The Riot in The Ranche

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The Ranche in the 1970s

Up until the 1980’s the corner of Strathaven Road and Graham Avenue was dominated by a large red sandstone building comprising of shops, flats and on the prime corner was the site of Hamilton’s most famous public house, The Ranche. One of the features of the Ranche was the sloping floor which was caused by the collapse of the underground coal workings which honeycombed the area.

The Ranche was a favorite of the local miners and in 1926 there took place an extraordinary incident that is still spoken of today, eighty nine years later and is known as the riot in the Ranche.

The main character in the chain of events which led to the riot was a miner called Bob McTaggart, a powerfully built man with a neck and shoulders like a prize bull.

Altogether Bob, who lived in Low Waters and worked   in the former Cadzow pit was definitely no angel, he was well thought of in the ‘Cadzow Rows’  that now demolished collection of over 200 miners homes situated off Strathaven Road.

But Bob had, as all mortals have, some failings; the main one being that after a few pints he liked to fight. You could call him the local ‘Hard Man with a soft Centre’

On a Saturday night after a few pints, 5ft 9in Bob would weave his way down past Cadzow Bridge into School Street. By the time he arrived he would be stripped to the waist; then standing in the middle of the street he would bellow his war cry to the tenement windows; Come oot and fight….I’ll fight the best man….Come oot…..

The neighbours, well accustomed to this ritual viewed it as their Saturday night entertainment, but it is doubtful if there were many who took up his offer as Bob also had quite a formidable reputation as an amateur boxer.

It was this penchant for a fight that got him barred from the Ranche public house in Strathaven Road which was the local for many Cadzow Row Miners.

On the evening of Friday the 27th May 1926, the owner of the Ranche turned up at the county police headquarters with a request fort the police to be present at the pub. Through the grapevine, he had heard that Bob McTaggart intended to partake of quiet refreshments that very night,despite being barred from the pub. Returning to the Ranche in the illustrious company of the police inspector and superintendent (both of whom were dropped off a short distance from the pub) the owner entered the premises and there, standing at the bar was Bob.

At the trial, according to the evidence of the owner, he told McTaggart that he was not welcome as he had been barred. At this, Bob alleged to have shouted; “you Bastard, you have insulted me. I’ll murder you” and then made a run for him. The owner beat a hasty retreat out of the door and Bob, hot on his heels, ran strait in to the arms of the law, who just happened to be out side; captured he was returned to the pub, where he was soon on the receiving the end of police batons. At the sight of this assault on one of their own, the clientele of the establishment attempted to release Bob from police custody and thus began, the riot in the ranche.

Before it was Finnish, the gantry, along with every window, mirror and glass in the pub had been smashed and police reinforcements had to be brought in from Hamilton and Blantyre police stations.

With an estimated 100 men fighting inside the pub and a crowd of approximately  500 men outside baying for police blood, the only way to restore public order was for the police to release a much battered but still defiant Bob McTaggart. This defused the situation just enough to empty the pub and calm the crowd down, but not for very long, soon the riot was in full swing again. The police and the Ranche came under fire from a fusillade of stones, bricks and anything else the crowd could get their hands on.

The arrival of the Black Maria containing 10 police officers from Hamilton Burgh police station and more men from the county police headquarters and Blantyre police station sent the crowd scattering in every direction ; through back courts, up closes, anywhere to get them out of the clutches of the officers.

Early the following morning the arrests began, there was hardly a house on Cadzow Rows where their wasn’t a man sitting waiting for the knock on the door. Police raided numerous houses in the area. Identity parades were held and eventually 11 men were charged with mobbing and rioting.

The trial at Hamilton Sheriff lasted three days. One by one the witnesses took their stand in the witness box all anxious to give their version of the riot. The one exception was William McMorran Symington, the barman who had been working in the Ranche that night and for reasons known only to him (and possibly the Cadzow miners) he had appeared to have developed amnesia when questioned about who was there and what took place.

At first he thought there could have been about 30 men present in the bar when the owner returned from the county police headquarters, but then he changed his mind, reducing the number to 20 men. Finally, he settled on only four people being present, protesting that he couldn’t see, as he had taken cover during the riot!

The owners chauffeur however, James Robertson, (A Blantyre Man) appeared to have a photographic memory. He said that having going in to the bar, he soon left after being struck by a pint measure. Outside finding that his windscreen had been smashed, he climbed in to the vehicle hoping that he could at some point, move it out of the way. Identifying Daniel (Gowdie) Hughes one of the accused, he said that he had come running out of the pub covered in blood from a head wound and had stood cursing and swearing at the door of the Ranche. He had to convince the jury that the that this Cadzow was shouting to the crowds outside “Come on you fellows; don’t just stand there; come in and pull the whole bloody lot out. Them dirty Bastards are using their sticks wholesale” and also said that Hughes was encouraging the crowd to break down the front door which had been locked behind him.

The chauffeur also identified another of the accused, Alexander Murphy, as being the man who pulled him out of the car by the throat and informed him that if he “attempted to go for help, his car would go down the brae wanting wheels….” Robertson said that the crowd by this time was throwing a hail of stones at the building and superintendent Taylor came outside and appealed for them to stop. The reply was more stones and he saw one hit the superintendent   on the jaw.

He described how at this point Taylor drew his baton and then watched with amazement on his face that w wee man dressed in blue , marched up and down the pavement in front of him firing questions at him. (The bar room lawyer?)… The chauffeur  identified this man as Owen Martin. Another man Robert (Bobby) Mount was identified as also being in the vicinity when superintendent Taylor’s baton was pulled from his hand. (It was never recovered.) Robertson told how the officer started to chase the culprit, but he was knocked down, surrounded and then attacked by the crown, eventually being rescued by inspector Mutch who came to his aid and managed to get him back in to the Ranche.

Having done his best to jail half of the accused, James Robertson was allowed to stand down from the witness box.

Some of the defendants pleaded alibi and produced witnesses to prove it. One, James (Wee Pea) Canning in an attempt to scale down the size of the riot, put it to the Jury that the crowd outside the Ranche had not actually taken part in the riot; they were merely passing the pub on the way home from the devotions at the local Catholic Church.

At the end of the trial, 10 of the accused miners, including Bob McTaggart, received a six-month prison sentence, the other miner James McGhie got four months and the legend of the riot in the Ranche slipped into the pages of Hamilton’s History.

Several years after the riot Bob McTaggart with his wife and children emigrated to Canada where he lived intill he was in his seventies and died after losing a leg in a lift accident.

The above story has been taken with full permission from the book Black Faces & Tackety  boots written by local author Wilma Bolton. Please visit http://www.wilmabolton.com for information on where to buy her books, packed with stories from the local coal miners of Hamilton.

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.

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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.

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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!