Population : 17,328 (2001 census)
Blantyre is a long narrow strip of land in Lanarkshire, eight miles south of Glasgow, between East Kilbride and Hamilton. Its main boundaries are the River Calder to the west and the River Clyde to the north and east.
A Brief History of Blantyre
Evidence of man's habitation of Blantyre can be traced to the Bronze Age fort of Camp Knowe at Calderside, Auchentibber.
Many Bronze Age graves have been found throughout the area. Blantyre was part of the Kingdom of Cumbria inhabited by the Damnonii tribe whose northern capital was Alcluyd (two Welsh words meaning 'Rock of Clyde'. Their kingdom's southern border was on the River Ribble in Lancashire, England. The present day name for Alcluyd is Dumbarton and was taken from the Gaelic speaking Scots who referred to Alcluyd as DunBritton (Fort of the Britons).
There have been various suggestions as to the definition of the name Blantyre.
It is assumed that Blantyre was an ancient British settlement and was built around the Old Blantyre Kirk Yard, which may have been a druid religious circle. The Kirk Yard is a large man-made eight foot high mound of earth and, if it was a druid circle, it would have been the centre of the settlement's religious activities. The old sixteenth century communion cups belonging to the Old Parish Church have no letter E in the spelling of BLANTYRE.
It would suggest that the old spelling Blantyr is a gaelic corruption of LLANTYR. Llantyr contains two Welsh words - LLAN meaning 'consecrated' and TYR meaning 'ground/land', the consecrated/church ground being the Old Kirk Yard at High Blantyre Cross.
Through time the Britons were dispersed from the area and those that remained were converted to Christianity and continued to use their original pagan consecrated ground by constructing a church there. At least two churches have stood in the Old Kirk Yard. Welsh was still in use in some remote areas of Scotland at the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century.
There are several other theories as to the origin of the name Blantyre. The Reverend Stevenson, writing in 1790, suggested that it was two Gaelic words meaning 'Warm Retreat'. Another suggestion, from the Reverend Wright, writing in 1895, was that it was Gaelic, meaning 'Field of The Holy Men'.
The earliest written record of the name Blantyre was in 1275 where the Priory was included in a list of Scottish ecclesiastical establishments which were taxed by Pope Clement IV to raise money to finance yet another crusade against the Saracens. This document was known as Bagimond's Roll, named after the Pope's emissary, Baiamund De Vicci, who was sent to collect the hated tax.
The Priory was almost certainly mentioned in a previous list issued by Pope Innocent IV in 1254 to finance an earlier crusade. Most of the early priors are recorded as having attended Scottish parliaments and being involved in many important incidents in Scottish history. Blantyre Priory stood on Blantyr Craig, the high cliff directly opposite Bothwell Castle, and was founded between 1238 and 1249.
The Priory was a cell of the Augustinian Canon of Jedburgh Abbey who also used it over the years as a retreat from the wars between England and Scotland. The last Roman Catholic Prior was William Chirnside who conformed to the new religion and became the first Protestant minister in Blantyre.
In 1595, after the suppression of the Roman Catholic Church by James VI, the Priory and its lands were bestowed by the King on his cousin, Walter Stuart, the Treasurer of Scotland who was created a Peer of the Realm and took the title Lord Blantyr on 10th July 1606.
It is thought that the first five Lords of Blantyre resided at Blantyre Priory. The fifth, Lord Blantyre, built a new family home in Renfrew. This house became the Erskine Hospital for disabled soldiers.
In 1314, Robert the Bruce defeated the English army at the Battle of Bannockburn. One of his generals was his nephew, Thomas Randolph, the Earl of Moray. The Barony of Blantyre was gifted, by the King, to Randolph for services rendered at this famous battle.
After the death of Bruce, Thomas Randolph was appointed Regent of Scotland during the minority of Bruce's son, King David II and he proved to be a wise and just ruler. The Barony consisted of small hamlets namely Barnhill, Hunthill, Auchinraith, Auchentibber, Blantyre Priory and Kirkton, the old town centre at High Blantyre Cross. The population of Blantyre before 1780 was around five hundred.
The inhabitants, as in other towns and villages, had to observe Royal Proclamations, such as one that instructed that the ‘Lower Classes' should practise archery during holidays and Sundays after divine service.
