PIT FIRE AT HAMILTON. ONE LIFE LOST; SIX MEN RESCUED (May 1905)
Great excitement was created in Hamilton last evening that the news that fire had been discovered in No. 2 pit, Clyde Colliery, belonging to Wilsons Clyde, Ltd. The fire had originated in the haulage engine-room at the bottom of the shaft in the main coal seam.
Fifteen men were engaged on the back shift in Nos. 2 and 3 pits. The fire was first discovered by the men working in No. 3 pit, through which a current of air, after passing through No. 2 pit, finds its way to upcast shaft. A number of the men speedily came to the surface, but it was found that seven were entombed in Pyotshaw and main coal seams, their names being: David Gibson, Park Place; Peter McGuire, boy, Old Town, Hamilton; James McKillop and Alexander McKiliop, boy, Holyrood Street, Burnbank; Henry Nicol, jun., Holyrood Street; John Sharkie, brusher, Hamilton; Robert Dickson, brusher, Beckford Street, Hamilton.
A rescue party was organised, headed by Andrew Hepburn, manager, and James Boyd, oversman, and consisting of 25 men. They once descended the pit. About ten o’clock information reached the surface that they had succeeded in diverting the smoke into another air-course. A later hour word reached the surface that tho rescuers had been successful in bringing to the surface six of the men entombed, the sole victim being James McKillop. When the fire broke out of the men were as far as half a mile into the workings. Their escape was completely cut off by smoke. Luckily one of their number, who had all his life worked in the pit, and was acquainted with its workings, gathered the men together, and led them to an air shaft about 800 yards from the pit bottom. Here they remained in comparative safety, and here they were found by the rescuers.
Unfortunately, the boy McKillop was noticed by his elder brother, James McKillop, to collapse, and this appears to have upset him that he fell down the air shaft, a distance of some 72 feet. Of the six rescued, Dixon and made their way to the surface unassisted, and the others were brought the shaft wrapped in blankets and conveyed their homes in cabs. Their condition is favourably reported on by the doctors.
The body of James McKillop was afterwards found at the bottom of the ventilating shaft, and brought the surface up No. 3 pit. The colliery was one of the first to be opened 30 years ago in connection with the development of Hamilton coalfield, opened by Mr George Simpson, of Benbar fame. It afterwards came into the hands of the Wilsons & Clyde Coal Company, the head of which is John Wilson, M.P. lias been singularly free from accidents, anything approaching the present being a fire nearly fifteen years ago.
Burnbank has existed in one form or another since at least the late fifteenth century when a grant of lands was made to Sir John Hamilton of Newton. A further grant of lands to Sir John Hamilton of Zhisselberry (which is later recorded as Whistleberry) also included the lands in and around Burnbank. At this time the extent of the area accepted as Burnbank included the modern districts of Whitehill and Hillhouse and the area around Peacock Cross on the Burnbank Hamilton border. Burnbank today consists of Burnbank Centre, Limetree & Udston.
Predominantly rural, with a number of plantations (Whistleberry Plantation and Backmuir Plantation being most prominent) to feed the lace industry in Burnbank and Hamilton which had been sponsored since before 1778 by the then Duchess of Hamilton, Elizabeth Campbell, 1st Baroness Hamilton of Hameldon.
With the Industrial revolution, Burnbank lost its rural identity becoming a mining village and the population of Burnbank had grown so great by the 1870s that a committee of citizens decided to apply for the erection of a Burgh of Burnbank. At the same time residents of Burnbank’s western neighbour Blantyre re-acted by petitioning for the erection of a Burgh of Blantyre. Both cases came before the Sheriff Court sitting at Glasgow. The Sheriff gave extra time for the petitioners for both causes to familiarise themselves with the arguments of their opponents and to respond in turn. The Provost and Burgess’s of the existing Burgh of Hamilton, alarmed at the prospect of one (or possibly both) petitions being successful and thus creating a heavily industrialised, modern and vibrant western rival in turn petitioned the parliament of the United Kingdom giving rise to the Burgh of Hamilton Act 1878.By this Act Burnbank was absorbed into Hamilton – ending its own burghal aspirations.
Prior to the nineteenth century agriculture and lace making were important local industries. Burnbank was home to a number of coalmines or pits. Miner’s cottages or “pit rows” were erected by mine owners to house their employees. Many of these were built by local builder Sir Robert McAlpine, 1st Baronet, early in his career and the foundation of his later wealth.
The Udston Mining disaster occurred in Hamilton, Scotland on Saturday, 28 May 1887 when 73 miners died in a firedamp explosion at Udston Colliery. Caused, it is thought, by unauthorised shot firing the explosion is said to be Scotland’s second worst coal mining disaster. Keir Hardie then Secretary of the Scottish Miners’ Federation, denounced the deaths as murder a few days later.
In August 1918 a fire at Albany Buildings (an apartment block owned by the mining company John Watson Ltd) burned to the ground causing £10,000 of damage and leaving 24 families homeless.
In September 1919 strike action in the Lanarkshire coal fields led to the closure of the Greenfield Colliery.
In May 1932 300 men at John Watson’s Earnock Colliery in Burnbank were thrown out of work because of “bad trace.”
In January 1935 Greenfield Colliery, Burnbank, became the last pit in Hamilton to shut permanently. Earnock Colliery also in Burnbank but out-with Hamilton’s boundaries continued working.
During the Second World War Burnbank suffered at least one attack by the Luftwaffe when a bomb was dropped on tenements (known locally as Sing-Sing) near the railway works on the Whitehill Road. In addition to mining a number of other medium-sized industrial concerns have operated within Burnbank including the Stevenson Carpet Factory, Burnbank, at which Jock Stein had his first job in 1935. This is recorded in the Hamilton Advertiser as opening a new factory worth £85,000 in 1958.MEA also operated a factory in the area for many years. A railway wagon cleaning works is located near Whitehill Road.
