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A wee bit aboot Blantyre & its history

Copied from Jim Rouse's Web site

Blantyre! Outside of Scotland few people have heard of this Scottish town.
Recently I mentioned to an English doctor visiting Tasmania & she said she'd heard of Blantyre in Malawi, but not of the Scottish town. Ironic that the African settlement named by David Livingstone after his birthplace should become more famous.

Blantyre is situated approximately 15 kms south of the city of Glasgow in what was and is sometimes referred to as Lanarkshire.
In size Blantyre is not a large town, the parish being approximately 10 kms in length with an average width of about 1.5 km.
Over the past 300 years its population has increased greatly, principally by the great influx of people during the Industrial Revolution when large numbers of displaced lowland agricultural workers, highlanders and Irish settled in the town to work firstly in the Mills and then the Mines that established Blantyre.

In the New Statistical Account of Scotland (1835) the Rev James Anderson gave an account of the population of the town.

Some 50 years later in the 1881 census the population had increased greatly to 9836. The period of greatest growth in Blantyre's population was that 30 year period between 1851 when it was 2848 and 1881. During this period the population tripled. During the 20th century it slowly increased with "baby-booms" in evidence in the years following the World wars.

During the 19th century our ancestors were more likely to move around the country in search of employment than their 20th century successors! In the 1881 census of the total number of 9836 living in Blantyre only 2327 were actually born there. Elsewhere in Scotland there were twice as many Blantyre born people, 4142 in fact.
There was a significant percentage of Irish families living in Blantyre in 1881.
The 1881 census shows that there were 1155 Irish born and 3 or 4 times that number were of Irish parentage, this is evidenced in the census statistics and a graphic illustration can be found in the numbers of Irish names amongst those killed in the mining disasters which traumatized the town in the 19th century.

Where Blantyre got its name from is a matter of conjecture, there are several explanations available.
In the 1791 Old Statistical Account of Scotland, the Rev. Henry Stevenson believed it had its origins in the Gaelic "Bla'-an-tir" meaning "a warm retreat".
Later in the New Statistical Account of Scotland of 1835 the Rev James Anderson agreed with him.
However the Rev. Stewart Wright explained in "The Annals of Blantyre" that it had its origins in two Gaelic words meaning "the field of the holy men".
Subsequently Mr J.A. Wilson argued that it had its origins not in the latter-day Goidelic (q-celtic) Gaelic language of Scotland but in the earlier Brythonic (p-celtic) Welsh tongue (remembering that the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde was Welsh-speaking)
He explained that it originated from the Welsh word "blaentir" meaning a promontory, this word being descriptive of the northern reaches of the parish boundaries which are almost encircled by the River Clyde.
Finally, an alternative explanation might be found in the 1952 Third Statistical Account of Scotland, wherein the Rev. A. Mackenzie put forward the idea that since Blantyre had its birth as a religious settlement, it would be more likely it had taken its name from an early Christian missionary to the area, St Blane.
The Rev. Mckenzie believed it more likely that Blantyre had originated from "Blan-tyr" meaning "land of (St.) Blane.

"Rambles Round Glasgow"
by Hugh MacDonald, circa 1850's

The following excerpt is taken from Hugh MacDonald's 19th century travelogue "Rambles Round Glasgow".
A Rail Excursion ...

In deference to the tropical weather which marks the close of June, we are fain to depart to some extent from our pedestrian rule, and take the "rail." Taking our start, then, from the Caledonian terminus on the south side of the river, we are soon careering away in capital style in a direction almost due east.

The eye revels in the freshness and beauty of the everchanging scenery which seems to go dancing past. One moment we have the winds playing over the wavy wheat; another brings us a group of jolly haymakers, with a gush of fragrance from the new-mown swaths; anon sweeps past a bank of hoers, thumping away among the shaw-crowned ridges of the potato field, to be succeeded by a bloomy tract of beans, suggesting "odorous" comparisons. Now we have the mansion of wealth, with its green lawns and old ancestral trees; next a lowly cottage, with its kail-yard, its flower-plot, and its bee-hives--the guid wife, mayhap, nursing her baby at the door, and half-a-dozen curly-headed younkers tumbling on the green. Here we have a bridge rushing dinsomely past, there a village with its picturesque spire...

