Udston Colliery, one of Hamilton’s old coal mines which was opened in 1875 was situated on the higher ground at Hamilton. I say Hamilton, however, boundaries change through time and today the location of where the mine was situated crossed over three streets at West Craigs in Blantyre. The exact location of the two coal shafts was where the waste ground is behind the playpark on Westpark Avenue and this would be the reason as to why no houses are built directly above on this land. However, one shaft entrance was directly under the back garden of no 28 Blackcraig Brae.
In my opinion, there should be some kind of plaque or memorial for the 73 men and boys who were brought to the surface here dead and not one miles away at Hamilton town Centre. The exact location of where the miner’s rows once stood is on the overgrown bushy land that is immediately across from the entrance to Davington Drive at the start of Newhousemill Road.
The streets that now stretch across where the colliery was situated are Thorn Avenue (The Bing), Blackcraig Brae (The railway line and Bing and a shaft), Glamis crescent (The Water Tanks).
Perched high up on the hill it offered splendid views across Lanarkshire and further back up the hill a bit was the houses for the miners that came with the job, or tied houses, so when you worked here you got your own little house supplied for you and your family to live in. This area was known as Udston Rows or speaking in old language it was known as Udston ‘Raws’.
Udston Rows was a little community in itself and had its very own school for the miner’s children and as it was so far out of Hamilton believe it or not, it had its very own public house. Which many of the men from Udston would have spent their hard-earned money chatting about their day and discussing everything relevant to them, I for one would have loved to go back in time and listen in on some of their conversations. The little pub at the corner of Udston Rows was also on a great location for the miner’s wives to come and find their men and they did not have far to go when it was time for the nightly round up at home time.
The Colliery was owned by the Udston Coal Company and when it opened in 1875 it was really quite small compared to others in the Hamilton area. It employed approximately 200 men and boys and they worked in three seams of coal and it had a depth of nearly 1000 feet. The workings of the colliery extended for 150 acres and crossed the border of Blantyre, Earnock & Greenfield Collieries.
The last remaining evidence of this little thriving community was removed between 1999 & 2002 when the construction of the West Craigs estate got underway.
There are hundreds and hundreds of newspaper reports of fatalities that happened across the coalmines of Lanarkshire, Hamilton had more than its fair share, but sadly Udston had far more than others. This little coal mine was home to the second worst mining disaster in Scotland where 73 men & boys tragically lost their lives while earning a living at the coalface. The first recorded accidental death at Udston happened on the 22nd of May 1879 where a boy called James Stewart who was only 17 was killed by a roof fall and this boy’s death would be the start of many more to come.
On the 31st of July 1879, the first rule breaker caught at Udston was a man named Neil McNeil a miner from Burnbank who was charged when on the 25th of July that year was caught in possession of a lamp key while working underground. Now why was this such a big deal? If you had a lamp key, then you could open the safety of the glass case on the davy lamp and in turn, if there was any sign of toxic underground gasses or better known as after damp, then you could effectively cause an explosion underground which would kill everyone in the vicinity. It was found at court that Neil had endangered the lives of his fellow coal miners on shift that day.
Having a lamp key was banned while underground and Neil was going to be made an example of, so he was sentenced to three months imprisonment with no option of a fine, this was a harsh sentence as it meant that his wife and children would not have an income for those three months. When Neil returned from prison, his name was also blacklisted by other coal masters and he had to move away from the area to find other employment. Even in July 1879, it was known that Udston Colliery was giving off a lot of gas underground and it was only a matter of time when an accident had occurred, which did happen in 1887.
In October 1879 Robert Ure & David Boreland Proprietor & Manager of the colliery were both fined when they employed a group of women to work at the pithead after 9:00pm. The women were also on the dayshift and were paid for the overtime. They were given the option of a £5 fine for Robert, £3 fine for David, or one month’s imprisonment.
On the 17th of April 1882 a man named Simon Taylor (28) was recorded as being killed at the colliery, however, when I investigated this man’s death, I found that he has been incorrectly recorded as being killed at the mine. He actually died of pneumonia on the 3rd of May 1882 at royal infirmary in Glasgow. I also went on to find that this man’s residence was actually at Dykehead. So, its at least one name that can be removed from this coal mines accident history.
On the Monday the 15th of May 1882, there was an explosion caused by afterdamp at the colliery. Three men were killed and eight were found severely burned. William Archibald (53) Charles Morrison (35) and his son William Morrison (13) were killed by afterdamp poisoning.
