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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.
Springwell Housing Scheme
On Friday 22nd February 1935, a report appeared in the local Motherwell Times, telling of a drive to tidy up Lanarkshire’s towns. The Lanarkshire Slum Drive was initiated which saw Lanarkshire’s biggest demolition of residential dilapidated homes involving condemned properties. It was approved by the County Council’s Committee. The districts covered were Strathaven, Shotts, Carluke, Douglas, Newarthill, Blantyre and Forth. Displaced families were to be rehoused in new schemes in the eight areas. Many of the properties demolished were several hundred years old. The programme at the time cost nearly £10,000. It is around then we first see the name “Springwells” with an “s” at the end.
For Blantyre, this meant clearance of several old properties in Springwell along Glasgow Road and additionally the clearance of some of the homes at Dixon’s Rows further West. Combined with slum clearance of many homes at Merry’s Rows and so soon after clearance of Blantyre Works Village homes, Blantyre’s housing was in crisis, with hundreds of families either already or proposed to be displaced.
By 1936, the County Council had acquired the 4 huge fields of former Springwell Farm, which previously had been Blantyre Golf Course then subsequently, a poultry run. The fields were bordered by Auchinraith Road, Glasgow Road, Auchinraith Pit and some older homes at the south east of Springwell and were ideal for construction being relatively flat and well drained. With housing shortages manifesting all over Blantyre, and illegal ‘squatting’ becoming commonplace the plan was to build nearly 400 modern homes at a quick pace, whilst demolishing Blantyre’s slums.
The nearby Auchinraith Pit had closed in 1931 and the NBR line leading to it, unused, was dismantled by 1936 and cleared by 1937. County Architects and planners had however to make the housing proposal fit within the site and within the boundary of the existing Caledonian Railway to the northwest.
Five primary streets would be created, accessed from both Auchinraith Road and Glasgow Road. Burnside Crescent, Parkville Drive, Springwell Crescent, Croftpark Crescent and Auchinraith Terrace, the street of which would follow the curve of the former dismantled railway. Plentiful green, open spaces were planned, including the siting of playparks. With 3, 4 and 5 apartments available, this was to be a modern, affordable scheme that Blantyre could be proud of in a modern age.
On Tuesday 26th October 1937, whilst constructing the homes, 22 year old slater, John Blue of Mossend received head and back injuries when he slipped from a roof. He ended up in the Royal Infirmary Hospital.
In January 1939, Mr John Flynn, labourer of 6 Springwell Crescent was charged under the coinage act of possessing a mould which could make half crown pieces. He was remanded in custody for a week.
On Thursday 15th March 1940, a 17-year-old pithead worker was killed when he accidentally fell down the shaft to the pit bottom, three quarters of a mile down, at Bardykes Colliery, Blantyre. He was George Logan, of the Springwell Housing Scheme. The boy’s father, William Logan, who was a contractor for the colliery, was in the colliery office at the time, and when informed of the tragedy, he collapsed and had to receive treatment in the ambulance room.
The Brown Tragedy
A terrible, heartbreaking tragedy was felt in Spring 1947 by Blantyre people, Mr and Mrs Matthew Brown. The couple, of 17 Springwell Crescent sadly lost their son Norman Brown, a Navy officer who had been discharged only 3 months earlier. Norman was only nineteen years old. The couple buried their son in High Blantyre Cemetery. Consumed in their grief, it was a week that would change their lives. Not just one day upon returning from the funeral, their other elder son, twenty one year old Alexander Brown also died at the family home. Alexander was formerly a miner, but had not enjoyed good health for almost two years. He had been confined to hospital for some time, but was discharged some months earlier, and had been under medical care at home for some months.
Springwell Crescent Fire
A bricklayer, Frank Dunsmuir (27), was the hero of a fire which broke out in the early hours in the morning of Wednesday 28th December 1949 in his father’s home at 29 Springwell Crescent Blantyre. The house, which still exists today is a four-apartment upstairs dwelling, that time in the county council housing scheme. The occupier was Mr. Hugh Dunsmuir, a 61-year-old retired miner , and also living there was his wife, his son , Frank ; a married daughter, Mrs. Mary Penman; and two grandchildren, 11 year-old May Lloyd and 15-year old John Fullarton.