“From the middle of the 19th century, Hamilton and surrounding hamlets and villages were dangerous places to live and work. Health and safety was not on the list of priorities and many people were killed in industrial accidents. This story tells of the carnage in Burnbank on the 19th June 1876, when dynamite exploded in a builder’s yard the site of which today would be behind Newfield Crescent at the Burnbank entrance to Pollock Avenue”
During the 1850’s, the discovery of rich coal seams in Hamilton and Burnbank heralded the beginning of the development of the infrastructure required to accommodate the industrialisation of what had been a rural setting. With the development of Greenfield Colliery commencing in May 1859, Burnbank expanded rapidly and railway lines were constructed with branches leading off to the coal mines and developing heavy industry.
Within a short period of time Burnbank, had gone from a quiet little hamlet of only a few houses and farms, to a dangerous, noisy, hub of industry with people coming from all over the country and Ireland to seek employment.
By 1876, John Watson had started extensive colliery operations in a field on the lands of Hillhouse farm and with the purchase of a small piece of land at Burnbank he now had access to the new Bothwell- Hamilton railway line which was under construction. Building this railway was Charles Brand & Sons railway contractor Hope Street, Glasgow whose workshops at Shawsburn were at the end of a narrow road just beyond the bridge which spanned the burn going under the Burnbank Road. Originally a farm, the old buildings had been adapted by the company and one of the buildings, 60 feet by 20 feet, had been converted into a store, joiners shop and a smithy, separated by a wooden partition. Another two buildings were used as stables with stalls for twenty four horses.
At twenty-five past eleven on the morning of Monday September 19th June 1876, Burnbank was rocked by an explosion so loud that it was heard beyond Baillieston, Wishaw and Stonehouse. So violent was this explosion that both the County Buildings and Hamilton Barracks along with the rest of Hamilton, shook to their foundations. Debris from the explosion caused damage to property hundreds of yards away and seven workmen employed by McAlpine, building houses at what would become Burnbank Cross were nearly blown off the roof when the building shook violently and debris rained down on top of them.
At a house thirty feet away from the smithy, a woman named Mrs Hughes who had been standing at her doorway was knocked unconscious when she was hit on the cheek by a brick and her daughter who had been doing a washing, was covered in plaster from the roof and walls. Their comfortable home was extensively damaged. Another two houses close to the site of the blast and occupied by James McGinnigan and James Stirling were left uninhabitable. In Burnbank more than one hundred windows were blown in. People ran out on to the street and collected in groups, speculating on the source of explosion and the general consensus of opinion was that a boiler must have blown up.
Men from all around the area ran towards the scene of the explosion. Navvies left the nearby railway-cuttings where they were working and soldiers from Hamilton barracks, and police and officials from the county buildings all headed as fast as they could towards Burnbank, where a huge cloud of smoke hung over the disaster.
It was evident to the people making for the site of the explosion, that whatever had taken place lay up the narrow road at Shawsburn. The first on the scene was county police officer Sergeant Cruikshanks who had been riding only 100 yards away when the explosion occurred. He arrived at the smoking ruins followed by workers from the McAlpine’s building site and was met by a scene of utter devastation. The smithy and joiners shop no longer existed and in their place was a tangled mass of wood, stone and iron. The stables were recognisable but only just. The roofs were gone, and there was a lot of damage caused by flying debris.
The rescuers heard screams of pain coming from cartwright Alexander Livingstone who was lying covered by debris. When released and questioned, he said he had been working that morning with two blacksmiths, two hammermen, two joiners, a labourer and a policeman, a total of nine men. He was carried him to the stable furthest away from the scene of devastation and laid on clean hay where he was treated by Drs Robertson and Grant who had arrived after hearing the explosion. Within a very short space of time, the disaster scene was crowded with officials and helpers, including Sheriff Spens, Commander McHardy, Lanarkshire’s Chief Constable from the County Buildings and Lieutenant Brewster and Dragoons from the barracks in Almada Street.
The scene at the smithy was one of indescribable horror with several of the bodies atomised and lying in a pool of blood near what had been the door was an unidentifiable mass of what had shortly before, been a living human being. One body was found under the upright wheels of a cart and another two were found locked together some nine feet away and a fourth some twelve feet distance. At first it was thought that there were five victims but the arrival of Constable Charles Chrichton with the news that Constable James McCall was missing increased the total to six.
Chrichton and McCall although county constables and wearing the uniform, were both employed and paid by Messrs Brand to watch the railway works. Because the joiners shop also doubled as a pay office and general local headquarters of the firm both men had arranged to meet there to see if any complaints had been lodged before they started their work. Charles Chrichton had escaped death by a few minutes as he had been on his way to the yard when the explosion occurred. Immediately after the disaster he was been dispatched to find a doctor and returned an hour later.
The remains of the victims were removed to a stable where the work of identification could begin. Constable McCall was identified by a piece of his belt and fragments of his handcuffs and police sergeant Cruikshanks and the Rev. Stewart Wright Parish minister at Blantyre had to break the bad news to his young widow Catherine who was heavily pregnant and already the mother of four children.
By that evening six sets of remains had been recovered and as dynamite had been found in the wreckage, work was halted until someone with knowledge of this explosive attended the scene. The following day the suspicion surfaced that there was a seventh victim after a local dog was found running about with a scalp which was later identified as belonging to John Kennedy a labourer.