On Monday the 26th of May 1884 an accident happened where a mineral train being shunted ran over the brakes man who was called Donald Fraser. He suffered a broken leg and was taken to the Glasgow Royal infirmary.
The next fatality to happen at Udston was when a man named William Rennie who was working as a wagon trimmer was instantly killed when he was caught between two wagons, he was crushed to death.
The miners were underground working for their full shift and smoking underground was banned, this however did not stop a few gasping for a smoke taking down tobacco and matches. In November 1886, a miner called James Lindsay was fined £2, or the option of one-month imprisonment for doing the very thing that was banned. The newspaper reports of the time also tell us that the owners were aware of the explosive gas that was in pit No1. Health & Safety was no longer the point of focus for the managers of Udston as in the same month two other Udston Miners named Wellington & Chandler, were each fined £1-, or seven-day’s imprisonment for firing a shot that was not under the direction of the fireman. At Udston Rows, there was approximately 58 buildings to start and the by 1881 there were 70 and during the time of the 1881 census, these houses consisted of 40 Single & 17 double rows, the double rows kept for the workers with larger families but did come with a higher rent. They were built on the land directly behind Newhousemill Road and when I looked at the 1881 census if found the following families living here:
FAMILIES LIVING IN A DOUBLE ROW HOUSE.
Double Row 1: DAVID MORRISON – Horse Keeper – Born at Campsie, Stirlingshire. His family consisted of his wife Sarah & four sons called James, Alexander, David & Allan & daughter Flora.
Double Row 2: John Winter – Spirit Storekeeper – Born at Kinnoull, Perth. His family was Wife Isabella, Walter (Killed by Explosion in 1887), Isabella, John & Janet.
Double Row 3: Thomas Paterson (Survived the 1887 Explosion) – Underground Fireman – Born at Coatbridge. His wife Ann and son Alexander.
Double Row 4: James Cathcart – Colliery Pithead Man – Born at Hamilton. His family living with him were, Wife Giles, two sons, David & Richard & two daughters Annie & Agnes. He also had a lodger living with him who was called David Fernie.
Double Row 5: Was Vacant on the night of the census was taken.
Double Row 6: William Stalker – Coal Miner – born at Tillicoultry, Stirring. Living here was his large family with his wife Charlotte, his two daughters Margaret, Charlotte. His Granddaughter Charlotte. His three sons, George, John & Hendry.
Double Row 7: Edward Torley – Colliery Oversman – Born at East Kilbride, He lived here with his wife Margaret and his two sons Hugh & Alexander (Killed by Explosion in 1887) and daughter Margaret.
Double Row 8: Unknown.
Double Row 9: Andrew Kerr – Coachman & Domestic Servant – Born at Bellshill. He lived with his wife Janet.
Double Row 10: William Ballantyne – House Joiner – Born in Blantyre. William lived here with his wife Ellen.
Double Row 11: John Bolton – Coal Miner, born at Hamilton. John was one of the survivors of the 1887 disaster. John lived here with his wife Elizabeth, two daughters Agnes & Jessie and son William.
Double Row12: Andrew Rodger – Colliery Clerk – Born at Barrhead. He lived here with his wife Agnes and his stepdaughter Maggie McLarty and their other kids, William & Mary.
Double Row 13: John Madden – Coal Miner, born in Ireland. In this family were his three sons & daughter, who were called John, Bernard, Mary & Andrew. John & Bernard had a lucky escape when they both survived the 1887 pit disaster & Bernard went on to assist with the rescue of the trapped miners.
Double Row 14: Patrick Cain – Coal Miner – Born in Ireland. Patrick lived here with his wife Elizabeth and 3 sons Patrick, Michael & James.
Double Row 15: John Gunion – Commercial Clerk – Born at Glasgow. He lived here with his wife Elizabeth. This family had two daughters, however, none lived at Udston with them. Elizabeth emigrated to Auckland in New Zealand where she married and settled down.
Double Row 16: David Boreland – Coal Miner born at Larbert. He lived here with his wife Mary and their four kids, Robert, James, Ann & Elizabeth. David also survived the 1887 pit disaster.
Double Row 17: Unknown.
FAMILIES LIVING IN THE SINGLE ROW HOUSES.
