In 2015, Gordon Cook, Chairperson of Blantyre Heritage Group sent me a message, which opened up an interesting (controversial) subject and required a little investigation. Gordon said, “On the web page of Blantyre Bowling Club they claim to have been established in 1872, and indeed if you look at the current club badge it also says est. 1872. But look at the Hamilton Advertiser news from 1866, which actually mentions a concert in 1865. Am I missing something obvious? I thought the Advertiser might be talking about the curling club they specifically mention the bowling club three times, so it is not a misprint. Could 1872 be the year they took possession of the land and laid their first proper green, rather than the established date of the organisation?”
Gordon had also kindly sent on the groundwork for this query, by enclosing the 1866 report from the Hamilton Advertiser, which said:
“Hamilton Advertiser, Saturday 3rd February 1866 page 2 BLANTYRE. BOWLING CLUB: The annual social meeting of the Blantyre Bowling Club was held on Friday evening 26th January 1866. Last year a concert was held; on this occasion, the club resolved to have a supper ball, and on Friday night upwards of forty were seated around the supper board, which was substantially and elegantly served by Mr John Naismith, the purveyor. The table being cleared, Mr Naismith was called the chair, when the usual loyal and patriotic toasts were given and enthusiastically cheered. Mr McSkimming, the croupier, gave the “Blantyre Bowling Club,” and congratulated his fellow-bowlers upon the success of their association, which, he said, was remarkable considering the very limited and rather barren field which they had drawn their resources, and that, through good and bad report, they could with pride point to the present happy assemblage as a proof of their success. Many interesting social sentiments were given, amongst them being “sweethearts and wives,” one which always comes home with a heartfelt interest. The proposer, after paying compliments flattering enough to the fair portion of the company, remarked that their presence on this occasion was sufficient to assert the harmlessness of their recreation, the decorum of their meetings and the temperate enjoyment of their special pastime. No scowl from their lady-love awaited their arrival home, and the smiling faces around him only confirmed his remark. The hall was afterwards cleared for the dance, and soon “all went merry as a marriage bell” to the sounds of spirit-stirring music. If not tripped on the “light fantastic toe,” a free hearty dance was kept up till being afraid of nearing some early cock crow, the meeting agreed to separate with the usual finale of “Auld sang syne.”
Gordon also forwarded on the picture of the club’s current pin, showing established in 1872.
Looking to see what other history enthusiasts have said about the Bowling Club, Neil Gordon’s 2004 book suggests is was formed in 1872 and that a new green was opened on 10th May 1878 by Dr Grant and suggested that a smaller green was enlarged to its present size. The question was then has Gordon discovered that the Bowling club existed earlier than the recorded 1872? I wanted to know more.
I knew bowling existed in Blantyre at Auchinraith, as early as the 1850’s for a recreational bowling ground is marked on the 1859 map, but what about this particular group of people who would go on to actually form a Bowling Club? Whilst at a presentation in 2015, I took the opportunity to ask Allan Andrew, current treasurer of the Bowling Club if the club held records from the beginning, but was disappointed to find that records don’t exist before 1900 or so, lost or destroyed. This was going to make an investigation a lot more difficult.
Let’s start at the Beginning
I wanted to go right back to the start. What was the land used for? Who owned it originally? How and when did the Bowling Club come to own it?
The 1859 map has no Bowling Club on it. There’s an acre of land immediately beside the church and manse at Stonefield Road, with a detached house sitting on it, which I know is named “Pilot Acre.”
(A pilot was a miner involved in making the initial pilot drilling hole to create pit shafts). At this time there was nothing around this, except fields and I know that the church was often referred to being in “Barnhill” suggesting Barnhill then in those days may have extended as far across as Stonefield Road.
On 31st May 1861, the Glasgow Herald carried an advert selling Pilot Acre and a full ‘scotch acre of land,’ which was excellently drained and in good order. The price for the lot was £150. We’ll come back to this area and Pilot Acre is a moment.