Three people were injured; cartwright, Alexander Livingston lay unconscious for several days at his father’s Greenfield home but went on to make a good recovery. John Rafferty hammerman at the smithy had a miraculous escape. John had been aware that there was damaged dynamite being stored in the joiners shop and due to the close proximity of the smithy he had repeatedly complained about it, and warned that it could be dangerous. John had been the first one to see that something was going wrong in the workshop when he noticed a blue flame in the corner where the dynamite was stored. He quickly drew the attention of Black the foreman blacksmith’s to it and was told to get a pail of water. He had only reached the door when the dynamite exploded and the force projected him for some distance finally dumping him behind a hedge. When he recovered consciousness he staggered back to the workshops to find the building had been blown to smithereens.
Over 100 pounds of dynamite were found in the debris and one stick complete with fuse was found lodged in a chimney on the McAlpine building site several hundred yards away. There was a public outcry that despite the 1875 Explosives Act, dynamite was being stored in an unauthorised area. Subsequently James Donald Clark, engineer and sub-manager of Messrs Charles Brand & Son was charged with the culpable homicide of the seven victims.
During the trial, one of the witnesses, John Bathgate, told of how on the instructions of Dickie the foreman joiner, he carted 200 lbs of water damaged dynamite from the magazine approximately a quarter of a mile away, to Brands yard and left it in under Dickie’s bench. It was stated that Dickie was in charge of the magazine key and gave dynamite out when authorised. When it was found that a quantity of the dynamite was water damaged, Clark ordered that the magazine be cleaned out and repaired. Experiments had then been carried out with the damaged dynamite including the use of detonators, gunpowder and then a bonfire but it failed to explode and it was concluded that it was useless.
Patrick McAvoy, Donald McGinnes, James Semple, James Clark, John Rafferty and Alexander Livingston all gave evidence as to the presence of the dynamite under the bench. At the summing up of the trial the Advocate- Depute asked for a verdict of guilty but the jury after an absence of half an hour returned a not guilty verdict by a majority of 13 to 3.
Eight weeks later, the report on the results of the official inquiry into the explosion, laid the blame for the explosion at the door of the engineer Mr Clark, despite him being found not guilty in court. The inquiry stated that he was morally responsible, if not criminally responsible for the accident, because it was under his instructions that the dynamite had been stored at an unlawful place i.e. the joiner’s yard. The report emphasised the necessity of keeping dynamite free from contact with water whereby it became extremely dangerous and unstable. Messrs Charles Brand & Son were also implicated.
A sad tale occurred on Saturday the 16th of September 1911. Mrs Thomas Kerr, wife of the keeper of the Mausoleum at Hamilton Palace, died at one o’clock Saturday morning from injuries sustained by explosion of gas in her house late the previous night.
Her husband had gone out to post letter, leaving in the house his wife and two children, aged respectively two years and six months. After making some calls, he returned home between ten and eleven, and entering the house a painful scone confronted him. His wife was lying the stair leading from the kitchen the coal cellar. Her clothes were practically burned off, and her body was scorched in a terrible manner.
He lifted her into the kitchen, and ran for assistance, Mrs Kerr was still conscious, and was able say that when she was going down to the cellar fetch coals something went up in a blaze at the gas jet on the stair. The elder of her two children, a bright little girl, was with her, but Mrs Kerr had the presence of mind to push the child down the stair when the explosion occurred. In this way the girl escaped the flames which enveloped her mother.
The younger child was asleep in a perambulator in the kitchen, and was uninjured. Mr and Mrs Kerr are a young couple, who only entered upon duty at Hamilton Palace three weeks ago, having previously lived at Caledonia Road, Glasgow.
Hamilton Boy in Court. Hamilton, Saturday 10th September 1922.
A remarkable case was heard in Hamilton J.P. Court to-day—ex-Provost Pollock on the Bench —when a diminutive boy of tender years named James McMillan, residing at Grammar School Square, Hamilton, was charged with hounding a dog on the little daughter -of the caretaker of the Mausoleum.
It was represented on behalf of the accused that he had gone to the Palace grounds along with some companions. They were accompanied on that occasion by a dog which was a bid disposition.
Accused did not think that the animal would do the little girl any harm, and he was not alone in urging it to make an attack. It was more a juvenile prank than anything else, but the unfortunate circumstance was that the girl was badly bitten on the right arm. It was a good thing, added the Fiscal, that the animal had been destroyed. In the circumstances the Justices decided to admonish the accused.
Late on Friday night of the 23rd of August 1889 the gardener at Wellhall House, the residence of Colonel Stevenson, C.B., commanding the 26th and 71st regimental districts observed fire rising from storm window on the roof of the stables.
After calling the coachman he forced open the stable door, and the occupants, two valuable horses and pony, were found to have been suffocated. Word was sent to the barracks, and at the bugle call the garrison turned out in masses. The Hamilton fire brigade and under Mr Watson, arrived about the same time, and though under the disadvantage small water pressure, along with the military, they were successful in preventing the burning from spreading to the mansion-house and the adjoining offices.
About eleven o’clock the roof of the stables fell in, and before midnight the fire was virtually got under control. The extent of the damage cannot yet be estimated. One of the horses was Tel-el-Kebir, which carried Colonel Stevenson through the attack .on the Arabs’ stronghold, and was much prized.
The premises destroyed consisted of coachman’s house, four-stalled stables, baronets-room, and loose box with hay loft above the stable. A large crowd was attracted, which Captain Millar, Hamilton Burgh Police, kept in capital order.
Kin ye remember years ago in Hamilton some uf the pubs wur bloody manky?