Single Row 1: Alexander Gourley – Carter – Born in Ireland. He lived here with his wife Margaret and three daughters, Elizabeth, Isabella & Sarah, and son William. They also had a lodger called William Rainey, who was a widow.
Single Row 2: Vacant on the night the census was taken. A miner would have most likely just left employment that day or not long before. They were never empty for long.
Single Row 3: David McKenzie – Coal Miner born at Edinburgh. He lived here with his wife Elizabeth.
Single Row 4: Samuel Meek – Coal Miner born in Ireland. Living with him was his wife Rose and grandson John Rodgers.
Single Row 5: James Ballantyne (Widow) – Engineer & Fitter born at Carmichael.
Single Row 6: William Cathcart (Survived the 1887 disaster) – Coal miner, born at Quarter. William lived with his wife Ellen and daughter Jessie.
Single Row 7: Unknown or unoccupied.
Single Row 8: Unknown or unoccupied.
Single Row 9: Charles Harden – Coal Miner brusher, born in England. This house would have been cramped as Charles lived here with his wife Agnes and five kids, Hugh, John, Ellen, Mary & Amory. The family also had a lodger called James Kirk.
Single Row 10: James Queen – Coal Miner – Born in Ireland. James lived with his family who consisted of his wife Sarah Ann and their children, Mary Ann, John, Elizabeth, James & Maggie.
Single Row 11: Maria Swanson – No Occupation recorded. She lived here with her son Robert Bolton and a lodger called Alexander Hunter.
Single Row 12: James White – Colliery Fireman – born at Blantyre. James lived here with his wife Jane and son William. He also had two lodgers living here with him who were called George Simpson & James Holmes.
Single Row 13: Adam Thompson – Coal miner – born at Coatbridge. Living here was is his wife Ellen and his kids, William, Peter, Mary & Ellen. Adam eventually became destitute and had resorting to scavenging for food. Before he died in 1910, he was receiving poor relief.
Single Row 14: Richard Clyde – Coal Miner born at Kilsyth. He lived here with his wife Janet.
Single Row 15: Thomas Brannan and his wife Margaret. Thomas was a Brickwork Labourer and he was born in Ireland.
Single Row 16: John Muirhead – Joiner – Born at Cambusnethan. He lived here with his wife Janet and son Thomas. John survived the 1887 disaster.
Single Row 17: David Linn – Coal Miner – Born in Ireland. He lived here with his wife Susan.
Single Row 18: Owen Quinn – Coal Miner – Born at Ireland. He lived with his four kids William, Owen, Elizabeth & Ellen.
Single Row 19: Robert Maxwell – Coal Miner – Born at Glasgow. He lived with his wife Margaret and their kids, Allan, Jane, John, Robert, James & William.
Single Row 20: Allan Maxwell – Coal Miner – born at Glasgow. He lived here with his wife Grace.
Single Row 21: Unoccupied on the night of the census.
Single Row 22: Robert Finnie – Coal Miner – Born at Irvine. He lived here with his wife Margaret and a boarder called Thomas McGowan.
Single Row 23: Robert Robinson – House Carpenter – Born in England. He lived here with Wife Mary Jane and his two kids Emma & Robert.
Single Row 24: Samuel Robertson – Coal Miner – Born at Irvine. He lived here with his wife Mary and kids, James, Elizabeth, John & Margaret.
Single Row 25: James Alasoan (Allison?) – Born at Bridgeton – coal miner. He lived with his wife Mary and three kids James, Ellen & Agnes.
Single Row 26: Unoccupied on the night of the census.
Single Row 27: John Bolton – Colliery Engine Keeper – Born at Hamilton. He lived here with his wife Agnes and son John. John was a survivor of the 1887 disaster.
Single Row 28: Nisbet Pope – Joiner – Born at Wishaw. He lived here with his wife Sarah and their four kids, Amy, Christopher, Sarah and James.
Single Row 29: Archibald Muir – Coal Miner – Born at Pollockshaws. Living here was his wife Jennie and his three kids, Mary, Elizabeth, and Janet. He also had his mother-in-law Elizabeth Ferguson living here.
Single Row 30: James Torley – Coal Miner (Unable to work on the night of the census) Born at East Kilbride. He lived here with his two brothers, Felix & Richard, along with a boarder called John Philips. Felix Torley was one of the men killed at the 1887 disaster.
Single Row 31: This would have been a tight squeeze, however, James Barrowman – Colliery Engine Keeper – Born at Dundonald lived here with his wife Mary and six kids, who were called, John, James, Mary, Jane, Isabella & Margaret.