Establishing the Bowling Green
Meantime, on Monday 28th November 1864, a mineral field was put up for sale in the lands of Barnhill. The co-owners are confirmed as John Jackson of Barnhill Farm and also Mr James Naismith of Coatshill Farm who asked that offers for the land should be made before 2nd January 1865. The advert confirms a business acquaintance between these 2 people.
It is noted around this time Bowling was becoming very popular with the establishment of a league in Glasgow and new grounds in Perth and Falkirk, as well as an impressive ground at Hamilton.
A story in the Hamilton Advertiser on 5th August 1865 reported on youths needing a park or some recreational area, to stop them hanging around the tollhouse or the streets. Importantly, the story ends with a suitable venue for the meeting to be given at the Hall School, by making prior arrangement with Mr Naismith, of Blantyre Bowling Club.
Establishing Blantyre Bowling Club
Mr Naismith was a baker in High Blantyre and the brother of James Naismith of Coatshill, who owned the field being sold earlier than year. Working on this fact and a following report, we can conclude that Mr Naismith must have approached his brother about establishing the Bowling Club on a portion of his available land at Barnhill, sometime between 2nd January 1865 and 5th August 1865. We know in subsequent years the seasons opened in May, so it is more likely that the Bowling Club started playing in early summer 1865. In the news report, it simply mentions, “the Bowling Club.”
More evidence itself comes from the Hamilton Advertiser report on Saturday 19th May 1866, which fills in further gaps saying, “A desire for outdoor recreations has become very general and the resolution of the Hamiltonians to unite their exertions to obtain a suitable site, and otherwise promote an institution for field sports, will be hailed with pleasure, and stimulate the youth districts to imitate their example. The greatest difficulty at the outset the obtaining suitable ground—a difficulty, which could not overcome smaller communities without the liberality of some benevolent owner of the soil, the pecuniary assistance of the wealthier neighbours: and it is be hoped that examples liberality exhibited in one fortunate locality will imitated in others. Considerable exertions were made in Blantyre last year (1865) to obtain piece ground suitable fur field sports, but they did not then succeed, and the matter has been a little agitated since. There is some prospect however, of days gymnastic exercises being held at Barnhill village in a central portion of the parish), about the end of June 1866. The use of a level field has been promised for the occasion if the means necessary for otherwise carrying out the proposed gathering can be collected. From the spirit shown by those who have started into action, there it little doubt of success, but whether this spirited attempt may lead to a permanent institution is very uncertain. A forward step however will have been made. Barnhill has had bowling and quoiting club in operation these few months past, which is progressing favourably. The members and a few friends held a social supper last Friday evening, 11th May (1866), which was conducted with the greatest good humour and decorum. The prospects of the club, and expected day’s enjoyment, were discussed in the intervals of song toast and story, and a more agreeable evening could not have been reasonably wished for. The viands, furnished by Mr Blakely, were plentiful and excellent, the attention (the worthy hostess Mrs Brownlie to the comfort of her company, and the quality of her liquors, deserved and received the most hearty commendation.”
This report suggests even although some people had been playing since summer 1865, the members were established by May 1866 and were meeting socially. Gordon’s initial report suggests that even on 26th January 1866, they were calling themselves “The Blantyre Bowling Club.” Mrs Brownlie owned Barnhill Tavern, which would have been close to the level ground at Barnhill. Mr Blackley of Causeystanes, a baker providing the food, himself known to be a keen quoiter and bowler, as was his son. He would have been well known by Mr Naismith given their same trades.