All of the occupants of the house were sleeping in adjoining bedrooms when the raging fire, which almost gutted the entire house, broke out in the living-room, and they had to escape in their night attire. Frank Dunsmuir was awakened by the smell of smoke. When he got out of bed and went to the door of the living room he was met by a burst of smoke and flames. He immediately raised the alarm.
By this time the flames had secured such a strong hold on the house that the occupants had to move quickly to reach safety. Frank, with some difficulty, managed to get to his father, who has been in ill-health for some time taking him downstairs, then returned to the bedroom occupied by his mother. Shielding his mother from the flames with his own body, he made haste towards the door and she was removed to safety outside.
Despite the fact that the house and stairwell by this time was well alight, he went upstairs again to get his married sister , Mrs Penman, to safety, but when he entered the bedroom occupied by her he was almost overcome by smoke and could not hear anything when he called for her.
The room was filled with smoke, so much the walls inside could not be seen. He put his arm through a glass window to make an outlet for some of the smoke, his arm immediately bleeding being badly cut.
As onlookers poured out into the street and called the fire brigade, Frank heard from below that his sister was already safe, and had been rescued from another room. With the smoke clearing enough from the room temporarily, he saw his way back to the stairwell and made his way outside to safety, burned and bleeding.
The fire brigade managed to prevent the flames from spreading to the other three houses in the block. The six people who had been living in the burned-out house were left with only their night attire but neighbours and the community of Springwells came to their assistance that night, providing them with food and shelter.
Photo shows an aerial image of Springwell in 1950. Glasgow Road is to the left, Greenfield Foundry & Engineering works at the back.
Springwell Rates Shocker
A Rates shocker came through the letterboxes of Springwell’s residents in April 1978. Families from 43 to 81 Auchinraith Terrace found their rates had risen substantially for the coming year of 1978/1979, despite them having fought and won a rates reduction the year before.
The resident had their rates lowered previously due to recognition that the new East Kilbride Expressway being built was right outside their windows. It had been understood that the rates reduction of £1.10 per fortnight (about £8 in todays money) was to be in force permanently, but residents soon found out it was only to be during the construction of the road works.
Mrs Lilliene Walsh, Secretary of the Springwells Tenants Association angry at the decision took the matter up with Councilors, explaining that their situation of facing out on to the progressing road works had not changed. Today, nearly 40 years on, the problem of seeing the expressway isn’t anywhere near as apparent as before from those house due to the trees which have grown to quite a size screening much of the road, but there are still gaps, especially at bridges.
Now clearly, with so many families living there for 80 years, the stories are numerous and would take up a book in itself. Of course much of Springwells Housing Scheme is situated away from Glasgow Road, so we won’t go into huge detail for this housing scheme. However as the scheme is so large and with such proximity to Glasgow Road to ignore, there is an important point worth exploring about Springwells Housing Scheme.
Springwells – Lack of Budget
With such huge sums of money spent initially on Springwells Housing Scheme in the late 1930’s and the apparent happiness of families in their new homes, a problem soon arose in post WW2 years when the council stopped providing any decent maintenance budgets and concentrated on providing public buildings elsewhere in Blantyre. They left Springwells budget each year lacking any meaningful contribution.
From the early 1960’s onwards, Springwells started to become even more neglected by the council. The lack of private housing left council rented tenants constantly waiting for the council workers to conduct repairs and improvements and the situation eventually became intolerable. By the 1970’s, Springwell Housing Scheme had started to become run down, appearing neglected in many places and worryingly for residents, homes soon started to be boarded up and people started to move away. Combined with an overwhelming, widespread vandalism problem in the 1970’s all over Blantyre, Springwells eventually gained the suggestion of being a notoriously rough neighbourhood.
One family living in fear
Bullet holes, smashed windows, broken bottles, terrified women. Young Blantyre soldier Jim Greer must have seen it all during his service in Ulster. However, when he returned home at the end of January 1978, he saw it all again! He returned home to find his mother living in terror in what was yet another vandal attack on their home in Springwells.
