North Lanarkshire’s Vanished Industrial Communities
Continuing our tour of the housing built in the 1800s for the area’s industrial workers with the ironmaking heartland and the surrounding mining and brickmaking communities. In this area very little remains of the hundreds of houses built by the iron, brick and coal masters of the Monklands and beyond.
The Iron Burgh: Coatbridge
Coatbridge was a series of tiny hamlets until the rapid industrial expansion of the mid-1800s. The trigger was the construction of the Monkland Canal, which opened in 1793.
The town’s first factories were a tileworks on the Coats estate, a chemical works near Summerlee and the Calder Iron Works to the south. Meanwhile, landowners began to exploit the mineral wealth on their estates by letting out land for coal mining. The arrival of the railways and the resulting massive expansion of the iron industry brought many people to the area in search of work.
The letter below accompanied money to help support the families of miners lost in the 1918 Stanrigg mining disaster, gathered by children who lived in the Bairds’ North Square, which is seen in the plan above.
Another part of Coatbridge with a large concentration of company housing was Whifflet, to the south. The long, parallel Rosehall Rows sweeping downhill towards Coatbridge, housed the families of miners at the many pits of Addie and Company’s Rosehall Colliery. They became an example of poor quality workers’ housing when they were included in an early edition of George Orwell’s ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’ in 1937. In fact, by then the Rosehall Rows (like ‘Wigan Pier’ itself) were gone, replaced by better housing built to accommodate large families.
The great ironworks of Calder, Dundyvan and Carnbroe, all close neighbours had their own housing too. The Dundyvan Long Row was the lengthiest of them all, interrupted only by a coal pit about half way along. Long Row was tunneled under by a colliery railway that then passed over the west end of the row via a bridge.
Some houses in Dundyvan of only one room have 18 human beings, family and lodgers, in this one room, half of them being at work at night and half by day.
William Miller, Clerk in the Dundyvan Iron Works, in testimony to the Children’s Employment Commission, 1842
Nearby Airdrie also had some houses built for miners but as the town was already well-established by the 1800s there was less of a need for new company housing.
Fireclay Country: Garnkirk & Glenboig
The growth of ironworks and foundries in North Lanarkshire in the mid-1800s led to a growing demand for firebricks. The rich fireclay seams in the area around Glenboig and Garnkirk saw this area become the world’s largest producer of firebricks. The industry took advantage of the Garnkirk and Glasgow Railway which opened in 1831. As with the ironworks and coal mines, the industry created whole new communities of company houses.
The view below shows one of the many small mines that were started alongside the railway. We can see the entrance to the mine on the right and, at the bottom, a drainage adit. Note the row of miners’ houses beyond the pit-head.
The closely packed housing, combined with proximity to the works could sometimes be a lethal combination. For example in the winter of 1910 when a terrible accident occurred in housing owned by Hurll’s in Glenboig.
The location was Garnqueen Square, which consisted of three rows of single storey brick houses on a site now occupied by Glenboig Life Centre. Nine years earlier this had been the scene of forcible evictions after a bitter industrial dispute. Despite resistance from a large crowd, Sheriff Officers and fifty police officers evicted the families of eight men including the Secretary of the local miners’ union.
In 1910 the tenants of Garnqueen Square included Paltrus Vilkiatus and his family who were Polish immigrants. Paltrus was also known as Peter Wolff, it being common for immigrant workers to change their names. Their neighbour who had cared for Mrs Wolff during her pregancy was known as Mrs Mitchell but her Polish name was Antonina Suoye. The Vilkiatus family also took in lodgers, one of whom was a miner called Vincus Pottris.
On the evening of 23 February, ahead of his night shift Vincus Pottris placed a cardboard box of frozen gelignite on the hob of the fireplace to thaw. He was not supposed to take the explosive home but it was winter and the gelignite was frozen solid. The result was sudden and tragic: four were killed in the explosion. They were two of the Wolff’s children, Mrs Mitchell and another of Wolff’s lodgers, Cazemis Woozdonis. Eight others were injured, including Peter Wolff who was left with severe facial injuries.
Finding the Lost Rows & Squares
The National Library of Scotland’s online maps are an amazing tool for discovering the history of your area. The geo-referenced maps can be viewed online alongside modern satellite photographs of the same location. The industrial housing is usually easy to spot on old maps as it is so unlike other buildings and the location is often a give-away to which company owned them.