Abandoned Communities …

by Robert Fisk


Page 1

In the early 1880s, the only settlement at Bothwellhaugh was Bothwellhaugh Farm. The farm was occupied by James Baird, his wife, and their domestic servant. Today Bothwellhaugh forms part of Strathclyde Country Park. But for eight decades from 1884, there was a coal mine and a village, both of which disappeared in the 1960s.

Bothwellhaugh lay close to the north bank of the river Clyde, about ten miles southeast of Glasgow. In the nineteenth century, it was owned by the Duke of Hamilton. After the discovery in 1850 of extensive coal seams on the Hamilton estates, several collieries were developed. The lease of mineral rights at Bothwellhaugh was granted to the Bent Colliery Company, who sunk two pits on the site, and named it the Hamilton Palace Colliery.

The Hamilton Palace colliery proved to be highly productive. In 1913, an average of 2,000 tons a day was being excavated. Over 1,120 staff were employed underground, and a further 280 at the pit head and in the offices. A lot more information about the Hamilton Palace Colliery, and the community at Bothwellhaugh, can be found in a booklet, Bothwellhaugh: A Lanarkshire Mining Community, 1884–1965, written by Robert Duncan in association with a Workers Education group in 1986.

Housing was provided by the Bent Colliery Company soon after the mine had opened. One group of rows of terraced houses was built close to the pithead at the end of the 1880s and into the 1890s. Further terraces were added at the western end of the village in 1904–1905.

In 1910, a report on housing conditions by the County Medical Officer for Lanarkshire gave figures for Bothwellhaugh on number and sizes of dwellings, and rents to be paid. Around 240 employees lived in rented accommodation away from Bothwellhaugh; but, in the village itself, 965 staff members and their families occupied a total of 458 houses. These were classified according to size:

  • 79 one-room dwellings, where the annual rent was £5/4s or £4/17s/6d, depending on whether the water supply was inside or outside the house.
  • 349 houses with two rooms, and the rent following a scale according to whether a dry toilet, scullery, or water closet were included.
  • 27 houses with three rooms, a few of which included a bath.
  • Three houses with four rooms. The rent for these houses, described as having all modern conveniences, was £15/12s. I assume they were occupied by more senior staff.

The Medical Officer’s report added that the houses had ventilated floors and walls with damp-proof courses. The daily collection of refuse and emptying of ash pits were the responsibility of the mine owners.

Apart from the few people who had a bath, the options for washing were: (a) to use the sink; (b) use a tub placed in front of the kitchen fire; or (c) take your turn at the nearest communal washroom. Staff emerging from an eight-hour shift at the coal face did not have the benefit of pit-head baths, but would have to go home first before getting washed.

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For many years, the person responsible for the allocation of housing was Stewart Thomson, the chief cashier at the colliery, whose own home was the former Bothwellhaugh Farm. According to Robert Duncan’s booklet, Stewart Thomson was widely regarded with hatred and fear, and there was a general perception that he was inclined to allocate houses that were larger and had more facilities to staff who cooperated more readily with managers. Eventually, however, the miners’ union demanded a fairer process, and a system of points was introduced in the 1930s.

No history of the Hamilton Palace colliery would be complete without some account of the industrial relations between the company and its staff. Again, a lot of information has been given in Robert Duncan’s booklet; alternatively, you can read about many of the incidents on the Scottish Mining website. Here I will simply summarise two major episodes.

During the General Strike of 1926 (look it up on Wikipedia under “1926 United Kingdom general strike” if you want to know more about the general context), the Lanarkshire Miners Union called all underground staff at Bothwellhaugh out on strike, and they remained out for several months. The union allowed safety staff to carry on working, but only to perform their usual tasks. The company responded by taking on temporary workers to maintain some coal extraction. They were protected by police from attacks by striking miners.

In October 1926, 23 weeks after the start of the strike, a few miners began to go back to work. Five of them were subjected to threats on their way home from work, being warned that they would be “hung up on trees” if they continued to go to work. Ten of those responsible for the threats were prosecuted, with nine being fined, and the other sent to prison for a month.