The line between Glasgow and Blantyre, a distance of some 7 miles, passes through a delicious tract of country. There are two intervening stations, Rutherglen and Cambuslang, at both of which we stop, although we are somewhat surprised to observe that no passengers are either taken up or set down, while the booking-offices have rather a dreary do-little appearance. We should imagine, indeed, from the limited extent of these towns--the condition of their inhabitants, who are principally weavers, miners or agricultural labourers--and the comparative shortness of their distances from the city, that the returns from either will cut but a shabby figure in the sum total of the company's revenue.

Blantyre: A Factory Town

In about half-an-hour after starting, we are set down at Low Blantyre, which we immediately proceed to inspect. This neat and cleanly little village is finely situated on an high bank which overlooks the Clyde, here a beautiful stream about 80 yards in width. The houses, which are arranged in squares and parallelograms, are the property, and entirely occupied by the operatives of Messrs. Henry Monteith & Co., whose extensive mills and dyeworks are immediately adjacent. Every attention seems to have been paid by this eminent firm to the moral and physical welfare of the inhabitants. They have erected a chapel in connection with the Established Church, capable of accommodating 400 sitters; and we understand that they annually contribute a handsome sum towards the maintenance of a clergyman. During the week the edifice is used as a schoolhouse for the education of the village children; the teacher being partly supported at the expense of the Company. All the means and appliances of cleanliness, to boot, have been apparently provided for the population. An abundant supply of water, for culinary and other purposes is furnished from the works; while an extensive building, with a spacious green attached, affords every facility for the necessary scrubbing and bleaching. Altogether this appears to be quite a model of a manufacturing village; everything in apple-pie order--the tenements comfortable and tidy-looking--and the inhabitants seemingly healthy and cheerful.
The oldest of the Blantyre Mills was erected in 1785 by the late Mr. David Dale and his partner Mr. James Monteith. Another was built in 1791. Shortly thereafter, premises for the production of the beautiful Turkey-red dye, for which the firm has long been celebrated, were erected. Upwards of 210 horse-power is required for the propulsion of the machinery, and about 1,000 individuals are engaged in conducting the various operations.

Priory of Blantyre

Following the downward course of the river, we now direct our steps towards the ruins of the ancient Priory of Blantyre, which are situated in a beautiful and secluded spot, about three-quarters of a mile from the village. The footpath leading to the Priory lies along a finely wooded bank. We observe many of our most graceful uncultured grasses, with their drooping plumes and silken panicles, waving by the margin of the Clyde, which, from the impulse of the dam at the Blantyre Works, runs here with considerable velocity...[observations of flora & fauna]... After a pleasant ramble through the tangled mazes of the wood, we arrive at the Priory, which is situated on a precipitous rock rising to a considerable height above the Clyde. The building, which is of a fine-grained red sandstone, has apparently been at one period of great extent. It is now, however, a complete wreck. [p. 67]

On the opposite bank are the extensive remains of Bothwell Castle; and the view of this lordly edifice, proud even in decay, as seen from the Priory window, with the murmuring Clyde between, forms one of the most interesting and lovely landscapes imaginable. Little is known of the history of the edifice (the priory). It seems from an old document to have been founded in 1296, and to have been a cell of the Abbacy of Jedburgh, the inmates of which are said to have found shelter here occasionally when the incursions of English marauders rendered the border counties insecure.

The name of Friar Walter of Blantyre, and Frere William, Prior of Blantyre, are mentioned in ancient historical documents. At the Reformation the establishment was suppressed, and the benefice, which was of limited extent, bestowed in name of James VI, on Walter Stewart, a son of Lord Minto, who was first entitled Commendator of the Priory, and afterwards Lord Blantyre.
At what period the structure was permitted to fall into decay is unknown, but from the Description of the Sheriffdom of Lanark, published by Hamilton of Wishaw about a century and a-half-ago, it appears that at that time it was the occasional residence of Lord Blantyre. Such are almost the only incidents of an authentic nature which history furnishes regarding this ancient edifice and its former inhabitants. [p. 68]

Wallace Lore

Tradition says that a vaulted passage under the Clyde formerly existed between the Priory and the Castle of Bothwell; and Miss Jane Porter, in the The Scottish Chiefs, has taken advantage of this alleged subaqueous way to heighten the dramatic effect of her story, the scene of which--as most novel readers are doubtless aware--is partly laid here. On our first visit to the Priory--a goodly number of years since--our guide, a school-boy from the adjacent village, told us that according to a winter evening tale current in the neighbourhood, the popular hero, Wallace, in a season of difficulty once found shelter from his foes among the cowled inmates of this establishment.