Single Row 32: Andrew Cooper – Coal Miner and former Soldier – born at Stonehouse. He was living here with his wife Mary and two kids, Janet & Andrew.
Single Row 33: Catherine Cain. Catherine was recorded as the head of the household, however on the night of the census she stated that she was the wife of a night watchman. She was living here with her five sons, Patrick, John, James, Thomas & Henry.
Single Row 34: John McLusker – Coal Miner – Born at Cadder. He lived here with his wife Margaret and their five kids, John, Alexander, Margaret, Janet and Sarah.
Single Row 35: John Cowan – Blacksmith – Born at Stevenson, Ayrshire. He lived with his wife Janet.
Single Row 36: Francis Newlands – Coal Miner – Born at Oakley, Fifeshire. Francis lived here with his wife Catherine and their six kids, James, William, Matthew, Mary Jane, Francis Jr & Maggie. In 1901 Francis was in ill health and was living at 11 Thornwood Rows in Uddingston. He went missing from his home. He was later found drowned in the Clyde. His family were devastated.
Single Row 37: Robert Cain – Coal Miner – Born in Ireland. Robert lived here with his wife Agnes and five kids, Patrick, Rose Ann, Daniel, William & Henry.
Single Row 38: Thomas Allan – Coal Miner – Born at Wishaw. Thomas lived with his wife Ann and three kids, John, Mary & Margaret.
Single Row 39: John Maxwell – Colliery pit fireman – Born at Glasgow. He lived here with his wife Jane and five kids, James, Marion, Grace, John & Jane.
Single Row 40: John Tolan – Coal Miner – Born in Ireland. He lived here with his wife Isabella.
After the 1887 pit disaster half of this community were quickly replaced but before the disaster the colliery owners were trying to take the health and safety of its miners more serious. The coal mines across Lanarkshire were still a very dangerous place to work and with men & boys losing limbs, being crippled, burned and even killed at work almost on a daily basis they had to make examples of employees who flouted the laws.
The inevitable did however happen at 09:30am, on the morning of Saturday the 28th of May 1887, when an explosion happened. On this day it was Mordred that there was 220 men working underground.
The explosion was heard from as far away Greenfield Colliery in Burnbank. This brought echoes from the past back to a lot of families when only ten years earlier Scotland’s worst mining disaster happened at Dixon’s pit in Blantyre where approximately 220 men and boys were tragically killed.
The explosion happened in what was called the splint coal seam and there was carnage everywhere and immediately when the explosion happened a sheet of flames shot up the shaft and the wooden frame-built sheds were on fire above the pithead and the wooden shafts which descended down in the dark mine were thought to have collapsed.
The up and down cast shafts of No1 pit and the down cast of No2 pit, where simultaneously blocked by cages that were jammed in the wooden frameworks. In No 2 pit, where the explosion occurred, there were 119 men & boys and in No 1 there were 66. It was then found that the cage in the upcast shaft of No 2 was not jammed and three men were in fact still in the shaft. After a lot of difficulty, the cage was wound up to the surface.
Word very quickly spread and the Wives, brothers, sons & daughters who were above ground on that fateful day darted towards the pit head. Rescue parties from Blantyre and Hamilton ran up to Udston as quickly as they could to help and in fact, there was countless men who offered to assist with the recovery mission. The disaster made the second edition of most newspapers throughout Scotland, Ireland, and England and by 6:00 pm that very same day it was reported nationwide.
One of the men in the cage who was called James McGorky had been killed when he was found dead in the cage and the others were slightly injured. Mr McGavin, the colliery manager, who was on the spot, took the necessary steps to restore communication with the mine workings below, which were obstructed by the slides on which the cage travels being broken at several points. Thirty fathoms down one man was found, who had climbed all the way up from the bottom (A Thanom was 1.8 meters high) And further down the shaft three others were reached. The ell, or upper seam, which is 118 Fathoms from the surface, was soon was soon reached by the exploring party.
By Noon that day 45 men who were working in the upper seam of the colliery had managed to be brought out, one of whom was dead, and the others were suffering from afterdamp* and shock. It was found that access to the lower seam was blocked and that the safety of at least half of the 140 men trapped below was despaired of. *Afterdamp is a toxic mixture of gasses left in a mine following an explosion caused by firedamp, which itself can ignite a much larger explosion of coal dust. On reaching the surface of the pithead, they were wrapped in blankets and after being treated by Dr Robertson, they were sent home to recover. (No NHS in 1887).