Mr Jackson did get his Sports Day after all. An advert appears in summer 1866, “BLANTYRE ATHLETIC SPORTS AND GAMES. – These SPORTS and GAMES will take place on THURSDAY FIRST, 28th inst., in a FIELD, a short distance from the Blantyre Station on the Caledonian Railway — the Field for the occasion having been kindly granted by John Jackson, Esq., Barnhill. As the programme of Sports and Games is varied and extensive, and the amount of Prize-money very considerable, a good attendance of first-class Athletic Competitors may be expected on the Ground, and consequently a great Sporting Treat may be anticipated. The Sports to begin with Quoit Playing at 11 a.m. and the Running, &c., at 1 p.m. A FIRST CLASS BAND IN ATTENDANCE, (By Order of Committee)”
Shortly after on 22nd March 1867, Pilot Acre, the house at Stonefield road was sold to Mr Fleming, a merchant in Glasgow for the sum of £76. It is known that James and David Lindsay, wrights (joiners) acquired the house and land some time shortly after this.
Co-incidentally, just 8 days before Mr Fleming bought Pilot Acre, the Blantyre Bowling Club held their “annual AGM”. This is confirmed quite clearly in a public advert, which went out in newspapers in March 1867. Mr John Reid was Secretary. It took place on the 14th March 1867 at the “Hall” in High Blantyre at 7pm. This “Hall” belonged to Alan Craig, and was actually the Hall School in School Lane.
A year later on 28th March 1868, Mr John Naismith who had formed the club, was subjected to his bakery and his grocery business becoming bankrupt.
Establishing a new Green at Stonefield Road
Let’s now come back to Pilot Acre and the current site at Stonefield Road. On Monday 11th March 1872, the Glasgow Herald ran an advert stating an auction would be held on 20th March for Pilot Acre, that “neat little cottage, recently occupied and belonging to Mr David Lindsay”. David looks to be the person of contact for this proposed sale, despite the land and house still being owned by him and his brother James. David was also a joiner and would later go on to build a large hut on the roadside half of Pilot Acre to accommodate miners during a mid 1870’s eviction (but that’s another story!). His advert stated that the property had a valuable frontage on to the main road. The cottage was described as being comparatively new and had attics. One week following the advert in March 1872, the Blantyre Bowling Club held their annual AGM and it would appear that the newly available land caught their attention and was likely on their agenda. Seeking a suitable larger ground more in tune with their organisation, it would appear they bought the half-acre at the back of Pilot Acre (next to the manse) for the purpose of establishing a better bowling green there. Or perhaps initially at that time leased it until funds could be raised to buy it.We know they were fundraising from Gordon’s initial comment about a concert in 1865 being held.
Therefore, the date of 1872, associated with Blantyre Bowling Club, is NOT the date the organisation was established or started playing, but actually the date when they moved to Stonefield Road and acquired the Stonefield Road green.
Both the Land Ownership Commission and the Valuation Roll for 1872 give the Blantyre Bowling Club as owning Pilot Acre, (although in the Ownership Commission it looks more like one word, Pilodacre)
In 1878, the green was made larger and Dr Grant reopened it on 10th May that year.
There’s a good colourised photo of the Bowling club taken in the 1920’s. To the right of the clubhouse, is a small brick building. This building was the only one noted on the 1898 map, indicating it may have been the original clubhouse, perhaps dating back to the 1872 or just after. It was small, not much larger than a modern day car garage. It had an arched doorway facing south-west on to the green. It had tall, arched windows on the side and a chimney, suggesting it was heated, providing some shelter.
Given the evidence of news reports, I am now inclined to agree fully with Gordon’s initial suggestion that the Blantyre Bowling Club existed before 1872. The conclusions may be a surprise to the Bowling Club themselves, but hopefully upon reading this, they would be willing to consider:
- That a particular group of Blantyre people started bowling at 1865 on a level field at Barnhill, fundraising with the intention of becoming a proper organisation.
- This group met socially calling themselves “Blantyre Bowling Club” as did reporters, by 26th January 1866.
- The established “Blantyre Bowling Club” held their annual AGM in March 1867.
- The Blantyre Bowling Club bought a half-acre of Pilot Acre from the Lindsay Brothers shortly after March 1872 and commenced playing there after that time.
- On 10th May 1878, the green was expanded and subject to a re-opening ceremony.
I note with interest, that 26th January 2016, would have been a good marked point in time to celebrate or raise a glass to 150 years of Blantyre Bowling Club.