His mother, Veronica Greer (pictured) said, “I’m in a state of near collapse. I need to get out of this area and Jim has enough to worry about dealing with events in Ulster. “
Mrs. Greer lived with her 13 year old daughter in Auchinraith Terrace at the time. She told police, “after Jim left last year, windows were smashed and somebody even shot out a window with a bullet! Bricks, bottles, dog and even human dirt has been thrown at our house.”
Her application to move in Blantyre was turned down on account of her having a home already. The last straw came when she awoke one morning to see her door window smashed out. So, she walked up to the Police Station to report it and on her return found that even during that short visit, vandals had returned and smashed her back windows. Vandalism was a huge problem all over Blantyre in 1978. Some public buildings including churches were broken down and residents blamed a perceived glue sniffing youth culture. Perhaps the Greer family had been targeted as there were no men in the house at the time.
Springwells – Years of Neglect
However, the neglect of Springwells was not caused by people. It was caused by the council. The people of Springwells were, (as they are today) decent, hard working people, from good, kind families, and a strong sense of community, perhaps more so than anywhere in Blantyre. They looked out for each other.
Instead of rolling over and letting the council walk over them or continue ignoring them with no annual proper budgets, the people of Springwell came out fighting in protest, joined forces with each other in order to turn their situation back round to something positive.
Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s tenants groups campaigned for modernization, which was always put off by authorities. Council cuts by Government were blamed and Springwells suffered by becoming hard to let. Tenants complained of lack of repairs to houses, poor roads, street lighting problems, inadequate refuse collections, vandalism never cleaned up etc.
During the 1980’s an increasing number of empty houses started to appear. The Housing Department called these ‘voids.’ In 1990 half of the 110 homes in Burnside Crescent were ‘voids’ boarded up, although this situation was never as bad anywhere else in Springwells Housing Scheme. The empty houses encouraged vandalism. Houses covered in graffiti, regularly broken into and often set on fire.
Springwells – Ending the downwardly spiral
In 1990, Hamilton District Council decided to sell the entire street of Burnside Crescent to a private developer, a most unusual step which saw them dispose of a problematic area for them. Hamilton District Council officials and councilors took this decision with, they claimed, the full support of the tenants of Springwell. In fact, they claimed that the idea of selling Burnside Crescent (named after its proximity to the Parkburn), came from the tenants themselves. Tenants welcomed the decision to sell. They were living in conditions which were intolerable and dangerous. However, residents then had to fight hard to be rehoused. They were kept in the dark , told wrong information, excluded from discussions and generally treated most shabbily. Eventually, at the start of 1991, they were re-houses. The experiences they went though left many people bitter and determined that no other tenants should ever be treated in that manner.
This remarkable story deserves to be told in detail and it is that aspect in 1990 that is researched here with input and fact gathered from the residents themselves who campaigned. Focus is primarily on how Burnside Crescent, Springwells was rescued from that spiral.
Tenants fight to be heard
By 1990 Burnside Crescent was perhaps the most poorly maintained street in Blantyre. It was said that if you were offered a house in Burnside Crescent and you could afford to wait for a second offer, then you waited. Some tenants had been in Burnside for many years and would have liked to have stayed. But the houses! People became scared of living in a street where half the homes were empty, where gangs of youths gathered, where police were slow to respond, where the Council refused to carry our necessary repairs.
With Blantyre being declared a Special Initiative area in the mid 1980’s, Strathclyde Regional Council clearly stated that they wished to tackle the problems in Blantyre and in particular Sptingwell. The plan was to tackle these along with other agencies, the District Council, the Health Board, as well as the various departments of the Region, such as Social work, Community Education, Police, Roads etc. For the next few years tenants had a succession of professionals from various departments and agencies working in the area to address problems. Some of this was even fruitful. A Block of houses was converted to provide a much needed Pre-5 centre for example. Other work was likely well intentioned. However, it was modernization that tenants wanted.
Blantyre Safe Neighbourhood Project also had good intentions. They busied themselves in surveys, meetings and produced a report concluding it was the standard of housing that was the main problem. The Blantyre Special Initiative formed a Springwell Sub Group made up of residents and officials from Social work, Housing and Police. This group was chaired by District Councilor, Mr. McKillop and Regional Councilor, Mrs Brogan, supported by Coordinator Miss Fiona Robertson.
