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.