Soon afterwards, the company sacked the safety staff when they refused to carry out work outside their normal job description. Again, the company took on outsiders to do the safety work. There were a number of incidents when striking miners impeded the temporary workers and those who had returned to work, and assaulted them on their way home. Of the various cases that came to court, several resulted in acquittal, but John Delaney of 5 Roman Place, Henry Murphy of 20 Douglas Place, and Patrick Sherry of 8 Avon Place were found guilty and sent to prison for two months.

During November 1926, the miners were forced to capitulate and return to work. Some were victimised or blacklisted by Stewart Thomson and the colliery manager Robert Lang. Firmer control over wages and conditions was imposed, and there may have been some reduction in average pay. Another outcome of the General Strike was that the Bent Colliery Company refused to recognise the Lanarkshire Miners Union, instead creating a pit committee with representatives nominated by management.

In the early 1930s, a new management team were appointed at the Hamilton Palace. Partly motivated by a wish to avert the threat posed by a militant breakaway union, the United Mineworkers of Scotland, the new team decided to recognise the Lanarkshire Miners Union again. On this occasion, a significant number of miners were unwilling to join the union. The LMU pressed for a closed shop, and a compulsory one-hundred per cent membership. In November 1936, they called 800 Hamilton Palace workers out on strike for one shift in support of this objective. Management responded by locking out the striking miners, but allowed them to return to work two days later. The issue of the closed shop was not settled until after the nationalisation of the coal industry in 1947, when the company was forced by the National Union of Mineworkers to persuade the remaining non-members to join the NUM or lose their jobs.

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A small school was opened at Bothwellhaugh soon after the mines opened. It was extended in 1902 by the Bothwell School Board, but continued to be overcrowded, especially during World War I when pupil numbers rose to over 500. In 1909, the school received a highly unfavourable report from His Majesty’s Inspector of Schools. There were not enough desks or classroom space, and too few permanent teaching staff. The physical environment left a lot to be desired, as the school was located next to one of the mine dumps and close to the noise and distractions of the pithead workings and the railway sidings. The Inspector recommended that the Bothwell School Board should be penalised by the loss of part of its annual grant.

A further hazard posed by the mine dump was that it would occasionally catch fire, and might continue to burn for several weeks. Anyone at the school would then be aware of strong smells and noxious fumes. From time to time, attendance at the school was affected by illness. In September 1903, the school was closed for two weeks during an epidemic of measles. When it re-opened, half of the pupils were still absent, and the decision was taken to close it again for a further two weeks. Absence from school was especially high during 1911 when the village was affected by epidemics of scarlet fever, diphtheria, and measles.

There was also a Roman Catholic primary school, St Bride’s. In the early 1960s, pupils leaving St Bride’s might go on to St. Saviour’s High School, Bellshill. Outside school, boys were encouraged to join the Bothwellhaugh troop of the Boy Scouts. By the 1920s, however, the Boys Brigade seems to have been more popular, possibly because it offered more sporting activities, and because it was less rigid in requiring a full uniform. Girls could join the Girl Guides, who went on an annual camp and took part in fund-raising events, such as whist drives and fancy-dress parades.

Robert Duncan has described the various ways in which the Bent Colliery Company attempted to guide the leisure and social activities of the people of Bothwellhaugh. The sale of alcohol in the village was banned, and gambling strongly discouraged. In 1915, two men were prosecuted for illegal betting. One of them, Francis McKenna, who had a previous conviction for receiving bets, was fined £20 for contravention of the Street Betting Act. In August 1924, the company opened a large Miners’ Welfare Institute, comprising a hall, reading room, smoking room, kitchen, and baths. At first, miners avoided the Institute, but it became more popular when regular film shows began. A few years later, an extension was added that included a billiards room, a room for carpet bowls, and another games room.

