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From the illustrated social history book…paid research by Paul Veverka
“Blantyre – Glasgow Road, The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2016 – 2018.
One of the largest and oldest properties in Springwell on Glasgow Road was the well known and heavily populated former ‘Allison Place.’ Constructed in 1878 by Robert Lindsay for John Heriot of Wishaw, his daughter Ann Heriot, (a teacher) would be the long term owner, from the moment they were built.
Allison Place takes its name from Ann Heriot’s middle name, her mother’s maiden name of Allison. (Correct with two ‘l’s). The property consisted of 6 large tenement buildings configured in an L shape, with frontage on Glasgow Road and Springwell Place. It was directly opposite where the modern Dunn’s Food Offices are today.
The buildings were all two storey, built of stone, timber and slate. A wider, pend close led from Springwell Place into the back courtyard, and a narrower pedestrian close from Glasgow Road into the courtyard further to the west. Steps to upper levels were located at the read, out of sight from the main road.
When constructed there were initially 35 homes located in these tenements, people densely packed in, primarily miners and their families.
The number of houses increased in the first decade or so and before Glasgow Road postal addresses, they were labeled 1-41 Allison Place.
Sewers outside Allison Place
On 26th August 1879, notice was given under the Public Health Act by authorities, that a sewer should be laid between Allison Place heading towards Springwell Cottages at the Burnbank boundary. The proposal was most descriptive. The Glasgow Road, then a turnpike road owned by the Cambuslang and Muirkirk Road Trust had a ditch running along the side of it, in front of new properties. The laying down of a sewer was determined to be the only way the foulness and offensive smells could be removed, as it was known that wastewater, raw sewage and other ‘matters’ were constantly thrown into the ditch as it was at the time. The motion was passed and Springwell got its first sewer, the sewage works being located tnear the Parkburn to the rear of the yards of the north side of Glasgow Road. It would take until 1893 for the sewer to be extended from Allison Place into Blantyre up to Herbertson Street.
As well as homes, two popular shops were located at the western end. In 1885, five of the 35 homes were still empty to be let, but the other 30 all occupied. Ann also owned a blacksmiths or smithy in the rear yard but it fell out of use rapidly and was even unused by 1885, quite probably due to a large, established blacksmiths across the road on the north side, directly opposite. One of the shops was occupied by John Miller, a grocer and the other by Alexander Smellie, a butcher.
Both these individuals would later have aspirations of their own property ownership at neighbouring buildings.
Quarrel on the Stairwell
During one dark evening in late October 1893, four persons (three men and a little girl) were quarreling over an unknown matter at a wedding reception in an upper house at Allison Place. They took the argument outside to the back stair landing of the tenement.
Suddenly, the handrail they were all leaning against broke and all of them ended up 14 feet down on the ground in the back yard. The men allegedly continued to fight in the fall! All the men were little worse for wear, but the girl whose surname was Lees was rather seriously hurt. It turns out 2 guests went outside to fight and the other 2 people came out to try to stop them.
Owner Miss Ann Allison Heriot was born in 1833 and was therefore middle aged by the time she took ownership of Allison’s Place. The daughter of John Heriot, a baker and Christina Allison, she did not live in Blantyre ever, but clearly fancied the business of factoring out these homes. She lived first in Dennistoun, but later moved to 12 Albert Drive, Crosshill, Glasgow. She would be single all her long life.
By 1895, as the Century drew to a close, her smithy in the backyard was still empty as was the adjacent stable. John Miller and Alexander Smellie still occupied the shops on the ground floor. However, Ann had split some of the homes and there were now 41 houses, only 1 of which was empty. Conditions must have been difficult with whole families squashed into those small homes.