By some means or other the usurping Southrons learning where their terrible opponent was concealed, a large party of them at the dead hours of night determined to secure him and earn the handsome reward offered for his apprehension. To effect this they surrounded the building, with the exception of that portion overhanging the precipice, which from its altitude they considered perfectly secure.
While they were thundering at the portal, however, and demanding the surrender of the Knight of Ellerslie, that doughty chief, nothing daunted, slipped out by one of the windows leaped at once over the rock, and fording the Clyde, made his escape undiscovered.

As a convincing proof of the truthfulness of the legend, we were then taken to see an indentation in the solid rock below, which bore some resemblance to a gigantic footmark, and which we were seriously informed had been caused by the foot of Wallace on that eventful evening. A fine spring issues from the ground at this spot, the waters of which flow into the sacred footprint; and we need hardly say that it was with a deep feeling of reverence we knelt down and took a hearty draught from the alleged pedal mark. Our faith, we are sorry to say is not now quite so strong. On our present visit we scarcely discern the resemblance to a footprint which was formerly so obvious; and although we dip our beard in the gratefully cold and crystalline water, the delicious awe which we experienced then comes not again over our spirit...Whether we are happier in our dreary wisdom and prying scepticism than our ancestors were in their gorgeous ignorance and unsuspecting credulity, is to our mind somewhat problematical.[p.70]

Bothwell ...we retrace our steps to Blantyre, where we cross the Clyde by an elegant suspension bridge, and proceed to Bothwell, which is situated on a gentle eminence about half-a-mile to the NE. By the way we pass a neat little United Presbyterian Church, recently erected by a congregation the members of which reside principally in the adjacent villages. Bothwell, like most other ancient Scottish towns, is somewhat irregular and scattered; but, unlike the majority of them, it is remarkable for a characteristic appearance of cleanliness and comfort. It is composed principally of plain one or two-storeyed edifices, built with a peculiar and somewhat highly-coloured red sandstone, which seems to be abundant in the neighbourhood.

Most of the houses have garden-plots attached to them, and the neatness and luxuriance of these attest the general taste and industry of the inhabitants. A love for flowers, we are happy to observe, is becoming more common among our population generally; but it is evident, from the fine condition and profusion of rarer kinds around Bothwell, that this is no new love among her people. In the vicinity a considerable number of elegant villas and cottages have been built in tasteful situations. Many of these, we understand, are, during the summer months, occupied by the families of some of our most respectable citizens, and by invalids who find here the benefits to health which result from a genial atmosphere, and an exquisite series of walks amidst scenery of the loveliest description. [p.70]

Parish Church

Near the west end of the village is the parish church, a handsome structure in the Gothic style, which was erected in 1833. At the east end of this building, and attached to it, is the ancient church of Bothwell--a fine specimen of the ecclesiastical architecture of other days. This edifice, which is said to have been founded in 1398, by Archibald, Earl of Douglas, is 70 feet in length and 39 in breadth. The roof, which is arched and of considerable height, is covered with sandstone flags, hewn into a curved form resembling tiles. It has been lighted by a large window in the east end, and a range on either side. Inside we are shown carvings of the armorial bearings of the noble families of Hamilton and Douglas, and a stone which was taken from the base of the old spire, with the words "Magister Thomas Dron" or Tron, inscribed on it in Saxon letters.

This is supposed to have been the name of the individual who built the church. We are sorry to observe that this time-worn edifice is at present in a shamefully neglected condition. The glass is out of the windows, permitting a free passage not only to the sparrows, which are flying thickly about the nave, but also to the winds and the rain, which have already wrought sad dilapidation on the mouldering walls. The heavy tiles are beginning to manifest a tendency to obey the law of gravitiation by tumbling inward...Leaving the dreary precincts of the old church, we next, with considerable labour, ascend the church tower, which is 120 feet in height, and which commands a prospect of great extent and beauty. [p.71]

Churchyard Memorial

In glancing over the memorials of departed mortality, our attention is directed to a headstone with the following curious inscription:
"Erected by Margaret Scott, in memory of her husband Robert Stobo, late smith and farrier, Goukthrapple, who died May, 1834, in the 70th year of his age:

My sledge and hammer lies declined,
My bellows' pipe have lost its wind;
My forge extinct, my fire's decayed,
And in the dust my vice is laid;
My coal is spent, my iron is gone,
My nails is drove, my work is done."

