THE STORY OF THE HIGGINS FAMILY OF HAMILTON

The Higgins Brothers from Cadzow, Hamilton, were great characters who exemplified the courage and hardship of the time in and after the First World War. Miners and fighters all.

They lived in the Miners rows and also lived upstairs from the Ranche Bar, a famed miners pub in Eddlewood. There was 13 of them, including the children! Mary Higgins the mother, was Mary Murphy before she married and was a bleach-field worker in the Paisley mills. Her parents were Irish. Dominick Higgins, the father, came from an Irish family who moved into Hamilton probably at the time of the Irish famine.

The Ranche WM-19.PNG

They typify the families of the area, resilient, real characters, miners, and Irish. Mary Higgins, my grandmother, also worked at the pit-head and was every bit as tough (with a heart of gold). She moved to Hall Street and then to Arden Court before she died. She was a great character and lived until she was 93. Jim Higgins became British and Empire bantamweight champion in 1920 and won the Lonsdale belt outright in 1921 in a record time of under one year (the win and two defenses) which stood until the nineteen fifties when Peter Keenan missed the chance the to break it, but he didn’t do it, so it was never matched or broken.

It is said he was robbed of a lot of his winnings from his fights by his manager. It is said he sold his Lonsdale belt to an American sailor and is now in the states somewhere. It is unique, because it was the last belt won under the British and Empire Championship (before this was changed to just British). It is said the Higgins’s laid the foundation for boxing in Hamilton and one of the brothers maybe Jim or Terrance set up a boxing club there, where a Joe Gans, father of Walter McGowan learned from Jim Higgins. Jimmy died in his sixties after acting as a bouncer in a bookies shop in the Gallowgate in Glasgow.

Jim Higgins British and Empire Bantamweight champion
Jim Higgins
British and Empire Bantamweight champion

Tommy (Mouse) Higgins, a younger brother was also a famed boxer from Cadzow in the 1930s winning many professional and national championships. He was called Mouse because he was under five foot and weighed in at seven stone six pounds. A flyweight, he fought Benny Lynch for the British championship and he was only beaten by points decision, even though Benny was nine pounds heavier. He fought Lynch three times and Benny went on to win the World championship. Harry Lauder was in the Cadzow pits and he may have worked alongside the Higgins’s.

Tommy (Mouse) Higgins.
Tommy (Mouse) Higgins.

There are newspaper cuttings from 1932 which tells of Harry Lauder taking him under his wing, Tommy becoming his protégé. Terence Higgins lived in Millgate in Fairhill and died at the age of 88. He was a great character, an old tough miner with a great spirit. His mother Mary (Murphy) Higgins sent him a postcard (attached) when he was at the Front in France, during the First World War, it says: “My Dear Son Terence Higgins. Only a Post card from your mother in Hamilton to let you know we all well. Hopping you are the same and hope to God, seeing by the Papers, the Gordons have led the way in this big charge. I only hope to God, my son, you are one of the lively lads and God has spared you to pull your hard Battle through . My Son Terrence May God Guide and Protect you and send you a safe return to you mother. Good night son and good luck and god bless you and I will have for you. Terry night and day so cheer up son and have a good heart and will rite soon again. Hoping to hear from you soon. Kiss From Mother.

Postcard from Mary Higgins to her son Terrence.
Postcard from Mary Higgins to her son Terrence.

This is so poignant because when she wrote the post card she wouldn’t have known whether he was alive or dead.

Tom Ogden3

He came home though, even although he lost an eye! His granddaughter advised that Terry (Higgins) had told his son (David Higgins) that out of ten pals that joined up only two came back Terry Higgins and Terry Murphy (his cousin) both had been shot four times. He said a young man called Kit Rocks was the youngest soldier from Cadzow to be killed.

Terrence Higgins was always proud of the fact that he was the only man in two wars to survive being shot “6 o’clock in the bull” which was the term used to describe a shot between the eyes! That was in 1914, he went back to war and lost his eye after being shot again in 1918!