Tenants renting from Ann Heriot for rents between £3, 12 and £7, 4 shillings in 1895 included miners John Gray, John Lockhart, Daniel Murdoch, Peter Morton, John Murdoch, John Stewart (engineer), Francis O Brien (pensioner), miners William Rooney, Robert Fleming, William Colvin, Joseph Irving, John Cobrough, Edward Bradley, a Mrs Jones, Mark Stewart, Joseph Robb, James King, James Crawford, Peter Gowan, Hugh McPhail, Margaret Neilson, Patrick Callaghan, Walter Neilson, James Davidson, Alexander Livingstone (joiner), Charles Russell, George Rennick, Mrs John Galbraith, John Wilson, David Cameron, Mrs Elizabeth Neilson, Mrs McLachlan, James Lawson, and John Miller (grocer).
In September 1900, whilst local newspaper told of a rumoured tram system coming to Blantyre shortly, the butchers shop was let to others and Mr John Lees, a confectioner moved in to form a sweet shop. This was due to Alexander Smellie constructing his own neighbouring buildings.
By 1905, residents of the 41 homes of Allison Place would have been quite used to the trundle of the new trams cars going past their windows on Glasgow Road. Ann Heriot’s abandoned smithy was now being used as a lumber room, perhaps a store for firewood. The stable was still unused. John Miller continued his grocery business in one shop and the aforementioned John Lees running the other shop as a confectionery business. Five of the homes were empty that year.
In 1907, Miss Heriot was 74 years old. Becoming eldery she sold a share of her property at Allison Place to Mr. Daniel Paterson, of nearby 1 George Street, Burnbank. They are both noted as co owners in 1915. This may have been getting too much for Ann to manage by then 37 homes (some joined together again) and she likely did it not just for a cash sale, but for some assistance in maintaining the aging buildings. Daniel Paterson may have been more hands on and known to tenants, for there are references in this era to ‘Paterson’s Buildings in Springwell’, despite the name Allison Place still existing. Mr Paterson also bought some farm fields further to the west.
The lumber room and stable were still used in 1915 but the shops had both changed hands. John Miller (grocer) had moved out and Robert McDougall Grocers had moved in. At the end the sweet shop was gone by 1912, and instead was shopkeeper John Crop (business unknown).
Around this time Allison Place was also allocated Glasgow Road postal address. From east to west, numbers 25, 27, 29, 31 and 33 were assigned and it is around then we see the old numbering of 1-41 Allison Place disappear for good. Many of the families living there even in those war years had the same surnames as previous decades, indicating they may have been homes for generations in the same families, rather than transient miners and labourers.
Rents increased steadily every 5 years or so.
In April 1918, during World War 1, Robert McDougall, the grocer who lived at 27 Glasgow Road found a collie dog. As was the custom at the time, he advertised it in the paper for collection by any owner, else he would sell it in 3 days time.
By 1920 McDougall’s Grocery was at 27/29 Glasgow Road within Allison Place and shopkeeper John Bell (business unknown) at 31 Glasgow Road. Thirty seven homes were occupied with rent going to both partners.
However, just one month after the valuation roll was conducted, Miss Ann Heriot died at her home in Glasgow on 23rd May 1920. She was 87 years old and had no children or husband. At her death, a nephew from London signed the death certificate.
Daniel Paterson would inherit the other half of the Allison’s Place later that year and then between 1921 and 1924, put the whole lot up for sale. Allison’s Land was purchased by John Stevenson , a grocer of 67 Clark Street, Paisley, permitting Robert McDougall to continue operating his grocery business from there. Despite being a remote owner, John Stevenson also kept a few homes on the east side of Stonefield Road, near the Anderson Church.
Meantime at 33 Allison Place….
During researching this property, a few stories arose in connection with one of the addresses, i.e. at 33 Allison Place. In May 1923, behind an action which had been brought in Hamilton Sheriff Court was the remarkable story of an alleged treasure of gold and precious stones buried in a churchyard near Edinburgh. The Sheriff made avizandum in the case. The pursuer in the action was Mrs Ona Novasitis, a Lithuanian widow who lived at 33 Allison Place, Springwell and she sought to recover the sum of £93 from Blades Stephanskis, a miner residing at 51 Auchinraith Road, Blantyre. The pursuer averred that in 1921, and in the beginning of 1922, the defender informed her that he had a treasure, consisting of gold and precious stones, buried in Rosewell, near Edinburgh.
