I wanted to write an extended article on the history of Boat Jock’s which is now extensively researched here with several days work. This has proved to be one of the most interesting things i’ve had the pleasure of looking at and will feature in forthcoming books.
In 1667, a new area in Blantyre was created called “Boatland”. Situated on the West Bank of the River Clyde, it’s purpose was to create a reliable Western River Crossing for Blantyre, the nearest one being a couple of miles upstream at Bothwell Bridge. Boatland was situated just up from the old ruined Priory.
A building was constructed made of stone with a thatched roof and named “Boatland”, for the simple reason that it was the land where the boat was to be. The stone lintol above the door was marked 1667 and we can make a firm assumption that with the construction of this small cottage, the ferry service also commenced. “Boatland” was not only the name of the ferryman’s cottage, but was also the name of the area, an extension of, and owned by nearby Blantyreferme. Boatland was accessed on land by a small stone pebble path leading from Blantyreferme, down to the cottage itself. A small wooden boat was used to transfer people from the Blantyre side of the River Clyde to the Uddingston side, a crossing only taking a couple of minutes. The topography of the land assisted with the crossing points, as it gently sloped down to the rivers edge at this location. It is unknown who the original ferryman was or indeed who occupied Boatland cottage.
In 2014, i was emailed by reader Isabel Hamilton who told me, “My 5x Gt. Grandfather, Robert Nairn, b1762 in Stewarton, Ayrshire was a ferryman on the ferry between Blantyre and Bothwell. That must have been in the early 1800s.” I was able to track this family on Ancestry and saw that they came to Blantyre around the 1810’s, and this would fit well into the story with Robert Nairn then being the ferryman. John Forrester was a labourer at Boathouse until his death in 1807.
The ruin left, a new cottage built
By the 1820’s, Boatland Cottage had fallen into disrepair. A new, larger stone cottage called “Boathouse Cottage” was built and it was this building that later became commonly referred to in Blantyre as “Boat Jocks”.
The 1851 Census shows that the Crawford family were living there at the time with Alexander Crawford being the ferryman. Later that decade, it is known that in 1859 (from the valuation roll) that the building at that time was owned by Mr P. Scott, but that the proprietor who was renting the property (and possibly the ferrywoman!) was Ellen Martin, a woman living by herself. The stone cottage was rectangular in shape and three times as large as the original, which by this point was ruined. Boathouse Cottage was also thatched. The old lintol was salvaged and used above the doorway in the new cottage, to preserve the history, for the ferry had been operating, even by 1859 for nearly two hundred years!
Boathouse (of Blantyre Ferme) In 1859, it was described as, “A Thatched house occupied by the person who keeps the ferry. “1667” is upon the lintel of the door, but that date applies to the “Ruin” close to it, from which the stone was taken & placed in the position it now occupies. There is a Public Foot Path from the “Ferry” to “Blantyre farm”. It terminates in a wide, Pub: [Public] Road, which joins the Parish Road. The “Ferry” has been in use for upwards of two centuries. There is, also, a Public Road on the oppisite side of the river – Bothwell parish, leading to the ferry. The proprietor of Boatland possesses the right of keeping the Ferry, which is let to the occupier of the dwelling near it – Boatland. Near it there is the remains of a house formerly used as a dwelling by the person keeping the “Ferry”. There is nothing more remarkable about it save its age (1667), which appears on a stone forming the lintel of the present dwelling house of the Ferry. The Stone formerly occupied the same position in the ruin that it does at present to the dwelling house.”
However, the full-time need for a ferry boat in this area was about to change, for in 1852 the first suspension bridge was built at the expanding and popular Blantyre Village Works, further upstream. People now had an option of how they wanted to cross. The cottage was put up for sale in 1865.
A new owner Mr John Scott, an incomer from Carluke, bought the property in 1866. This fact and the next part of this history is recorded in some detail, taken directly from the diary of Alexander MacCallum Scott’s diary (infamous MP and son of John Scott). John was a market gardener from Swinsy Hill, Carluke, his family experienced in grafting and growing fruit. He planted some extensive fruit trees in the area at the back of the cottage, forming and tending to an orchard, which on the fertile slopes of the river was to thrive.
John’s income was supplemented by continuing the need for the ferry, whenever anybody desired to cross. People called him by the old Scots name “Jock” and would shout to him from the opposite River Bank “Boat Jock, Boat Jock!”. The ferry boat (wooden rowing boat) still operated regularly and is recorded as “hapenny” single and one penny return, the same fare matched to the Pey Suspension Bridge.
MacCallum Scott’s father once offered old Uddingston man, Archie Reid a job at Boathouse:
“Whit John Scott” was the indignant reply: “Wud ye ask a Latin Scholar to cairt dung tae Glasgow. Na! Na!”
This was a reference to a known tale at the time. That same season old Archie Reid was employed pulling fruit with Bob Scott of Totham cottage, Uddingston.“What dae ye call this in Latin” asked Bob, pointing to a ladder? “Ledderibus” said Archie Reid. “Weel” said Bob Scott, “tak that Ledderibus, an gan’ tak that treeibus an pull the pearibusses!”
Archie Reid was dumfounded and gasped “when did you learn Latin Bob?”
The orchard became popular with it’s fruit sold locally. In 1874 Alexander MacCallum Scott was born at Boathouse Cottage, Boatland at his father’s home. However, he was not to live there for much time, for the Scott family moved away from Boatland to start a market garden business at Polmont. All in all Boat Jock only lived in the house for around 10 years, but he must have been quite the character for the name to stick in people’s minds and give rise to the modern nickname of the area being “Boat Jocks”. I have several theories as why they moved. Nearby Blantyreferme, new nurseries at Barnhill and High Blantyre must have made business very competitive, when before that competition, success had been assured. The lure of family in another area….. Furthermore, with the opening of the nearby Clyde Railway Bridge and Pedestrian Crossing to the North, the requirement for any ferry crossing in the Boatland location diminished even further. Mr John Scott died in 1888 at Polmont, when Alexander was only 14. Alexander followed a career in politics , rather than fruit growing.