Ye walked in the bar slid awe ower n’ then ye got served by the widow twanky,,
They wur the real auld “spit n’ sawdust, oh aye “whit dae ye want light ur heavy”
Well ye see , back then ye wurnae spoilt fur choice, ur ye jist didnae git a bevvy”
Then some guy’s got the gether, here’s a great idea, whit aboot a “social club”
Well that day changed everythin’ n’ fur hunners, it soon became the social hub”
They hid a games room, a separate bar, a lounge’ then a great big concert hall”
Music, a trio, comedians, perfict fur dancin’ n” up a hight a big magic”glitterball”
The Greenfield” wis magic, a resident group, n’ ma auld teacher wis the organist”
They hid somethin’ fur everywan, it wi great sittin in comfort while gittin pissed”
“Can ye hear me in the lounge Andy” well, that always caused a big stampede ”
” Bingo in the concert room” ye see fur awe the women it’s a big o’ game speed ”
The wimen wur it the ready, wae thir dabbers, a hunner poun fur a full hoose”
Ye could hear a pin drop, the wans thit spoke ower the turn, quiet as a moose ”
The wimen always hid book uf six, cause tae play they hid tae know the lingo”
Eyes doon look in, jist ye ask any woman, thil say it’s a serious game this bingo”
Ye know thir great places the clubs, thiv got somethin oan nearly every night,,
A kin remember ma mates sayin” where ye bin, n’ cawin me worse thin shite”
Somebody seen ye on Tuesday, gawn past “sing sing” wae wee whitehill Annie”
C’mon spill the beans, “awrite I’ll hivtae admit it “A lumbered it grab a grannie “”
Burnbank House was one of the first grand houses to be built in Burnbank and through time, it had many influential people who owned or lived at the house. The land the building sat on is now used as a public park, situated between Whitehill Road & Burnbank Road. An old wall can still be seen from Yews Crescent that I believe was part of the original boundary wall surrounding the lands at Burnbank House. To put things in to perspective, Burnbank House was situated in the garden behind the flats across from the BP petrol station on Burnbank Road.
Burnbank House was documented as being a superior dwelling house with extensive gardens attached and it was built around c 1715 and it’s first documented owner was a man called McMath. There is very little information on McMath but he was the owner from 1718 to 1744, where it was later owned by a Robert Hamilton and then being sold jointly to John Dewar an Edinburgh tobacconist & the Rev James Hamilton who was the minister at Paisley, where Burnbank House was noted as being a “Summer House” out in the country.
John Dewar sold the house to Bailie, John Aiton of Burnbank on the 20 May 1773 and he owned the house up until his death in 1788. Colonel David Muirhead of the honourable East India Service then bought the house on the 10th of April 1789, however his time at the house was short lived as he died in 1791. His trustees sold the house in 1801 to a wine merchant from Hamilton called Charles Gordon and yet again the house was only shortly owned by Charles for four years, as he in turn sold the estate to Charles Campbell in 1805, Charles was a Glasgow Silk Merchant.
A series of occupants lived at Burnbank House, as Charles Campbell rented it out; Charles would have been probably living at his main house in Glasgow. The people who rented the house were: Captain Moodie, Captain Brown a Mrs Campbell (probably Charles’s wife) and a surgeon called William Weir. On the 5th March 1832, during the time when Captain John Brown Esq was living at Burnbank House, his youngest daughter Elizabeth was married there by the Rev William Buchanan, minister of Hamilton to Lawrence Brown Esq of Edmonstone. This must have been a beautiful place to be married within the grounds of Burnbank House along with the stunning gardens and vast open countryside surrounding the house.
The house was finally sold (apart from 4 Acres) to Patrick Stevenson who was another Glasgow Merchant, it looks like the sale of the house is now being kept in the Glasgow Merchant clique. The 4 Acres that were sold off separately, was acquired by a William Nelson, who was a spirit merchant in Hamilton, who seems to have gone bankrupt. The Stevenson’s, Jamiesons and even Peter W Dixon and D.R Robertson, men with great wealth and high respect also had an interest in the land until it was bought by the Glasgow merchant and banker Lewis Potter in October 1859. It was this man’s enterprise more than anything else that was to transform Burnbank and its neighbours – Greenfield and Udston into a thriving community which in its boom years reached some sixteen thousand people.
Lewis potter at the time was living over at Udston House, not far from Burnbank House. When he bought his new property he had a tenant already living there – Sheriff Veitch, who lived there from 1837 right up to 1861. The house seems to have been sold again c 1874 when Robert Lalston is registered as the owner and he rented it to Major George Hamilton who lived here until 1882. The last tenant to live at Burnbank House was William Clarkson who was living there in 1920, by this time the house was divided and it was agreed that demolition was was to go ahead. Burnbank House was demolished in the 1930s.
Prior to its demolition it seems to have been used as a Hostel, I am unsure if this was official or if the house was inhabited by squatters. By this time, the London, Midland & Scottish railway (L.M.&S) seem to have now acquired the house and surrounding land and the Hamilton Burgh are now wanting to buy the land from L.M&S, to build houses. The Hamilton Burgh buy the ground, extending to 2,292 acres, including Burnbank House, but excluding the Smithy at the corner of Whitehill Road & Burnbank Road, for the sum of £2,000 with certain conditions as to upkeep of fencing etc. The Hamilton Burgh later built flats on Whitehill Road, which were later known locally as Sing Sing.
I would like to thank the staff at the Hamilton Reference Library for helping me find the information on Burnbank House, as there isn’t much on line that can be found on this once beautiful grand and historic building. Some of the notes were also written by the late William Wallace who was one of Hamilton’s finest historians.