On the strength of defender’s reiterated statements she gave him the loan of £13 to enable him to uncover the treasure, being promised that the money would be repaid to her. She later parted with a further two sums, on the same pretexts, obtained the loan of £20 but never saw the treasure, for she was told by the man it is stated, that the nights were too light dig up the treasure then, and that he would wait until the winter came before doing so splitting it with her. Then she learned that the man was not the owner of any treasure, and that the statements made to her regarding it were false and fraudulent. Requests for repayment of the money were made repeatedly to the defender, but he declined or delayed. The money had to be repaid back.
Another story at this address occurred in 1927. On being sentenced in Hamilton J.P. Court on Saturday 22nd January 1927, for theft, William Allen (14), a local Blantyre boy living at 33 Allison Place, Springwells, refused to walk from the dock and, shrieked, “Oh, daddy, help!”. He was lifted by an officer and carried, still shouting, to the cells below. The Fiscal described him as “a boy who was training boys, younger than himself to become criminals.“
A nine-year-old boy had told the police that he was a member of a gang, which Allen was self proclaimed leader. This younger boy said that his parents had thrashed him because of his association with Allen, and that Allen had treated him brutally when he refused to steal for him. The youngster said he was more afraid of Allen than he was of his parents. He now did what he was told by Allen, and recently, when a lorry with beer bottles was seen standing in Glasgow Road, he on Allen’s orders, along with other boys, stole some of the bottles. The liquor was taken to the picture-house on Glasgow Road, where Allen and another boy drank some of it. Allen was charged that Saturday, when pleaded guilty, and admitted four previous convictions. The Justices ordered the boy to be detained in Parkhead Reformatory until he attained the age of 19.
Before we move off 33 Allison Place, yet another story in the paper that happened just a week earlier than the previous paragraphs. On Friday 12th January 1927, Joseph Malcolmson, a carter of Dalzell Place and his friend Robert McGinn of 33 Alison Place, both carters were up in court for breaking into a signal box at Craighead Colliery and stealing an axe, some matches and a regulations book. Malcolmson also admitted breaking into Castle Park Football ground in Forrest Street and was sentenced to 30 days in prison. McGinn was fined £1.
In 1928, the whole of Allison Place, including the outbuildings were demolished, the county council acquiring the land from John Stevenson. Allison Place had lasted exactly 50 years.
In 1933, the Council built 3 large terraced blocks of 2 storey homes on this and neighbouring ground with frontage on to Glasgow Road, directly across from Robertson’s Aerated Water Factory. The new homes were given addresses 25 – 41 Glasgow Road and still exist, in good repair today.
You may be forgiven for thinking that Miller’s Buildings along Glasgow Road was where David Miller’s modern fireplace shop was. That would be wrong, for whilst Davy did indeed have a fireplace shop on the north side of the road, it was actually located in McCaffrie’s Building in the 1990’s and post Millennium. Miller’s Buildings was actually on the opposite side of the road, on the south side and was older. Far older and once owned by an relative of Davy. The name is correct with “Miller” and not “Millar”. Before we explore that, however, we must go back to the building origins and constructor Francis Gebbie, not forgetting his hired builder, Blantyre’s William Roberts, a joiner.
Born in Strathaven in 1830, Mr Francis Gebbie was the son of a well known Victorian writer. In 1855, at the age of 25, he went to the bar and passed his exams, becoming a lawyer. He rose through the ranks in Glasgow, where he lived and took part in many legal cases and in September 1873 received the promotion to Sheriff Substitute of Mid Lothian. He was transferred on 4th February 1881 to the same role in Dumbarton.