Bothwell Manse & Joanna Ballie

Bothwell manse, which is immediately adjacent to the church, is the most delightful dwelling place of its class which we have ever witnessed, and that is surely saying a great deal in its favour, as every one knows that, go where you will, "from Maidenkirk to John o'Groats," the most pleasant of habitations in country or in town is almost invariably that of the clergyman. It is a neat and not overly large two-storied edifice, situated in a sweet sunny nook, embowered amongst fruit trees, and surrounded by gay parterres and green hedge-rows. It is just the sort of place that one could fancy a poet should be born in, and here accordingly the light of this world first dawned upon that most eminent of Scotland's poetesses, Joanna Baillie. Her father, the Rev. James Baillie, D.D., was sometime minister of this parish. He had previously officiated in the Kirk of Shotts, and it is said that his gifted daughter narrowly escaped being born in that most bleak of parishes...the following record of her birth and baptism is extracted from the parish register of Bothwell, where we saw the original entry, on a page crowded with similar announcements regarding the debut of the sons and daughters of worthy farmers and weavers in the neighbourhood...

"Joanna, daughter lawful to the Rev. Mr. James Baillie, minister of the Gospel at Bothwell, and his spouse Dorrete Hunter, was born the eleventh day of Sept, and baptized in the Church to 'both upon the twelfth day of the said month by the Rev. Mr. James Miller, minister of the Gospell at Hamilton, 1762." [mention of a sister, Agnes] [p.74]

Nor was the attachment of the poetess to the beautiful place of her birth a mere empty sentiment. About a month previous to the demise of Miss Baillie, an old lady--a former acquaintance of the Baillie family--was suddenly reduced to a state of abject penury by the burning of her house. Some of those who had known her in "better days" got up a subscription for the purpose of relieving her necessities, and amongst others the aged poetess was written to by a granddaughter of the clergyman by whom she had been baptized. Although in bad health at the time, she immediately sent an answer to the appeal, enclosing an order for L15, and expressing an earnest desire to be informed of any other cases of an urgent nature which might occur among the old town's folk. [p.74]

Adjacent to the church of Bothwell is the parish school--a handsome edifice of modern erection in front of which we are pleased to observe a neatly kept flower-plot. The schoolroom is a spacious apartment, hung round with maps and other "means and appliances" of a tuitional description. The average number of pupils in attendance is said to be somewhere about ninety. Attached to the establishment is the dwelling-house of the teacher, Mr. Hunter. Besides the parish school, we understand there are other two seminaries in the village--one in connection with the Free Church, and the other a private school which is under the superintendence of a lady. [p.75]

Battle of Bothwell Bridge, 1679

...we next wend our way to Bothwell Bridge, the scene of the Covenanters' overthrow on the 22d of June, 1679.
The Covenanters, driven to desperation by the cruelties of Claverhouse and his myrmidons, and encouraged by the victory which they had achieved at Drumelog a short time previously, assembled to the number of 4,000, determined to wrest by force of arms, from an unwilling overseer, the right of worshipping their Maker in the form which conscience dictated to be most in accordance with his Word. For the suppression of this "rising" a large army was immediately collected, the command of which was entrusted to the Duke of Monmouth, assisted by Claverhouse and Dalziel, both officers of great energy and experience.
The army of the King advanced to Bothwell on the north side of the river, while the Covenanters were encamped on the southern bank, and held possession of the bridge, at that period a narrow and, in the middle, considerably elevated structure, which was defended by a fortified gateway. Immediately previous to the commencement of hostilities the spirit of insubordination broke out in the camp of the Covenanters.
The house was divided against itself, and utter ruin was the necessary consequence. The moderate Presbyterians and those of extreme opinion differed as to the extent of the privileges which, in the event of success attending their efforts, they should demand of the government.