Hamilton has long outgrown the days when every school boy knew the town like the palm of his hand and could give an interesting precise on the local “who’s who”. Now one can get lost in a labyrinth of streets with not a kent face in sight, for the separate communities that compromise the whole have no common bond, except perhaps the supermarkets, the libraries and the ever increasing burden of paying for the mammoth development schemes.
In the process Auchingramont Road has become just another thoroughfare cluttered with parked cars. Structurally it is little changed although the north church has been demolished and replaced by a block of flats called “Gramont” and several villas have been concerted in to office. Lately the Glen hotel has put the area on the motorists’ map, it being recommended by the automobile associations.
Formally the residents would have stood aghast at such intrusions. In fact, it is doubtful weather Auchingramont proprietors would have allowed it, as they permitted nothing or no one to interfere with the amenities of the road.
COUNTRY QUIET LANE
They had every reason to be proud of it, for its air of elegance and grace could not be matched elsewhere. It was as peaceful and quiet as a country lane, with the sanctity of the churches pervading the atmosphere. Its beauty entered the soul and one felt refreshed and stimulated physically and mentally.
Doctors, Lawyers, ministers and bankers were representative householders, whose illustrious careers were followed by the general public. Character and breeding shone from every window, but wealth was never blatantly exposed to incite resentment or envy in poor citizens. Rather it appeared as something substantially worth wile, and inspired dreams of achievement without covetousness.
A stroll along Auchingramont was always a pleasure; there was so much to admire and delight to the eye. It is still a lovely residential area but that indefinable something which defies analysis or description has to some extent disappeared.
BUSIEST ON SUNDAYS
In the old days Auchingramont Road was busiest on Sundays, for each of the three churches had good congregations. After morning service, the worshippers were wont to standing little grounds outside their church discussing the sermon or perhaps evaluating a lady’s ensemble. The vicar of St. Mary’s was usually in evidence, and his engaging smile and friendly manner left a lasting impression on many an onlooker.
When the death of Edward the peacemakers was announced, the Episcopalians were first to hold a special service. Women hurriedly acquires black hats, and gloves then rushed to the church, accompanied by young daughters whose mark of defiance consisted of black velvet ribbon tied round their necks. some wore borrowed hats, so that they appeared more like guys dressed for Halloween than mourners. But it was a sad and moving occasions and the laughs at the weird attire were reserved for after. Memorial services were held in other churches, Auchingramont, North being elaborately draped in purple and black.
My dearest memories of Auchingramont, however, centre around the North Church, particularly during the ministry of the Rev Thomas Brown M.A. and that of the Rev John McCallum, Robertson M.A. I can still hear Mr Robertson’s talk on “The House with the Green Shutters”. His Sunday evening disclosures drew people from far and wide and filled the church to overflowing, so that they had sometimes to sit on the balcony steps. He was a great orator. Thus his successor began with a disadvantage. Mr Brown however was warm-hearted and easier to approach than the scholarly Mr Robertson.
The first minister of Auchingramont was the Rev Peter C Duncanson, who came with the congregation from the relief church in Muir Street, now part of Smellie’s Market. The church dates back to 1776 and its exiting history has been written by Baillie James F Hamilton, a man of high endeavour and personal magnetism.
I possess a stucco bust of Duncanson which was executed by J Mossman and originally belonged to the Bishop family of Barncluith. It was given to my grandparents, who never tired of telling how much pleasure it gave their beloved minister to see his image on their mantelshelf.
The new church was opened on 24th November 1867. Special services were held and Dr Johnston, limekilns occupied the pulpit in the morning. Mr Duncanson officiated in the afternoon and Dr Eadie in the evening. The collections for the day amounted to £202.3s.4d.
The church cost £5,233.13.7d and the manse £1,703.19s. The old church was sold for £525. This, together with various contributions and the proceeds from a bazaar held in the Town Hall, considerably reduced the sum outstanding. But it took 26 years, a second bazaar held at the Art Galleries, Glasgow in October 1884, and a third held in the Town Hall in 1893 to liquidate the debt. The ladies of the congregation made every effort to make the bazaar a success and the £3,180 raised in this way was a very gratifying result.
Mr William Cassels personally collected £105 – the cost of the bell erected in the tower. I may have been prejudiced but as a child i considered it had the most melodious and distinctive tone of any bell in Hamilton. The bellringer then was Mr Scott of Selkirk Street and the Beadle was Mr Williamson.
Wilma sent this story to Historic Hamilton at the start of last month and the story could be seen as controversial, however it is based on facts and letters published in the Hamilton Advertiser.
When we consider the damage to local buildings caused by the extraction of coal during the 19th and 20th centuries, Hamilton is indeed fortunate to have many fine old grey, red and honey coloured sandstone buildings still surviving. Looking at these buildings, some of which still show evidence of subsidence damage, it is hard to comprehend how the town’s residents managed to live with the daily threat of collapsing homes and the ever present danger of falling masonry and slates.
Such was the extent of the damage, a town Bailie is recorded as saying at a council meeting during December 1891 that “if a stranger were to pass through the town at present, he would think it had been wrecked by an earthquake,” another remarked that “tenants were living in terror”. On June 3rd, 1911 the Hamilton Advertiser reported that “that the new and costly Academy in Auchincampbell Road is showing signs of fracture from mineral workings before the walls are more than half-way up”. To prevent further damage, coal hundreds of feet below the building was purchased from the Bent Coal Company and left in situ to provide solid foundations. Graphic accounts in local archives tell of joists snapping in the middle of the night and people in night clothes fleeing their homes as gable ends, roofs and chimney stacks collapsed. Fractured gas mains set fire to property and buildings all over the town were being shored up to prevent them collapsing. If the old buildings which are left could talk, many of them would have extremely diverse and interesting tales to tell.