Glenlee House

Glenlee House was a rural mansion that was situated at Udston in Burnbank. It stood between two parallel burns, one was at the border with Blantyre and the other ran through Udston.

The house was a fine example of Victorian stature and was not only a large luxurious house but it also showed people how rich the owners really were.

Glenlee House.
Glenlee House.

The mansion was built in the mid 1800s and was first owned by Alexander Miller. It was a 2 storey building with 30 rooms and was accessed from Thorntree Avenue, which accommodated a turning point for horse drawn carriages. After going through Thorntree Avenue you passed through two stone pillars at Russell Street – which still stand to this day.

The turning point for the horse & carriages at Thorntree Avenue.
The turning point for the horse & carriages at Thorntree Avenue.
The Russell Street entrance of Glenlee House.
The Russell Street entrance of Glenlee House.

You then travelled along a curved avenue of trees and over a bridge at the burn that runs through Udston and as you came to this bridge, Glenlee House was straight ahead.

The Bridge that Crosses the burn leading to Glenlee HGouse
The bridge that crosses the burn leading to Glenlee House
The former site of Glenlee House.
The former site of Glenlee House.

The imposing frontage of the 2 storey building with its further two storey glass tower, was set in the centre of an oval lawn.  Ivy dressed the large bay windows, a weeping willow tree grew near the entrance door and there was further shrubs and lovely trimmed bushes that lead down the second driveway that took you to the gate keepers lodge.

After 1861 the house was owned by Lewis Potter, an owner of a shipping company, a director of the City of Glasgow Bank and who was famous, not for his businesses, but for his imprisonment for defrauding the bank in 1879.  Lewis Potter had been director at the bank since 1858, he and his colleague Robert Stronach, were both found guilty of fraud and each sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.

The Udston Road entrance to Glenlee House.
The Udston Road entrance to Glenlee House.

In the year 1878 when Lewis Potter was Jailed, J Clelland, Chairman of the Cunard Steamship Company bought the mansion and owned it for over 20 years. The last recorded tenants in the house were the Burns family, who were connected with the Burns-Laird shipping line, a ships bell hung outside the house during the time that they lived here.

The house was taken over in 1914 just before the first world war by Hamilton Town Council for use as a hostel for Belgian Refugees.

In the 1920s Glenlee House was used as a tuberculosis hospital.

1892 Map of Glenlee House & today's satellite image of the same area.
1892 Map of Glenlee House & today’s satellite image of the same area.
Old ruin of unknown building at Glenlee House.
Old ruin of unknown building at Glenlee House.
Old ruin of Unknown building at Glenlee House.
Old ruin of Unknown building at Glenlee House.
Old sandstone block left over from the demolition of Glenlee House, The block lying in the boundary burn between Blantyre & Burnbank.
Old sandstone block left over from the demolition of Glenlee House, The block lying in the boundary burn between Blantyre & Burnbank.

By the mid 1960s the house fell in to decline and was unfit for purpose, so it was taken into private ownership, by Joe Gans, father of Walter McGowan (World Flyweight and British Bantamweight Champion) and was used as a gymnasium  where Walter trained for his fights.

In 1971 the last known owner was Jan Stepek who was also the owner of the legendary TV rental shops, he only used the house for storage.

Glenlee House (South Front) 1965.
Glenlee House (South Front) 1965.

Sadly Glenlee House was demolished in the mid 1970s, partly due to subsidence from the underground coal mines but also because it was run down so badly. Glenlee House was another one of Hamiltons country mansions that had been lost as a result of the underground workings, and today, if it was still standing it would be a credit to Burnbank.

Glenlee House (South Front) Beams holding up the south front wall due to Subsidence from the underground coal mines.
Glenlee House (South Front) Beams holding up the south front wall due to Subsidence from the underground coal mines.
The Gatekeepers Lodge that was situated at the corner between Russell Street & Burnbank Road.
The Gatekeepers Lodge that was situated at the corner between Russell Street & Burnbank Road.