The low growing plant on the Riverbank is “Butterbur – Petazites Hybridus) which is noted for having the largest single undivided leaf of any European plant. Flowering from March to May, the leaves appear throughout Summer and must have made the scene look very green and picturesque.
Boathouse Farm & The Browns
In either 1874 the ferryman’s cottage passed hands to the Brown family as their home and business. (Source confirmed to me by Jenny Day of NZ who has Arch Brown’s diary of that year). Around this time, the thatch roof was replaced by slate with an upstairs conversion and dormer windows. The ferry continued to operate then on a need only basis with focus given by the Brown family on the Orchards and fruit gardens.
Archibald Brown the same year on 7th June 1875 married Christina Braid and they intended to set up home at Boatland. Archie had been living in Bothwell, Christina in Govan. With the assistance of Christina’s father Robert Braid, the Brown’s built a large, grander house to the South of Boat Jock’s old house. This was known as Boathouse Farm, but still within Boatland itself. The two properties sat facing the river, almost side by side. It is fair to say that to build such a house, the Brown’s and Braid’s must have had accumulated some wealth or been in good standing financially.
The Farmhouse was to be the place the Brown’s stayed at, leasing out Boat Jock’s house adjacent. The Farm steading was a rectangular stone building with an upstairs and brick chimneys and gables, with slated roof. With the overall area being enhanced, it may be that local sand was also brought in to make the river bank more pleasing giving the appearance of a beach, or cleared more extensively to show the sand below. The gardens at the back of the houses were extended to grow more fruit and greenhouses and outbuildings added for storage.
They started their family fairly fast, their first child Jessie Hunter Brown on 21st June 1876 and then Catherine or Katie McLean nee Brown born in 1877. The couple went on to have 9 children in total, all born at Boatland between 1877 and 1889. However, whilst the beautiful banks of the river offered an incredible place to grow up in, life was blighted by tragedy when on 19th April 1888, their daughter Margaret sadly drowned nearby in the Clyde. That must have been an insufferable situation, especially if it was nearby. The couple had their final two children at Boatland in 1888 and 1889, both boys.
The 1881 census shows that a 27 year old woman by the name of Margaret Braid (a relative of Christina’s) was living with them at Boatland as a maid. The rest of the household attending to what became a profitable fruit business.
Jenny Day, of New Zealand, who is the great granddaughter of Arch and Christina, told me,
“All of the Brown children grew up being able to man the ferry boat. When the cry of ‘boat’ came from the river they would make a run for the toilet so they didn’t have to be the one to do the job that time. I am not aware of Christina ever having manned the boat, as I understand it, it was either Arch, one of his workers or the children who did the duty. In 1891 there were eight children so there wouldn’t have been much time to do boat duty as well.”
By the late 1890’s paths led North from Boatland to the nearby Blantyreferme Colliery, indicating the farm may have been popular with miners, either to cross the river at, or to obtain fruit for their lunch. Similarly on the opposite Uddingston Bank, the road had been renamed “Ferry road”, leading down to the river jetty. Paths had been widened leading South and West to Blantyreferme permitting horses and carts to enter Boatland. I was recently handed some amazing old photos of the Brown family’s time at Boatland by Jim Brown (a relation?), which i’ve estimated from the historical facts, dates between 1890 – 1910. At over 100 years old, the quality is not great but i feel lucky to have been passed them. I hope you enjoy this gallery of previously unpublished and astonishingly wonderful photos.
Archibald Brown died at Boatland on 23rd April 1912, aged 64 years. His wife Christina died 12th March 1917 at Bothwell, by then having had moved. Together with their daughter Christina who died early at 27 and their other daughter Margaret who had drowned, and alongside Mr Robert Braid, the entire family were buried together in the same lair. I’m quite happy giving my research into the Brown Ancestry to any “Brown” of Blantyre. The steading and old Boat Jock’s cottage was sold on between 1912 and 1917. It is unknown when the ferry service stopped.
Boatland in ‘Modern’ times
The 1914 map shows considerable plantations behind Boathouse.
On 1935 maps, the outbuildings are gone and the steading looks considerably smaller, indicating decline or fallen into disrepair. The idyllic picture you would have seen in 1914, looked very different by the mid 1930’s with the Blantyreferme colliery bing and mine workings immediately behind the cottage. It may not have become a desirable place to stay.
Possibly disturbed by nearby mine workings, or simply the proximity to the coal mine, the houses fell into decline. A house is still shown on the 1957 map but is no longer there today.
It is really astounding how fast nature can reclaim an area once people leave. Today, there is little evidence at all that the houses were there, although the permanent reminder is the small beachland on either side of the river. It can be accessed from Blantyreferme, following the hedge line and making for the river. Pictured here in 2013, and with permission by photographer Jim Brown, here is Boatland as it is now.
* Interestingly, as a sidenote, Alexander MacCallum Scott drowned in a plane crash on 25th August 1928. His diary was washed ashore on 29th August 1928 , four days later on the shore of Discovery Bay, Canada and it is only through that remarkable find, that the facts of this history is able to be pieced together.
Sources: McCallum Scott Diary, Old O.S Maps, Census 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901, Ancestry birth and death records, Jim Brown photographer, Parish Valuation Roll.