John Clark Forrest

jcfOne of the most eminent men to come to Blantyre was Mr. John Clark Forrest. Born in Shotts on 17th October 1832, John had strong connections to Blantyre. His mother was a Clark whose family had farmed Auchinraith Farm for centuries beforehand, with his grandparents buried in the High Blantyre Kirkyard. A military man at heart, he rose through the ranks to become the Captain of 16th Lanarkshire Rifle Battalion.

However, it was his other pursuits that interested and impacted Blantyre. He was an active member of Blantyre’s Parochial Board, responsible for making important decisions such as the funding and building of schools and churches, the clean up of the town and installing permanent water supplies. Although strict, he was well respected and could influence many civic decisions about Blantyre. He strived for betterment, cleanliness and progress. A family man too, marrying his love Jane Logan, five years his junior.

His life wasn’t without tragedy. On 9th June 1866, at just 29 years old, Jane sadly died. Despite being only 34 years old, John was inconsolable and chose to devote the rest of his life to work and career, never remarrying again.

Following the demolition of the tired miner’s row housing throughout Blantyre, and as a result of upgrading Blantyre’s homes and streets, John and Jane’s influence gave to the naming of several new Streets. They are still there today. John Street, Clark Street, Forrest Street and Logan Street, are all within his beloved Auchinraith/Low Blantyre.

As Provost of Hamilton from 1875-1881, he welcomed the Prince of Wales to Hamilton Palace in 1878 and later Prime Minister Mr. Gladstone in 1880. He was also the honorary Sheriff substitute in Blantyre from 1879, in which position he read “the riot act” in Blantyre during 1887. In 1888 he became Lieutenant Colonel of the 5th Volunteer Battalion Scottish Rifles in Airdrie.

On 28th August 1893, at the age of 61 John passed away at his Udston Home. After a service in Auchingramont Church and small service at his home, this public figure then had a funeral service the likes of what Blantyre had never seen before. It was by no doubt the largest funeral procession the town had seen.

His coffin was oak clad and lined inside with lead. Placed on a gun carriage with his military helmet and sword on top, the carriage was pulled by six magnificent black, plumed horses. His favourite Charger followed with his solitary boots, attached and reversed in the stirrups. Next, followed the Burgh Council and magistrates followed by over 1,500 local Blantyre mourners. The Burgh Police had to unusually attend the funeral if only for crowd control.  The procession is reported to have tailed back a mile and was ceremoniously handed over to the Lanarkshire Constabulary at the border of Hamilton and into High Blantyre.

Along Main Street the procession arrived at the Blantyre kirkyard. The stone walls of the kirk graveyard were lined by volunteers standing two deep in their bright red uniforms. His regiment carried the coffin down from the carriage, up the cemetery steps and to the prepared lair. (near the back left of the kirkyard). The nearby Church bells constantly chimed a slow, funeral dirge. People congregated in Douglas Street and Main Street and there was reputedly not a place to stand. Then, having been laid to final rest amongst a mountain of flowers, a firing party 300 men strong (5th Volunteer Battalion) discharged a volley of shots to the air.

From “Blantyre Explained” by Paul Veverka (c) 2016

During the writing of my book, I have come across John’s name so many times, it almost seems there was never a public meeting he didn’t attend. It’s clear this was an exceptionally important person in Blantyre’s history whose pride for Blantyre led it from strength to strength. There is so much more to his story that I really need to tip my hat to his memory.

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