Attention was then directed to the trapped men in the main, or middle seam where 46 were found. Their shouts could be heard, but before they could be found it was necessary to do a temporary repair to the shaft.
This stage of the rescue mission proved to be somewhat tedious and after around two hours of tireless work the exploring party were able to reach the main shaft. They found 41 men alive and 5 dead. It was later found the five who were killed would have probably survived had they not run to the lower end of the coal seam, where chokedamp fumes gathered from the lower seams. Other men were saved by their fellow miners when they removed them, unconscious to places of better air.
When the rescue party reached the bottom later on that day, the access was found to be blocked in the lower seam by falls of debris. Messrs. Gilchrist, manager at Earnock; and Park, manager of Allanshaw, two neighbouring collieries, penetrated through the coal seams and into the lamp cabin, and rescued Alexander McLean, who was dreadfully burnt around the face, body and hands, the dead body of a man (Unidentified) was nearby.
In the lower, or splint seam of coal which was around 11 Fathoms below the main seam; it was found that nothing further could be done to reach the seam until they could put in ventilation and repair the shaft, this was now a mission to retrieve the bodies of the trapped miners. There were 75 men & boys working in the splint seam that day which some had managed to escape.
From the said 220 men who were thought to be working at the coal face that day and after an official count, it was found that 184 men had descended down the shafts that morning. From that number 62 bodies were brought up during the first stage of the rescue from the coal mine and 12 were still to be recovered and it was thought that in total, 73 were tragically killed.
At the Udston Rows, every household was affected, and there was hardly a house where one occupant was not killed, in some cases, entire families were swept away! One man who was called John Boyce lost his three sons, his two daughters were left widows, his son-in-law’s brother was killed and also his nephew. There was also around 35 widows and 110 fatherless children. The community of Udston was devastated. The final body to be recovered was a man names Andrew Buddy, who was a Fireman. The disaster touched the hearts of many people across the UK and even Queen Victoria herself sent a Telegram to the people of Udston.
The Udston disaster Relief fund was quickly set up to help the grieving widows and families affected by the accident. By the 1st December 1887 they had reached a total of £11, 010.8s 11d, which was £7000 under where they wanted to be in that year. This would have been worth around £1,455,892.67 in today’s money. Perhaps it was a large sum of money back then, however, no amount could make up for losing a husband, father, brother, son & uncle.
Despite the death count, the coal mining jobs were once again quickly filled and during the course of the next year in various newspaper reports the talk of Udston was overshadowed by the devastating disaster and it was not until 1889 when reports start to appear that talk about other things happening at Udston Rows. Another stupid incident happened when a Burnbank boy named John Harrison was caught underground with a lucifer match and considering what had happened with the disaster, he was in my opinion let off with a slap on the wrists. He was given the choice of either a fine of 10s-, or 7-days imprisonment. I am sure that the judge would have reminded him of the many boys and men killed and that this would have given him something to think long and hard about.
On the 20th of December 1889, another tragic accident happened underground where a miner named Michael Daly was crushed to death by a roof fall, his friend working alongside him had a narrow escape. In February 1890 the local shop keeper at Udston Rows was walking across land from Blantyre and he fell into a disused Quarry. His wife Agnes and three of his kids took the coal company to court as they were believed to be negligent and the family were awarded £235 in damages.
On Friday the 21st March 1890, the negligent owners of Udston brought the end to a notorious criminal. George Black, or sometimes known as Lamberton who at the time was working as a coal miner at Udston and living in the Rows. George was known throughout Lanarkshire and one of his better-known escapes from the law was when he was being transported from Wishaw to Hamilton by the police and he jumped from the top of the wagon over Clyde bridge which crossed the Avon and swam away. The local constable could not keep up with George. However, on this night he fell over the railing of the stair which led to his house at the rows. He was taken to the Royal infirmary in Glasgow but died of his injuries.
Udston Coal mine was still unstable and probably from the explosion which happened. Over the next few years there was frequent roof falls and collapses. And even after Michael Daly was killed production stopped as the pit was deemed unsafe to work. In July 1891 they stopped all work as the shaft at No 2 pit had completely collapsed. There were no recorded casualties, however, this is not to say that no one was indeed injured.