A classic example of this is the grey sandstone building at number 116 Cadzow Street, the story of which is inextricably linked to the industrial history of our town and which without a shadow of a doubt, has more stories to tell than most. Now being privately renovated, it was seriously neglected by South Lanarkshire Council who had bought the property. The building was paid for by coal miners contributions and was once the proud headquarters of Lanarkshire Miners’ Union. If only the building could talk, it is a silent witness to a gargantuan battle between moderate trade unionists and the Communist Party who were intent in achieving total control over the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union.
Designed by Alexander Cullen and built to replace the New Cross offices of the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union, the building was opened on July 16th, 1908, by John Robertson the building committee convener. Union secretary David Gilmour in his opening speech, publicly acknowledged that Blantyre’s late William Small was one of the pioneers whose labours had made it possible for them to reach their present strong position.” He also spoke of another great pioneer Alexander MacDonald, M.P. 1821-1881, who in 1829 at the age of eight entered a Monklands mine where he worked for eighteen years. Harnessed like a beast of burden, MacDonald and other children aged from seven to eleven slaved every day transporting hutches of coal to the surface. Almost forty years later, on the 28th April, 1868, when called to give evidence to the Royal Commission on Trade Unions, he gave a graphic account of how the children “wore leather belts for our shoulders. We had to keep dragging the coal with these ropes over our shoulders, sometimes round the middle with a chain between our legs. Then there was always another behind pushing with his head.”
Alexander MacDonald was gifted with a quick mind but had little formal education; however, in his twenties he started attending night school after work and developed an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Eventually he gained admission to Glasgow University the fees of which he funded by working as a coal miner during holidays. His education enabled him to work as a teacher, but never forgetting his years underground he spent the rest of his life trying to improve the lives of coal miners by becoming actively involved in the formation of a miners’ union. His harrowing evidence given before the Royal Commission on Trades Unions was instrumental in the passing of legislation for the 1872 Mines Act which vastly improved the working conditions for both miners and children. Another product of his leadership was the Mines Act of 1860, which empowered miners to appoint and pay a checkweigher from among their number to be present at the weighing of coal to ensure that the correct weight was recorded. Prior to this, miners were regularly underpaid for the coal they sent up to the pit head. In 1874 MacDonald stood as a Lib–Lab candidate for Stafford and won, becoming one of the first working-class members of the House of Commons. Throughout his life he fought to improve conditions for coalminers. He died in 1891at Hamilton’s only recently demolished Wellhall House and was buried in Monklands Churchyard. As his funeral cortège passed through Hamilton, the streets were lined with thousands of miners paying their last respects to a good man and a great trade unionist.
Many men of a similar caliber followed in Alexander McDonald’s footsteps. Men like Keir Hardie, Hector McNeil, Robert Steel, John Dunn, Robert Smillie, William Small, William B. Small, David Gilmour and John Robertson, all of them trail blazers who fought long hard battles to win safer and better conditions for miners and whose qualities of courage, honesty and conviction count them with Alexander MacDonald as the founding fathers of the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union.
The end of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century saw a relatively prosperous period for miners, but with war clouds gathering over Europe, life for them was never going to be quite the same again. With the declaration of World War One on August 4th 1914, countless men left the pits to fight for their country and they fought with distinction and great courage.
The peace which followed the carnage resulted in thousands of miners returning home expecting to be re-employed in local coal mines only to find that the market for British coal was collapsing and their chance of finding work was almost negligible. Hamilton pits still working were on short time and in September 1919, the Bent, Greenfield, Earnock, Neilsland, Hamilton Palace and all the Larkhall collieries closed until further notice throwing 10,000 men out of work. It was during this period of mass unemployment there appeared a more insidious and dangerous enemy than any they had ever encountered before….. the Communist Party, organised by local power hungry political extremists.
Seeing the vulnerability and despair endemic in the coal fields, the Communists seized the opportunity and the battle for complete control of 116 Cadzow Street began. Party zealots targeted the unemployed miners knowing that hunger and poverty left them extremely vulnerable to their persuasive tongues. Had employment and working conditions been normal, the usually sensible and hard working Labour voting miners would have laughed at their radical beliefs, but destitution and worry can change the way people think and the propaganda preached to men who were at their wits end trying to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads appeared to some like the solution to their problems. Desperate men blinded by promises of full employment, a six hour day and wages higher than they could ever have dreamed of were brainwashed into believing in a Communist utopia.
Blantyre in particular had become a Communist hotbed and the miners’ smoldering insecurities were blown into flames by highly organised propaganda campaigns orchestrated by communists like Andrew McAnulty and William Allan, who taking their instructions and orders from their Communist masters preyed upon the despair of the unemployed coal miners in their effort to gain outright political power.
During the 1921 miners’ strike and the long drawn out agony of the 1926 strike, the members of the Communist Party of Great Britain were to the fore in using the dissemination of their propaganda as a political strategy in an attempt to win over the coal miners to their cause. A letter clearly referring to the dangers appeared in the following excerpt from a letter published in the July 19th, 1926 edition of The Lanarkshire which left the reader in no doubt as to who the writer’s was talking about when he asks “is there a Labour man in Blantyre who imagines he can see home questions better with Soviet spectacles than with Scottish or Blantyre goggles?”