After a short time, local people however decided to meet separately and formed the Springwell Community Group. Later on this evolved into the Burnside Crescent Action Group, which struggled to get meetings, with authorities preferring to meet the residents group representing all of the Scheme, rather than one street’s group.
Then in April 1989, a report appeared in the local newspapers under the headline “Housing Blitz”. The District Council had decided to call in a Housing Consultancy , Scotia House, to draw up plans to give Whitehill, Hillhouse and Springwell a facelift. The initial response though was anger as tenants had not been consulted at all. The options were looked at by residents and a new professional arrived in Brian McAleenan, the Project Officer of Springwell Partnership Project. Ten different options were looked at ranging from bringing in Private developers to complete demolition. The idea was that residents would discuss then vote for their preference and take that to the council. The preferred option was to sell Burnside Crescent to a developer after rehousing the remaining tenants. The money paid by the developer would be put back into improving Springwells as a whole and the council got the bonus of being able to claim back the VAT. Springwell rejoiced and envisaged fitted kitchens, new bedroom suites and landscaped gardens. However, unknown to residents, the council still planned to modernize Burnside Crescent and plans to sell to developers were far from being achieved.
The problem however, was that some residents in Burnside wanted to remain in the area, not be rehoused, and certainly didn’t want to buy their own home from a developer. Some tenants refused to go along with the majority plan.
The Council’s Decision
By August 1989, as was to be expected, the resident’s plan was controversial. Within the Labour Party, opposition to selling off Council houses was strong. Selling to private developers, a first for the area was causing political divides.
In September 1989, Mr McAleenan presented a report to the District Council outlining further detail about how any sell off proposal would work and encouraged the Council to investigate costings for the sale.
On 22nd March 1990, the Policy and Resources Committee finally met to agree whether to sell or not. Many local residents attended the meeting, punching the air and shouting in joy as the Council took the decision to sell off Burnside Crescent for £1m to a Private Developer. Burnside residents, for the best part were pleased on the basis that they thought it meant immediate rehousing. Little did they know the council hadn’t even thought of this yet!
Burnside Blight worsens
Even with the 1990 decision made, conditions in Burnside Crescent immediately got worse. Gangs of up to 50 youths congregated there every night, one block of houses became known locally as “the lounge”, a favourite gathering point. Vandalism progressed beyond stone throwing and graffiti and on several occasions, cars and debris blocked either end of the street and were set on fire. Taxi drivers refused to enter the street and for the remaining tenants, particularly those with children, were incredibly terrifying. Police were slow and at times non existent. A security firm employed in the area were completely ineffective, admitting this and pulled out.
It was sad to see stigma of the area spreading over Blantyre with others not understanding the situation, wrongly thinking it must have been on tenants making.
Campaigning for Rehousing
No timetable was set in 1990 and residents had no idea when they would be rehoused. Feelings quickly turned to anger at the inaction and lack of communication. Rumours were rife. What would happen to those who refused to leave? Where would they be settled? What if you owned rent? What if the sell off to developers fell through? Nothing seemed to be happening and in Springtime 1990, residents became desperate for answers.
On 23rd May 1990 residents organized an impromptu sit-in in the Pre-5 centre situated on the other side of the Scheme. It was well attended, the offices on the first floor occupied and staff denied access. Eventually, later that afternoon authorities agreed to take a delegation of tenants to the Town Hall. Instead, all the sit in protesters went. Despite this, the result was still no firm assurances on being rehoused but it had made people take notice. The event also attracted huge attention from the press, following deliberate leaks.
The protesters met in meetings throughout May and June that year, the events taking place 3 times a week, forming the Burnside Crescent Action Group. (BCAG). The group organized placards and banners and repeatedly told Councilors, “its not vandalism we have, its terrorism!”. An response in June was to install new security firm, “Allander Security” who opted to try recruiting local people. Also in June, MP George Robertson dropped by the Pre-5 Centre and although sympathized when he saw the street, he said it was outwith his hands.