A sad reminder for one woman happened on the 15th of December 1892 when her husband James Dunsmuir was tragically killed while working underground at Udston. He was crushed by yet another roof fall and the weight of the coal that crushed him was rumored to be around 12 tones. What made this death worse was that he had only married his wife three months prior. Also, his new wife had been shadowed by a series of fatalities which started with her first husband James Nelson, who was killed in Dixons Colliery under peculiarly harrowing circumstances and in the Udston disaster, she lost her second husband Hugh Auchterlonie and her two sons to her first husband. To make it even worse for the poor woman, her two remaining sons were at home struck down with fever.
The deaths caused by roof falls continued and the next unfortunate person to be killed was a boy named George Boyd. George was killed on the 5th of December 1903 and he was only 16. His cause of death was a fractured skull.
Another man who was called Henrich (Henry) Bosebeck was killed while at work on the 16th of January 1912, when he was run over by hutches. For a small coal mine, Udston was one of the more dangerous collieries to work in. This family also had more tragedy surrounding it. Henrich was born in Germany and had come to Scotland with his wife for a better life for them and before his death he married his wife Wilhelmine at Blantyre in 1899. The family tragically lost two children, one who boy was called Heinrich and died only a few months old in Udston in 1903 and the second child who was named after Wilhelmine died aged 4 at Udston. Sadly, for Wilhelmine, she was classed as an illegal immigrant and in October 1918, she was due to be deported back to Germany but instead of waiting on being rounded up by the police, she left on her own account. Her two surviving children who were Scottish and born in Scotland had to start a new life in a country which they had never been.
The Udston mines was really unsafe and you would think that with all of these accidents caused by roof falls that all of the men at work would be extra careful with their “Pit Props”, but this was not the case when on the 19th of December 1913 two miners did not follow these health & safety rules. Peter & Thomas McInally who lived at Windsor Street in Burnbank were at work that day, deep underground and on inspection of their work it was found that they had dug out 23 feet of coal and for reasons only known to them, perhaps sheer laziness, they left the full section unsupported with no wooden props. They both denied it, but the evidence against them was simple, there was no props, and this put not only the two men’s lives at risk, but it also put anyone’s life in risk who was working the next shift! They were both given the option of a 15s fine, or four days in prison.
By the time WW1 started, the stories in newspaper reports are not of miners breaking rules, but it was written about the men of Udston Rows being killed in action. There were many young men from the area who jumped at the chance to get out of the pits and the thought of being taken away from the rows and over to a different country was really appealing to most. If only they knew what lay ahead of them, they would have opted to stay.
The first recorded casualty of WW1 who was from Udston Rows was a miner named Patrick Kyle, this family lived at 57 Udston Rows. Patrick was in Z Coy of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and he died of wounds on the 8th of August that year. He had enlisted on the 16th of January and was sent to the Dardanelles in June. Prior to joining the Army, he was employed in the lamp room at Udston and it was said that he was very well respected by his fellow workmen. He left his wife (Ellen Hannigan) and six children.
Another death by a roof fall happened on the 25th of September 1916 where a miner named James Gourlay was killed. He was 35 years old. James was working as a machine-man in No 1 pit and he had been clearing the wheel at the rear of the machine with a fellow work man. Next there was a shout and when James was found, he was lying under a large stone which was thought to have weighed a ton. He was married and at the time of his death he was living at Bute Terrace in Blantyre.
By August 1919, the coal mine was still turning a profit unlike other collieries which were being exhausted and closed down. The net profit recorded was £2,351, which added to the £11,900 brought in giving the colliery a disposable balance of £14,251. For now, the coal company were still going to keep the place running, but for how long? When the company was reviewed only one year later it was in the red and the accounts for the past 12 months recorded a loss of £15,732 and a surplus of £7,487 brought forward was converted into a deficit of £8,245. The future of the coal mine was not looking so good.
Udston Colliery stopped production in March 1922 and even though there was plenty of coal still beneath its lands it laid off its 250 strong work force leaving the miners and their families destitute. In a cost cutting exercise, the remaining coal was to be dug out from Greenfield Colliery in Burnbank. The miners were left with no option but to apply for poor relief.
In the whole Blantyre district, things went from bad to worse for all the miners in the area. Blantyre at the time once boasted of being the largest mining district in Scotland and after the closure of Udston the other mines followed suit and what followed was hardship, distress, and considerable poverty in the area. Craighead Colliery had just been dismantled, Udston was in the course of being dismantled and then the inevitable happened and then the 4th of the Blantyre collieries which belonged to William Dixon Ltd was in the course of being abandoned.