Just prior to that, with the creation of Springwell Place in Blantyre and his office attending to the legal work for the sales of the emerging buildings in this district, Mr Gebbie’s interest was peaked when he saw potential in buying a plot of inexpensive land adjacent to the south of the Hamilton to Glasgow Road. Neighbouring Allison Place had already been built and Mr Gebbie intended to let homes of similar construction out to more miners families.
So, in 1879 he approached Blantyre joiner William Roberts, of Stanley Place, Stonefield and together they built what would initially be known as “Gebbie’s Buildings”, sometimes referred to as an extension of part of Springwell Place. William, a native of Lanark was 28 years old and on the cusp of being married, already had a good reputation of being a Blantyre housebuilder. We’ll explore more about William in other parts of this book, for he would later build many homes.
A rectangular plot was secured to build three, double storey stone tenements, internally framed in wood with slated roofs. The buildings were tenement in style with stone steps accessing the upper levels at the rear beside a large open yard. Length was approximately 115 feet with frontage all on Glasgow Road. A pedestrian close was located in the middle tenement offering easy access from front to back.
The 10 houses and shop were quickly sought after by miners and their families, with Robert Longmuir, a grocer taking the shop at the far western end.
Tragedy struck the property pretty fast. It was reported from Blantyre that on 5th January 1881 a girl aged four years, named Martha Burt, daughter of William Burt, miner, Gebbie’s Buildings, Springwell, Blantyre had died through injuries by burning. Her mother was apparently keeping a neighbour’s shop, and the girl accompanied her and was playing about when her clothes accidentally caught fire. The flames were instantly put out by means of wrapping a bed-mat, but not until the poor little thing was severely burned about the face, body, and legs. Taken to hospital, she died a short time later. The Burt family moved away, absent from the next valuation roll.
By 1885, only one 1 house remained empty. That year, Mr Gebbie’s tenants were aforementioned Mr. Longmuir, Constantine Kelly, Mrs Thomas Cairney, Mrs Donald Ferns, Charles McCallum, John Reid, Edward Burns, Mrs Sim.
Ten years later Francis Gebbie had split many of the homes, making them smaller and had squeezed in 16 families, each paying rent from £5, 9 shillings and up to £8. At the shop was John English, a dairyman. An outdoor dairy building had been built at the back by 1895. John was paying £12, 10 shillings in rent and may have been there since the late 1880’s.
In 1902, whilst living at Helensburgh, Francis Gebbie retired and put his Blantyre property up for sale. Gebbie’s Buildings had existed for 23 years by the time he sold to David Miller, a fellow solicitor and colleague of New Cross, Hamilton. From 1902, the property was known as ‘Miller’s Buildings’ and the change in ownership arrived at the same time as tramlanes outside the front windows.
A sidenote, Mr Francis Gebbie died on 4th April 1908 at his home in Helensburgh. His successes in life, inheritance and hard work had seen him accumulate a fortune. He was 78 years old and had not survived a major operation. He was well respected, well known and his loss was felt by many people. His will left £32,071, a considerable sum, which in today’s money would be around £4m!!
Now, you may be wondering why we haven’t called the buildings Gebbie’s Buildings. The answer is simple, they existed for longer as Miller’s Buildings, around 29 further years.
Nothing changed too much when David Miller took over. In 1905, rents were only modestly raised in all 16 homes between £6 and £9 per annum, the dairy now occupied by Samuel Moore.
In 1905, William Sharpe of Millar’s Buildings, was fined in 7s 8d or three days for breach of the peace on a tramcar. He had two old tickets in his possession and refused to pay his fare when challenged, and created a disturbance. He explained that he had bought his ticket in Wishaw to take him to Hamilton, but had come off at Motherwell and was resuming his journey on a different car.
By this time, the back of the properties offered views out over farm fields, and the Auchinraith junction of the N.B Railway and Auchinraith Pit Bing would have been clearly visible.
David Miller would not own the buildings for long, passing away in 1907 at his home in Hamilton. He was 57 years old, although his wife Janet Miller inherited the property and would continue to let the houses out to miners families. The buildings continued as “Miller’s Buildings”.