In the midst of their wrangling and bickering, the Royalists attempted to force the bridge. After a determined struggle with a party of 300 men, under the gallant Hackston of Rathillet and Hall of Hoaughhead, to whom the defence of this important post was entrusted, the attacking party was ultimately successful. This object attained, they immediately passed over, with their cannon in front, and formed in order to battle on the south side of the river. Here the conflict was resumed, and for some time sustained with considerable warmth; but at length the Covenanters, dispirited by their repulse on the bridge, disadvantageously posted, and wanting that union so essential to success in arms, were thrown into confusion and totally routed; 400 were killed, principally in the retreat, by the merciless troopers of Claverhouse and Dalziel, and not fewer than 1,200 were taken prisoners, many of whom were afterwards executed...[Differences between Monmouth and Claverhouse discussed]...An old house in the village, recently demolished, is said to have been the scene of a council held by the commanders of the Royal Army, previous to the attack on the bridge. While the council was sitting a little child, unobserved by its mother, had strayed into the house. After a lengthened search had been made by the anxious parent for her lost babe, she at last ventured to peep into the apartment where the military chiefs were assembled, and there, sure enough, she found it seated on the knee of the gentle Monmouth, who was fondly caressing it, and endeavouring to amuse it with the glittering hilt of his sword...The aspect of the bridge and the ground in its vicinity is completely altered since that period. [p.77]


Above the bridge, on the north side is the spacious expanse of Bothwellhaugh, formerly the property of James Hamilton, who shot the regent Murray at Linlithgow in 1569. Leaving the bridge, and taking an easterly direction we proceed by a delightful path, through fields of waving grain to the farm-steading which is situated where the dwelling-place of this dauntless individual once stood. The buildings are of modern erection and nowise remarkable. Several exquisite views of the palace and pleasure grounds of Hamilton are obtained from points in this vicinity. About a quarter of a mile to the east of it there is a picturesque old bridge over the south Calder, which, according to popular opinion, is of Roman construction. It consists of a single arch of 20 feet span, high-backed, narrow, and without parapets. The pavement is composed of small round stones apparently taken from the channel of the rivulet. [p.78]

Bothwell Castle

Returning to Bothwell, we now proceed in a direction westward from the village, to visit the celebrated ruins of Bothwell Castle, and the beautiful pleasure grounds of Lord Douglas. This nobleman, with a liberality which is in the highest degree commendable, permits strangers to have access to this extensive park on certain days of the week. It is satisfactory to learn that his lordship's confidence in the popular taste seems to be fully appreciated, and has been but seldom abused.

A walk of about half-a-mile from the magnificent gateway, which is surmounted by a carving of the Douglas arms, along a pathway neatly fringed with verdure...brings us to the front of the spacious mansion of Lord Douglas. The architecture of this edifice, which is of modern erection, is of the most unpretending description. It consists of a central compartment and towings, the material of the walls being the fine red sandstone prevalent in the district.

At a short distance to the west of the house, on a bold green bank which slopes from the Clyde, are the stately ruins of Bothwell Castle, the most extensive and imposing relic of feudal architecture which our country can boast. With regard to the origin of this noble pile little is now known. In the reign of Alexander II, the barony and castle of Bothwell were held by Walter Olifard, the Justiciary of Lothian, who died in 1242.

 During the troubulous period which followed the death of Alexander III it fell into the hands of the usurper, Edward I of England, who resided here for some time in the year 1301. In 1309 Aymer de Vallance was appointed governor, and it was while resident here that this individual negotiated the betrayal of Wallace with the ever-infamous Monteith. At the period when Bruce gained the battle of Bannockburn, Bothwell Castle was held by a Sir Walter Fitzgilbert..

.After the above decisive victory, of course the Southrons were speedily relieved of their unjust possession, and Bruce conferred the barony and castle on Andrew Murray, Lord Bothwell, his own brother-in-law. It seems to have fallen again into the hands of the English after the death of Bruce, when Scotland was again invaded by Edward III, as several documents, still in existence, written by that monarch, are dated at Bothwell. After passing in succession through the hands of the potent families of Douglas, Crichton, Hepburn, and Stewart, it was finally settled on the ancestors of the present possessor in 1715. [p. 81]

The Gardens of Lord Douglas at Castle Bothwell

The scenery in the vicinity of the castle is of the finest description...Leaving the precincts of this magnificent and awe-inspiring relic of bygone pomp and power, we now proceed by a shady woodland path to visit the extensive gardens of Lord Douglas...Having through the kindness of a friend received an introduction to Mr. Turnbull, head-gardener to the establishment, we are received with the most obliging courtesy by that gentleman. Mr. Turnbull, whose fame in his profession has extended even beyond the Tweed, may well be somewhat vain of the flourishing condition of his numerous plants, indigent and exotic. Fruits and flowers are equally abundant, and superior in quality...while in the floral departments, things "rich and rare" seem to be here collected from every country and clime. The collection of roses is very extensive, and our visit fortunately happens at the very nick of time to witness them in their hours of bloom. In one conservatory are no less than 200 distinct species of heaths...




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