Gambling at Springwells


Pitch-and-Toss-copyThomas Dunsmuir Hartman lives in Chicago, but is formerly from Logan Street, Blantyre. About 10 years ago, he wrote a short article putting it online about his recollections about Blantyre in the 2nd quarter of the 20th Century. This valuable account gave an insight into life in PreWW2 Blantyre.

“Another part of Springwell’s history in those days was Gambling. Every Friday it was not uncommon to see some of the miners wives go up to the entrance of the mines to collect the wages that the miners had made that week, this was before they went and drank and gambled what they had made.

This was indeed a very common occurrence for the miner to go to the pubs directly from the pithead, if she was not fast enough to waylay him on his way home invariably he finished up at the pub and most times drank most or gambled what he had made.

One can feel the frustration of this life they led and much more so for the women with their children. To the men this was an every day occurrence and the pubs were their only way of blowing off steam.

The Gambling was big! We called it Tossing or Heads and Tails, played with two copper pennies of the realm.You tossed them a good distance in the air and allowed them to fall without touching anyone in the huge crowds which attended these Tossing Schools.

Springwell was well known around Lanarkshire for its Sunday after church Tossing School. This was planned in great detail, from the lookout for the police who were stationed at various intersections or highpoints to see any police in the near vicinity and give warning of a raid.

There was one person in charge of the gambling school and he was called the Baber it was his job to collect all the bets and to pay out if the lad tossing the coins tossed two tails. Two heads you are a winner, a head and tail you toss again, until you turn up two of a kind.

If you say that you have 10-30 men all gambling and most of them big strong miners I think you have to consider this to be a rather large crowd and such a crowd which easily could get out of control especially if they are on the losing side of the toss. So this Baber had to have his own henchmen and he himself was one very capable person to handle a situation when it arrived AND IT DID! constantly.

You always found that he was without a doubt the local punch drunk bully and if you did not believe it to be the case he was willing to take you on to prove it to the crowd attending the tossing, and they did come along to try their luck at gaining this position, as it had quite a large financial pay out to the Baber.

If anyone tossed three heads in a row he was a winner and the Baber always got a cut of the winnings. This could go on all day and each time someone tossed three heads in a row he was pocketing a fair amount of money so much so, I can recall as a boy watching the Barber walk away with all of the money. At this particular tossing, he had pocketed so much money that he could compete in the game and finished up the big winner. WHO IS GOING TO ARGUE WITH THE LOCAL TOUGH.

I have to mention the raids with the police. This was great fun for us kids to watch about 30 men being chased by, at the most at anytime say four police, this was considered a big raid, I think they called in reinforcements from the surrounding police stations. I can only remember two policemen at the Blantyre station. I can never remember seeing anyone caught, just a lot of puffing and grunting going on. I don’t think the police ever really wanted to catch anyone. Just a lot of show on their part. Talk about the Keystone cops, they had nothing on this lot.”

Pictured for illustration are Durham Miners taking part in open air gambling with coins.

On social media:

Marion Anderson Great story
Archie Peat Not great when your Dad went missing on a Sunday morning , to Auchinraith bing to engage in this ludicrous pastime . Other Dads took their kids for a walk or went fishing 😬
Janette McCallum My grandfather was the head baber at the palace grounds.
Betty Brown John St, under the bridge was also a gambling haunt.💷💷💷

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