During the disastrous coal dispute of 1922, the colliery was the subject of a special enquiry when something mysterious happened at the pit bottom, which caused considerable damage to the shaft and pit bottom. After the damage, there was no hope of the colliery ever opening. The pump rods were withdrawn from the shaft, the pithead frame was taken down, and the shaft was to be filled up. Over 1000 men were getting poor relief from the parish council or the Labour bureau and following suit, just as wee see in today’s world, the shop keepers started to fall on hard times as no one had any money to spend.
The Udston Coal Company never hung around with breaking up the business and in June the same year, they started breaking up the colliery assets and sold everything at auction, they sold machinery, wagons, and anything else which could be removed from the colliery. They even offered to ship the machinery out by rail free of charge.
Now the Udston Rows were completely cut off from everyone and the little village had become a glum place to live. Families who were unfortunate enough to be unemployed continued to live at the Udston Rows and the little Dykehead primary school still continued to teach the remaining children.
In February 1938, the Lanarkshire Education Committee were now considering closing Dykehead Primary School at Udston. At one time the little school had 200 children on the school roll, and in February 1938 there was now only 4, one of whom was actually under school age.
When Udston Colliery was in full operation the little village which sat off the road between Hamilton and East Kilbride had 80 houses, and it was one of the most prosperous mining villages in the west of Scotland. Following the general strike in 1926, the colliery fully closed down and gradually the miners moved away to other districts. Around 1936, the houses started to fall into disrepair and were never repaired, so they slowly became condemned and the families were transferred to the new housing scheme at Eddlewood.
In February 1938 only three houses were still occupied but the families were soon to be moved on to new houses elsewhere. A small committee of the education committee had been appointed to report on the position, and it was understood that the parents had been asked to decide which school they wished their children to attend. The schools offered were Glenlee Primary and greenfield, both in Burnbank. A sanction of the education department was obtained in order to allow the transfer of the last three pupils.
In the last years of Udston Rows being a community, there was various newspaper reports on its residents and most were for court appearances for petty crimes. It was a close nit community and more than often problems would have been sorted man to man and out of the courts. There would probably have been more issues that went unreported that there was that did get reported.
The land at Udston today has one privately owned house that stands at what would be the edge of the Rows. It is hard to believe that at one time, this little part of Hamilton was once a thriving community with its own school, public house, and store. Hundreds of people pass the site of Udston rows every day and If you never knew about its history, then it only looks like empty land. If only we could hear whispers of the poor but happy miners who lived their lives here, it would certainly tell us a few stories.
Researched & Written by Garry McCallum – Historic Hamilton. © 2020 & Info on some of the miners deaths, Ref; Black Faces & Tackety Boots by Wilma Bolton and also from various national newspaper reports.
HECTOR’S VIGIL IN DESERTED VILLAGE (15th January 1939).
Everyday Hector, the dog, comes out and sits at the door to watch and wait for children he knows, but who he will never see scamper from the school again.
He also used to wait for the butcher’s van which used to bring him his bones, but this will happen no more. In January 1939 he was the only dog living in the derelict mining village of Udston which in 1939 was just outside Hamilton’s boundary.
On the 15th of January that year the last family, the Boyd’s, moved away to a new house which was found for them over in Eddlewood. Within a few weeks of this picture being taken the wind and rain found its way into the Boyd’s old home, as it had into the other deserted houses of the two hundred folk who once lived in this little thriving hamlet just outside Hamilton.
When the mines from which Udston drew its living closed, the people of this little community continued to live on for seven years, hoping that the mine would be re-opened, which never happened. With the dying of hope they all moved away from Udston. Most of the residents moved on down past Muttonhole Road, down Strathaven Road and into Eddlewood.
Little Hector at the time belonged to the barmaid who used to live and work in the village pub and the poor wee dug never realised what was happening at the time, so he continued to sit and look up, then look down the village’s one street.
The newspaper reports of the time tell us that little Hector continued to sit and keep his vigil looking out for the butcher and his pals at the local school right up to May of that year and even though the village was deserted, the pub had license which ended in May, so perhaps Hector had the company of his barmaid owner and perhaps she continued to keep the little village pub open for any thirsty miners or for the passing trade to E.K.