By 1927, 20,000 Lanarkshire colliery workers were unemployed. The disastrous 1926 strike resulted in large regular European orders being lost to Silesian coal companies where miners were paid £1 for working a seventy hour week. The coal from these mines was sold at prices Britain could never compete with. Another major factor for unemployment among Lanarkshire miners was the exhaustion of many of the seven to ten feet high seams of prime splint coal used for blast furnaces and a greater part of the coal output was being obtained from seams of two feet or less in thickness. These seams were more difficult and expensive to work resulting in the closure of many uneconomic collieries. This had a knock on effect on neighbouring pits where the pumping equipment failed to cope with the flooding coming from the abandoned mines, causing them in turn to shut down. The Hamilton Advertiser noted on December 15th, 1928, that “78 pits were reported to have closed down in Lanarkshire, throwing 3218 employees out of work and 540 pits previously employing 34,330 wage earners had been abandoned in Great Britain since January 1927”. For the once great British coal industry, this was the beginning of the end.
A stark warning about the Communist infiltration was included in the March 12th, 1927 edition of the Hamilton Advertiser. This article records how “The Miners’ Minority Movement was carrying out intensive propaganda for the reorganisation of the Miners’ Federation and taking advantage of the dislocated condition of the Federation and district unions as a result of the strike. They are a unit of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and their objective is the overthrow of the present system by revolutionary methods. They make demands which are economically impossible. It is not their desire that the miners should reason them out, but accept them as submitted so that they can carry out an attitude of discontent which is the most important factor in their propaganda. Their movement is not wholly maintained by their members, who are mostly unemployed. It would be of interest if some of the officials, say Mr Allan, would come forward and let the miners be acquainted with the source of their revenue.” The article advises that “the workers must do their part in refusing to listen to the agitators who create strikes for their own benefit and to the detriment of the miner.”
Miners were aware of the indoctrination tactics being used by the Communists and articles and letters on the subject were appearing on a regular basis in local newspapers. A letter published in the Hamilton Advertiser of February 18th, 1928 points out the dangers and makes the following plea to the mining community “we need a Miners’ Union free from the scarlet fever of Communism. Referring to the carnage of World War One, the writer reminds readers that “all nations are now banded together in an effort to abolish war with all its horrors. The only section of the community is that of the Communists, who seek to let loose the dogs of commercial strife and this is but a step forward to the rattle of machine guns and the sowing the seeds of death and desolation. War, whether in the battlefield or in the industrial field must be paid for. What decent folk want is peace and the prosperity that alone can come from peace.”
By this time most branches of the Miners’ Union had been infiltrated and the Hamilton Advertiser of August 18th 1928 published a letter from an outraged miner in Ponfeigh near Douglas Water, telling how James Hunter the “late” Communist local branch secretary of the Lanarkshire Mineworkers’ Union, had attempted to falsify a Communist majority in a Union ballot. The writer describes how the entry written by Hunter in the minutes of the local branch meeting of 5th December recorded a Communist victory for a ballot which was not held untill the 9th, three days after he had documented the “results” in the book.
The Hamilton Advertiser regularly warned the mining communities about the dangers of Communism. On June 2nd, 1928 headlines of “COMMUNISM EXPOSED” reported how the National Union of Scottish Mineworkers had issued a strong condemnation of the Communist and Minority Movement at a meeting in Glasgow of the Executive Committee presided over by Mr Robert Smellie, M.P. the first President of the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union from its inception in 1889 until January 1919. At the meeting, he made an appeal for the “the men and women in the Scottish coalfield to support the Union.” Their movement he stated had only been made possible by the service and sacrifice of numberless men and women who had paid the price in suffering, privation and victimisation as the result of their activities on behalf of the workers.” He added: —“The growth and development of our organisation during recent years encourage us to hope that at the next General Election a Labour Government in power is reasonably possible. With Labour in power the beginning of a new and happier era in the working class struggle will commence.” His explicit message couldn’t have been any clearer as he spoke of how “the Communist Party and its auxiliary body, the Minority Movement, were acting on definite instructions from an outside and foreign executive authority and were seeking to capture the industrial and political machinery built up by the workers of this country. Their method of achieving this is as unscrupulous as it is dishonest. ‘Don’t trust your leaders’ is their slogan, while their own slavish subservience and implicit obedience to their own masters the autocrats of the Red International, is only equalled by their desire to attain the position of those whom they have systematically transduced with that object only in view. That the Communist Party and the Minority Movement are one and the same is now proved. They are the children of the same parents, and cannot by the very nature of their connection carry out the will of the workers, as they must not concern themselves with what the Union members think but only what the Executive of Moscow International decides. The will of the majority means nothing to them and their professional desire to serve the interests of their fellow Trade Unionists becomes a lying phrase in the mouths of men who have bound themselves to carry out the dictates of this autocracy to whom they are responsible… their method of obtaining selection and election.”
At 116 Cadzow Street, a desperate battle was being played out in an attempt to prevent the Communist members of Lanarkshire Mineworkers’ Union taking over the Union at elections due to take place in June 1928. Moderate members of the Executive tried to place a ban on Communist interference at a meeting of the Executive held at Hamilton and the following resolution was submitted by them:– “To draw attention to the interference of the Communist organisation and its ally, the so-called Minority Movement, with the questions affecting the internal and domestic affairs of the Lanarkshire Mineworkers’ Union by holding open public meetings to which persons are invited who have no concern or interest in the miners’ organisation and, at which resolutions are made to support the candidature for official positions in the Lanarkshire Mineworkers’ Union of such persons as are willing to carry out instructions given or conveyed to them by emissaries of the above named outside and alien organisations; and as their interference is an invasion of the right of members of the Lanarkshire Mineworkers’ Union to choose their representatives in a manner consistent with their usual custom and practice, and intended to cause friction and dissension, this Executive Committee recommends that any person on the panel of those outside organisations, and being recommended by them, be declared ineligible to hold any official or executive position in the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union, and that his or their name or names should not be submitted to the members of the organisation to be voted upon at any election.”