The Council promised they would discuss it quickly and said they would meet with tenants on 22nd June. Meantime, Burnside residents asked their neighbours in other streets to join in their campaign.
The councils promised meeting took place in Springwells Neighbourhood Hall on Friday 22nd June 1990 at 2pm. It was very well attended and the meeting opened in perhaps not the best way with authorities commenting on the nature of the campaigns becoming darker and of troublemaking attitude. However Councillor Malcolm Waugh kept things on track and intimated the plan was certainly to get residents rehoused before the street was sold and work on regenerating the homes started. This was a major step forward and what many tenants wanted to hear. A timetable was presented regarding the developers work, but frustratingly did not have the tenants rehousing on it.
Negotiations and the deal
Now, you may be thinking already, why on earth did the council take so long to rehouse residents. Well, truth be told, like most council related matters, it was to do with money. Unknown to residents at that time, in the background the councils negotiations were not going well with developers. The resale value of each house in Burnside Crescent had dropped from £4,000 to only £1,000 per house! The price the developers were willing to pay had fallen from £1m, to just £400,000 for the whole street. It hugely affected the proposal and the amount available to regenerate Springwells and threatened also to undermine the whole proposal. It was clear the Developers were using the press coverage and urgency of the situation to their advantage.
The “cat was out the bag” on 26th June when one of the tenants attended a meeting in the council’s public gallery and heard for himself how the value had dropped. Additionally, it was heard that rehousing may actually take another 6 months. Just one day later when this news was relayed to the BCAG, the angry group decided to properly organize themselves electing committee members and once again staged another sit in, this time in the Housing office on 12th July. An indication of the mistrust of the authorities at that stage was demonstrated by tape recorders being hidden in the room and at future meetings, in case things were reneged upon further.
By the end of July 1990, there were 24 developers lined up and a selection process primarily based around price was continuing. Meantime Allander Security had brought some of the vandalism under control. Part of a problem the tenants group had at this stage was that they became more interested in the money that would go to Springwells as a whole, for this is where they hoped to be rehoused. The developer of course more interested in Burnside Crescent, poles apart from the residents hopes and promises.
In August, the situation was alleviated slightly when it was announced by the council that tenants being rehoused would receive a financial payment for being rehoused. This was unexpected and ranged from £300 for people living in houses under a year to £1,500 for being in homes more than 5 years. As residents were being rehoused anyway, the news was considered as a bonus. The news was also welcomed when it was further announced on 22nd August that those owning rents would have their rent debt deducted from the financial payment, again those in debt, seeing this as win-win. Council repair bills for them leaving would be scrapped, for no new council tenants would be moving into these council homes. The financial good news continued when the council agreed to pick up all home moving costs.
The bad news however, issued at the same time as these sweeteners, was that re-housing would take until February 1991 due to plans by the developer. More bad news followed when it was suggested that temporary housing may be the answer in the short term.
The meeting held on 11th September to discuss all this latest news was relatively calm, residents more or less glad that their finances were being considered. Residents more or less accepted they would be spending one more Xmas at Burnside Crescent. At the end of November the council’s rent department made a mistake or epic proportions, sending rent demands to all the residents, contrary to the promises made to them by Councilors. The matter was quickly deflated though and appeased.
Finally, on 29th November 1990, Bellway Homes was announced as being the preferred developer. The Christmas period out the way, tenants finally started to get rehoused, many suspicious that the delay in rehousing had entirely been due to awaiting the council to sign the dotted line with Bellway.
By mid February 1991, most of the Burnside Crescent tenants had been rehoused, in homes they found very acceptable and with payments made to them relatively smoothly. The Council had found 50 homes all over Blantyre. It left a mixture of emotions with many people convinced they would have been happy being modernized in Burnside Crescent. The whole process had left nerves shattered, stressed people to the hilt, seen health suffer and of course had seen people live through terror in their own streets for several years. 110 homes were bought by Bellway, which undertook work quickly after, selling them off as private housing no doubt for a handsome profit.
It was difficult for many former Springwell residents to read the Hamilton Advertiser report in February 1991, where Councilor Tom McCabe so openly and blatantly and in true Council propaganda style, had commented how smooth the whole process had been!
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