By 1915, all 16 houses were let out. Glasgow Road postal addresses were allocated and Miller’s Buildings became officially 35 – 49 Glasgow Road. The shop at the end became a larger home, occupied by miner Hugh Logan. Rents varied between £8, 4 shillings and £11, 15 shillings.
Events of 1917
In 1917, Mr Logan was one of 40 people injured in a spectacular train collision in Ratho Station, Edinburgh. Although he survived, 11 other people died.
“We broke Into this house. We are the Brass Button Gang and you will find a dead man in this room.—T.B.B.G.” This mysterious and cryptic message was found scrawled on a piece of paper attached to the door handle of a room in a house at Craighead Estate. Blantyre, in March 1917. T.B.B.G stood for the Brass Button Gang. This lawless and apparently bloodthirsty and formidable gang of supposed ruffians turned out to be four boys all residing at Miller’s Buildings, Springwell. their ages ranging from 8 to 14—a very harmless looking quartette. The Court was not a little amused when the terrible message, signed T.B.B.G.” was read to the Fiscal, and they beheld the miscreants in these four boys, whom their fathers declared had been soundly thrashed for their misdeeds. The Fiscal stated that they had done a good deal of mischief in house, besides taken away a number of articles. As the accused were all at Court for the first time in their lives. Sheriff Shennan continued the case against them till 28th March, and meantime advised the parents to put their heads together and make suitable reparation to the occupant of the house which the boys had partly dismantled.
By 1920 again all 16 homes were let out, although the larger former shop which had become a home 10 years earlier, was now home to James Semple, a miner. In 1925, the shop house was split and Mr. B Fisher operated his business from there working as a cooper. The other part was empty. Rent of this shop in 1925 was a lofty £28 per annum. With the shop split, there were actually 17 homes at Miller’s Buildings going forward.
The empty property was a warning of what was to come. As huge slum clearances took place throughout Blantyre, Miller’s Buildings in 1930 were laying empty. All 17 homes vacant, with the exception of Mr Joseph Middleton, who may have been squatting. Many of the former residents were rehoused in the new modern homes at Victoria Street, although with the closure of the pit at Auchinraith in 1930, several other families disappeared from Blantyre altogether.
Miller’s Buildings look to have been demolished around 1931. As noted previously, the council then acquired the land and built the current terraced block of council homes in 1933 , numbered 25-41 Glasgow Road.
It wasn’t the end of the Miller’s business dealings in Springwell. A descendent of David and Janet Miller, another David Miller would return to Springwell in the late 20th Century, setting up “Miller’s Fireplace” shop on the north side of Glasgow Road, a story for another time.
Fields at Springwell
To the west of Miller’s Buildings and behind them were open 4 large fields. Prior to 1937, no building was ever built on these fields to the south of Glasgow Road which were hemmed in between Auchinraith Road, Glasgow Road and the Auchinraith Pit further south. In each valuation roll they are named as fields and grassparks in Springwell.
The land in 1875 belonged to Mrs Janet Jackson of Old Place, High Blantyre. Janet was the last owner of Springwell Farm, before it was demolished prior to 1890. She still owned the fields in 1895, but a short time after, Mrs Margaret Herbertson bought them from her. By 1905 after the death of Mrs Herbertson, Dr Grant of Blantyre held them in trust until a buyer could be found. The grassparks were let out that year to James Duncan, a dairyman of Springwell who most likely kept cows in the fields. Mineral rights were let out to Merry & Cunninhgam Coalmasters and it is safe to say with proximity to their pit, these fields must have been mined far below.
New owners for the fields came along in 1913 where 3 widows bought the 4 fields. The ladies were Margaret Paterson of Hamilton, Janet McGregor of Strathaven and Annie NcKenzie of Blantyre Terrace, Edinburgh. The ladies knew each other well and equally shared the purchase. They would go on to own these fields for many years until selling them to the council around 1936 or 1937 for the purposes of building the Springwell Housing Scheme.
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