Communist Andrew McAnulty, by now Union president ruled the resolution out of order, whereupon his ruling was challenged and it was moved that he be asked to leave the chair. This motion was carried by a 2 to 1 majority, whereupon the proceedings were adjourned. At a subsequent meeting, McAnulty insisted on continuing as chairman and as a consequence, another state of deadlock was reached.
By June 30th, 1928 the Communist leaders of the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union were reported to be sending delegates into English mining areas to ask for help in their fight to clear out the “old gang” (the moderates). The same week it was stated, “A Lanarkshire Communist has been in Nottingham coalfields begging the miners there to assist the Lanarkshire “Reds” in their plans to capture the union machine.” The majority members of the executive of the Lanarkshire Miners’ County Union, who have been demanding that Mr Andrew McAnulty should vacate the position of chairman, issued a manifesto yesterday in support of their attitude. The objection to Mr McAnulty arose because of his refusal to allow a motion which proposed to ban all nominees for union positions whose names appear on the lists of the Communist Party and Minority Movement.” The manifesto, which was signed by three miners’ M. P.’s and others declared:–
“The Lanarkshire Miners’ Union have been in chaos since June 5 when the business of the union has been held up by the chairman Mr Andrew McAnulty, who has put forward a claim that “his decision on any subject must be accepted by the members as final and conclusive”. He has repeatedly refused since the above date to allow the question at issue, viz., the right of the members to appoint their officials, delegates, and members of the Executive Council free from the interference of persons belonging to the Communist Party and Minority Movement, to be considered either by the Executive Council or a conference of delegates. As this arrogant and impudent claim, if admitted, would destroy all representative and democratic organisation, the following members of the executive who form the majority, have no alternative but to advise local officials and members that any communication they may receive from the chairman and secretary of the union with respect to elections or any other matter will be unauthorised and irregular until after a conference of delegates has been called.”
Andrew McAnulty was a fanatical hard line Communist and a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The objective of every Communist was to infiltrate organisations, increase party membership and supply new recruits. The Communist radicalisation of the Lanarkshire coal miners had begun and with McAnulty at the helm, Communists infiltrated the union at an alarming rate.
In August 1928, local non Communist miners’ MP’s and Lanarkshire Miners’ Union members in an attempt to remove McAnulty and his Communist comrades applied for and were granted a note of suspension and interdict in the Bill Chamber of the Court of Session, Edinburgh. This suspension prompted his resignation at the end of August 1928. In his letter of resignation he gave “a loss of self esteem and his nerves being affected” due to the attempts by the moderates to have him removed.
into a union, I should like to set a few plain facts before them. For some time past we have had nothing in our district but debt and disunion. Now our enthusiasm is rekindled and we are told if the Blantyre miners intend to attain to their former admirable position, we needs just copy the wise example of other districts. Very good indeed, Mr McAnulty is the one that has to enact “the one eyed monarch among the blind,” and we, the Blantyre miners, have to contribute our quota to keep up the magnificent fun. I marvel much at their impertinence when we miners reflect on the unions of the past. Now sir, I could carpet a floor with union books and all the union money vanished in expenses. Now, we are asked to start another by the same agent that made the rest of the unions beautiful failures. Surely the Blantyre miners are not going to ballot a man on for his ability and cleverness in breaking up unions. If that be the case, I as one object, until I get a clear understanding. Has Mr McAnulty not openly said that all the unions in the past were useless? Then I ask him on what lines he is intending to draft this new species? Will it be one of the old species? Will it be one of the old kind which took all we miners could contribute for postcards and what the committee could borrow for ink? If that is to be the sort of union, I would advise the Blantyre miners to have none of it. Let us not build up another frail, fragile sham. If we have to be in union at all, let us have a solid one that will be appreciated and carry weight with it. Goodness knows, it makes men’s brains sick to observe so many unions set a going only to crumble away. I am, yours, etc., Frederick Farrell.
In recent years the airbrushing of Andrew McAnulty’s contribution to Lanarkshire’s mining history has resulted in him being erroneously described as the “first” president of the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union and “champion of the working class,” instead of a dyed in the wool Communist whose political ambition and radical extremist beliefs caused nothing but strife, strikes, suffering and poverty for miners and their families. Much has been made of his unfurling of the National Coal Board flag at the newly nationalised Dixon’s Collieries in 1947 and of being awarded a weekly pension of £2 by the National Union of Mineworkers’ whose General Secretary William Pearson just happened to be a close friend of McAnulty and a fanatical Communist and a prolific contributor to the letters column of the Hamilton Advertiser, where his descriptions of the wonderful working and living conditions enjoyed by Soviet miners in Stalin’s Siberian coal mines beggars belief. Sixty years after Andrew McAnulty’s death, Blantyre’s Stonefield Public Park was renamed McAnulty Park much to the anger and disbelief of many Blantyre residents a number of whom noted their disapproval through the letters pages of the Hamilton Advertiser.
Historical accuracy is often the first casualty when eyewitnesses are dead and no one is left to challenge what has been written; but the indisputable evidence of the Communist take over of Lanarkshires Miners’ Unions has not vanished into the mists of time. The rank and file throughout the coal mining communities repeatedly contributed to local newspapers voicing their alarm at what was happening and in doing so, they recorded the facts, fears and their eyewitness accounts of what was taking place throughout the Lanarkshire coal field and beyond. Their testimony can be found in the archives of the old Hamilton Advertisers which are available for the public to read at Hamilton Town House Reference Library situated at 102 Cadzow Street and only a stone’s throw from the former miners’ union headquarters at 116 Cadzow Street, Hamilton where this story began