“James Little was a Wright (shaper of wood) and Building Contractor, whom at the time of purchasing Crossbasket on 6th April 1932 was residing at 175 Stonefield Road, Blantyre. The first thing that struck me here, is how could a local man, who grafted on the tools each day afford such a property? This was a different type of owner from previous gentry who had inherited money or owned large companies. However, when thinking upon it, James was no different really, from the other owners. He was a successful businessman, who had earned a fortune, in this case from a booming construction period in Blantyre, primarily building homes, clearing out the old Miner’s rows and from various other property and business interests. In short, he was self made man from a working class background.
James was born in 1878 to William Little Snr and Mary Bowie. His story is a true rags to riches tale. William Little Snr, his father had moved to Blantyre from Wanlockhead between 1884 and 1887. A glazier by trade, William’s sons were to learn the building trade. William Little Jnr was the mastermind and primary earner going into a partnership building contractor business with James.
The brothers were to enjoy huge success between 1900 – 1930’s. A construction boom was taking place in Blantyre and the brothers were responsible for the construction of many Blantyre homes and buildings. Their direct competitors were the Adam Brothers of High Blantyre. James Little was also a teacher of woodwork at local schools on a part time basis and perhaps would have harvested the most talented individuals for his business.
In May 1917, when James was 39 years old, the family received some bad news. James’s other brother John, Second-Lieutenant John Little, fighting with the Gordon Highlanders, was killed in action in the bloodshed of WW1. He had enlisted as a Private in the Cameron Highlanders in November of 1914, and was drafted to France after the Battle of Loos. For distinguished conduct in the field he was awarded the D.C.M. In early 1917, he attached himself to a Cadet Corps in France and was appointed a Second.-Lieutenant, being posted to the Gordons. In civil life he was a manual instructor under Rutherglen School Board. His name is noted on the High Blantyre War Memorial.
Whilst researching this family, I spoke with Sonya Little, the great, great niece of James Little. Sonya confirmed that the Little’s became wealthy not just through the construction business, but also through property ownership of many homes in Blantyre including renting out homes in Stonefield Road and Victoria Street. The Little’s also owned shops in Rutherglen, Motherwell and Ladybank and with further business interests in South African mines, it would seem they had a good eye for business, investing to accumulate. Amazingly, during our chat, Sonya and I discovered we are related distantly, meaning that I am actually related to James Little, who was my first cousin 3 times removed! The connection is that William Little, father of James married Mary Bowie, the sister of my own great, great grandfather John Bowie.
A further co-incidence followed where it was found that the shop owned by the Little’s at the corner of Stonefield Road and Broompark Road in Blantyre, later was sold to my own great grandmother and her family, The Danskins who formed a drapers business in the early 1920’s. You couldn’t make it up!
It is worth mentioning also there is a Liddell connection to this Little family. Sonya also confirmed James’s sister Mary married a Liddell, only having to change her maiden name ever so slightly. This cleared up a mystery for me, where I previously thought the name was being misspelled.
James Little owned several of the properties in the large tenement shown in the next photo. His joinery yard is the little pitched roof building in the middle, the shop on the right. You can see timber in his yard in the photo beside the tenements. Both the little building (now a hairdressers) and the shop still exist to this day. The Little’s were a big family and still have relatives living in that area of Blantyre in 2015.”
Extract from “The History of Crossbasket Castle” by Paul Veverka (c) 2015
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