Slater, whose family lived later at number 79, added, “The four households used the one toilet, it was located around the back, accessed by the space between the blocks, Nell said that our toilet was the most popular toilet as Mr./Mrs.Carabine, who lived at #81, had eight children.” The Slater family would later move to 1 Priory Street in 1937.
While the above is a 1930’s description of Merry’s rows, it was typical of the working miners family home in most of Britain even before the First World War. During the war, men who joined the military, traveled and saw how the other half of the population lived; this led to a lot of unrest; the communist party tried to unite the workers, but if any of the men attended a meeting they were sometimes fired and evicted from their tied miners house.
In 1930, Mr. Andrew Kalinsky of 20 Merry’s Rows was one of 6 men killed in the Auchinraith Pit Disaster. Other men in the rows were injured.
According to the 1930 Valuation Roll, Merry & Cunninghame at that time still owned the odd numbered houses 13 to 89 inclusive and the even numbered houses from 14 to 88. Following the closure of the Auchinraith Pit in 1931, many families left, but others took up work at Craighead pit and the homes were adopted by the coalmasters there, meaning those particular mining families could stay on. Other homes were taken up by squatters, as the 1930s saw a large housing deficit in Blantyre.
It was said that heading north up Merry’s Rows you could be “saintly” and go left to the church, or be a “sinner” and go right to the corner Smiddy Inn, although not on the same day! On the western corner of Glasgow Road and Merry’s Raws, beside the bus stop was an open air toilet, very handy for the public houses nearby.
It is no wonder those pubs flourished with so many miners living nearby at Merry’s Rows.
Sometime after the Auchinraith Pit closed in 1931, the homes and land were bought by the County Council.
Whilst the houses are still all shown on the 1936 map, by then many of them were empty, unfit for purpose and families were promised to be rehoused. In January 1937, the remaining residents of Merry’s Rows were told they would have to move out that summer, with the old miners homes scheduled to be knocked down. Some of the last families included the Carabines, Crofts, Duncans, Longmuirs, Patterson and aforementioned Slaters.
Many of the families living at Merry’s Rows moved in summer and autumn 1937 to new homes built not far off at Calder Street and Priory Street.
It is thought Merry’s Rows were subsequently demolished in winter 1937 to pave way for modern homes and a new street layout. Following demolition of Merry’s Rows, Elm Street was formed, joining Auchinraith Road to Glasgow Road at an angle running northwest to southeast, with wider pavements and modern homes on either side. The next page features the Slater family outside their home at Merry’s Rows in 1930, courtesy of Duncan Slater.
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