Merry’s Rows – or also known as Murray’s Rows were built in 1874 and 1875 by coalmasters, Messrs Merry & Cunninghame to house the workers of their nearby Auchinraith Colliery at Auchinraith Road.
Houses were numbered oddly from 1 to 89 and evenly from 2 to 88. The homes were stone built and later rendered and whitewashed. They were single storey, small and terraced. Every two homes shared a chimneystack.
Each home had a front door opening out on to a small pavement, 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.
Homes were either one roomed on the eastern side of the street, essentially but and bens, with one bedroom doubling as a living area that had 2 beds recessed in the corners. However, on the opposite western side of the road were larger, two roomed homes. These had one bed in the bedroom and 2 recessed beds in the 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.
There were initially 7 blocks on the west side, 1 full continuous long block on the east. There is evidence although that 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 for the colliery.
Toilets were six outdoor conveniences, situated on the western side of the rows, shared by all residents. 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 Church Street, Jackson Street, Glasgow Road and Auchinraith Road.
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” were 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 & Cunninghame, 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.”
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 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.
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.”
While the above is a description of Merry’s rows, it was typical of the working miners family home in most of Britain before the First World War 1914/1919. 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 fired and evicted from the tied house.
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.
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. 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. After Merry’s Rows were demolished, Elm Street was formed, joining Auchenraith Road to Glasgow Road at an angle running northwest to southeast.
Messrs Merry & Cunninghame also owned further tied homes, built in 1874 known as Auchinraith Row.
From “Blantyre Explained” by Paul Veverka (c) 2016
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