Other popular leisure activities included dog racing, pigeon racing, playing in bands, and gardening. Near the end of World War I, an area was set aside for allotments, part of a general move by the government to deal with wartime shortages by encouraging people to grow their own vegetables. At different times, a number of shops existed in Bothwellhaugh and, in addition, deliveries were made to houses by traders from neighbouring towns. Elizabeth and William Mair, who lived at 1 Haugh Place [both our McCaskill and Wallace families lived at Haugh Place at various times —ed.], turned their front room into a shop known as ‘Mair’s Shop’. As it was near the pit gate, a lot of the men would call in for their ‘pieces’ on their way to work. They would buy ‘on tick’, and then settle up when they got their wages. Another favourite place for shopping was the Co-operative Store. The Hamilton Palace Colliery Co-operative Society was created in 1886, set up by local miners independently of the company. By 1919, it had 600 members, with an unusually high dividend of three shillings in the pound. At that time, 26 staff were employed in the Co-op.

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Robert Duncan’s booklet ends with some memories of several individuals who lived at Bothwellhaugh. They included:

  • Katie McNamee, the cleaner at the doctor’s surgery, who was in the habit of buying presents – a toaster, or perhaps a pail, for anyone getting married.
  • Tam the Lum, the chimney sweep, who used a long brush and a big ball weight in the course of his work. Tam the Lum would fill the handlebars of his bicycle with hot water and tell local lads he had installed central heating.
  • John Gunn, for many years a member of the Co-operative Society and of the Labour Party, served on the committee of various organisations in the village, often taking the chair. He was always ready to offer advice and help to anyone in the village.

The position of Bothwellhaugh close to the River Clyde was at least partly responsible for the closure of the colliery and the abandonment of the village. No. 2 pit was always liable to flooding, and needed continuous pumping. By the end of the 1950s, the National Coal Board had decided that the cost of pumping had become excessive, and the colliery closed in May 1959. Most workers were made redundant or transferred to other pits, but 90 men stayed for a further temporary period to remove machinery and equipment, and to demolish the buildings.

Before 1959, the number of staff employed at the Hamilton Palace had already fallen well below the number recorded in 1913. The introduction of electrically driven coal-cutting machinery from 1917 onwards meant that fewer miners were needed. Over the years, there was a steady movement of miners away from Bothwellhaugh, some moving away out of choice, others accepting offers of a transfer to another mine.

One member of staff who stayed to clear the site after the pit closed was George Mair. He had grown up in Bothwellhaugh and completed an apprenticeship in joinery. As a joiner, he would carry out a wide range of tasks (from maintaining the joists that held the winding wheels, to making support beams for the shafts), and he would carry out repairs in the miners’ cottages. George Mair and his family eventually left in 1960 when he got a job in the steelworks in Corby, Northamptonshire.

The village itself, however, survived for a few more years, and the school remained open until 1965. In 1964, the headmaster had cause to complain about the disturbance created by the construction of the M74 motorway. Thousands of tons of waste material from the mine dump near the school was being lifted into trucks and transported to the motorway site. When the school was closed in 1965, just 10 pupils were attending it.

For several years, parts of the village had been exposed to a major health hazard from raw sewage. When sewerage drains had been laid at the end of the nineteenth century, they had been placed to run straight down to the river, rather than at an angle that would have prevented the back flow of sewage. At times, when the river was high, untreated sewage would come back up the drains and enter the foundations of houses, especially in Roman Close, the row of houses closest to the river.

It seems that most of the village was demolished by the late 1960s. However, one row of houses was allowed to remain standing a little longer as people were still living there. It was the Mine Managers’ Cottages, usually known simply as The Cottages. Gradually, the occupants of numbers 2, 3, and 4 moved away, leaving just one couple, Robert and Janet Frew in number 1. Robert Frew had been Deputy Pit Manager in the colliery. He suffered serious injuries in a car accident in 1969, and spent the rest of his life in hospital until he died in August 1971. During that period, Janet Frew was the only official resident, but she was joined by a group of gypsies. She would supply water to the gypsies and, in return, they would look out for her. After her husband’s death, Janet Frew agreed to move into an old folks’ flat.

Strathclyde Country Park was developed in the early 1970s. When Strathclyde Loch was created, the western section of the village site and part of the road were submerged. The remainder of the village – the school, and the pithead buildings – was concealed under landscaping. An amusement park was opened where the lower slopes of the larger mine dump would have been. Go to Youtube for a short film showing Bothwellhaugh as it was being demolished, and former residents recalling their life in the village.