Archery practice took place in a large field opposite the Old Parish Church, known as Archer's Croft. Archer's Croft was divided into two areas when a railway was constructed across the field to take the line over the River Calder to East Kilbride. The columns of the old viaduct bridge can still be seen adjacent to Hunthill football fields and from Stoneymeadow Road.
There were six mills on the River Calder, namely the Mavis Mill, Bardyke (also known as the Black Mill), Dyesholm Mill, Millheugh, Crossbasket and one unnamed mill south of the General's Bridge. All grain produced by the farmers had to be taken to the local mills as part of their tenancy agreement with the land owner.
The Lords of Blantyre received a percentage of the grain as rent from the farmers and millers. It guaranteed work to the millers and ensured that the farmers had a mill close at hand to grind their grain. The landowner, the millers and farmers were in a way dependent on each other. The mills that worked under the above conditions were known as Astricted Mills.
The Blantyre Coalfields
In the late 1700's coal was being mined in Cambuslang and brought in to fuel the furnaces and steam engines of the Blantyre Works & Mills which opened in 1785.
By 1835 coal was also being brought from the Hamilton area at a cost of between 5 and 6 shillings per ton.
In 1867 however, test borings revealed seams of high quality coal in the Blantyre area. In 1871, the first two pits were sunk in High Blantyre and by 1876 there were 8 pits in production in the area. The demand for an increased labour force was high, and there was reluctance among the local mill and farm workers to work in the new mines.
This labour force was found principally in Irish emigrants who were refugees from the suffering and deprivation caused by the potato famine in Ireland. Blantyre was reputed to be, at this time; "a district of pits, engine houses, smoke and grime", this description no doubt led to the nickname the town endured for many years as "Dirty Auld Blantyre".
The arrival in 1785 of David Dale and the construction of his first cotton-spinning mill changed the environment literally overnight. The quiet, peaceful, rural community disappeared as the industrial revolution took its grip on the town. A second spinning mill was constructed in 1791 causing another surge in the population. Half the population at this time were employed at the Blantyre Mills. Dale's original partner, John Kay, the inventor of the flying shuttle, dropped out of the partnership and was replaced by Henry Monteith who expanded the works for the third time. Dale, in his turn, sold out to Monteith in 1792 and it was to remain in the Monteith family until 1873. Many improvements were carried out, including the construction of a self contained village with toll gates situated at the junction of Station Road with Rosebank Avenue and Knightswood Terrace. These gates were closed at 10.00 pm each evening. By 1794 the roads had improved and the Works village had become larger than the main town centre at Kirkton, High Blantyre. Business boomed at the Works so much that, in 1813, a weaving factory containing 463 looms, driven partly by water and partly by steam engine, was opened. A school and chapel were built in 1828. The village had a company-owned shop, and it was a complete new town owned by the company.
The mill owner also had children in his labour force known as Barrack Children. These were orphans between the ages of six and twelve who had been adopted from the parish authorities by the Manager of Blantyre Works.
The mill owner had to undertake to clothe them, provide them with a good education, living quarters and attend to their health and spiritual needs. Although we may consider the long working day and their environment as harsh, the workers and the Barrack Children considered themselves fortunate to live and work at Blantyre Mills.
The long working day meant that there was very little time for personal pursuits. Saturday was considered a relatively short working day as they only worked nine hours. Sunday, of course, being the Sabbath and keenly observed, meant that the Barrack Children had little time to play the usual children's games. The first school at the Work's Village was in two rooms on the ground floor of Shuttle Row. The children attended this school after work between 8.00pm and 10.00pm.
Many workers lived to a great age and in one case a mill mechanic was still working at the age of ninety four. The only other industry in the parish at this time other than the cotton mills and farming was the mining of large deposits of limestone and ironstone at Auchentibber. The demise of the mills was caused through the decline in the cotton industry. Production ceased at Blantyre Mills in 1903 and the company was liquidated in 1904.
Mill workers in a Warping Room
The work in cotton mills was heavy and often dangerous, quite often women and girls would choose to work on the surface of the mines as they considered it easier work. The hours worked in the mills were both long and hard. Even after the Cotton Factory Regulation Act of 1813, children over the age of 9 at the Blantyre mills were expected to start work after having breakfast at 5.30am and then work until 8pm. After this time from 8.30pm until 10.00pm they were able to go to school, which was located on the premises and provided by the mill owners.
The building housed 24 families including the family of David Livingstone. The building has been preserved as part of the Scottish National Memorial to David Livingstone.
22nd October 1877
At this time High Blantyre was 'a maze of dirty and intricate ways and byways' with a mine slightly to the south of the village. It had five pits and was producing an extraordinary 900,000 tons of coal.
The mine was known to be very gassy but complaints by miners a few days before the disaster were fobbed off by the foreman, Joseph Gilmour. He told the miners 'There'll not be a man fall in this pit, I'll guarantee that'.
On the fateful day the shifts went down the mine as normal at 5:30am. There was nothing unusual as the men carried out their backbreaking work in the low tunnels or 'stoopings'. At 8:45am the history of Blantyre changed as there was a loud explosion and flames shot from no.3 and no.5 pit shafts.
Women and off-duty miners hurried to the scene and soon seven bodies were hoisted from no.2 pit but it was no.3 pit that concerned them. At midday the mines inspector went into the pit and found roof falls and a clear smell of firedamp. The main shaft had to be cleared and men worked in teams until they broke through at 10pm. Four miners were found but they were so seriously injured that they died later.
Work continued throughout the night and into the next day and despite very poor weather, sightseers arrived from Glasgow and Hamilton. The crowd around the pithead was so large that a hundred police were on duty to control it.
It was to take a week before the bodies were removed entirely from the mine, which caused great distress for the families and incensed the villagers. Eventually it was revealed that there was a death toll of 207 resulting in High Blantyre having 92 widows and 250 fatherless children. Blantyre entered the history books as having the worst ever Scottish mining disaster. The inquiry in to the disaster failed to identify the precise cause but it was likely due to a sudden release of gas from a small roof fall being ignited by a naked flame.
The Ejection of the Blantyre Widows
Six months after the explosion, thirty-four widows, whose husbands had been killed in the disaster, appeared at Hamilton Sheriff Court. They had previously received letters from the colliery owners informing them that they must leave their tied cottages. Having failed to do so, William Dixon Limited had raised summonses against them.
When asked by the Sheriff why they had not vacated their homes, each widow stated that they did not have the means with which to pay a rent. The Sheriff asked, "Are you not getting enough money from the relief fund?" Each widow replied "I have not have the means to pay a rent with."
The Sheriff stated that it was out of kindness that the company had allowed them to remain in their houses for so long. One widow claimed that they had a cruel way of showing their kindness and that the firm should have carried out the evictions on the day of the explosion as the public would have taken her by the hand.
The Sheriff stated that he could scarcely agree with her and suggested that both the firm and the public had been extremely kind and generous. He then decreed that the thirty-four widows and their children should be removed from their homes in two weeks time, on 28th May 1878.
The evictions were carried out and replacement miners were allocated their homes. No-one knows what became of these unfortunate widows and their children. In all probability they had to seek accommodation in the Poor House. The ejection of the Blantyre widows was a sad and disgraceful end to the tragic story of the Blantyre explosion.
Redevelopment of the town centre saw the demolition of the old tenement buildings at Glasgow Road to make way for the new centralised Clydeview shopping centre, opened in October 1980, followed by the construction of Blantyre Sports Centre, which opened in June 1982.
Since the demise of the coal industry, Blantyre has almost turned full circle, while not exactly to the quiet peaceful rural village of yesteryear but to a pleasant, open-plan community.
The economy of the town is now largely based upon factory units at High Blantyre Industrial Estate where a variety of companies are engaged in businesses such as light engineering, printing and computer services etc, and are now firmly established within the community.
Famous faces from Blantyre
Born in a single-room tenement in Blantyre in 1813, Livingstone became one of the world's greatest explorers. Despite having to leave school at the age of 10 to work in the cotton mill, Livingstone's enquiring mind and dedication enabled him to educate himself to gain entry to the University of Glasgow where he studied medicine and theology. In 1841 Livingstone travelled to Africa to work as a doctor and missionary. During the next thirty years he explored the 'Dark Continent', discovering the Victoria Falls and leading expeditions up the Zambesi and Nile. It was on the Nile he met the American journalist Henry Stanley who spoke the famous line "Dr Livingstone, I presume?" Livingstone was passionately opposed to slavery and did much to harden British attitudes against the slave trade in Africa. When he died his funeral was held in Westminster Abbey.
There is a visitor centre in Blantyre detailing his life.