North Lanarkshire’s Vanished Industrial Communities
Industrialisation saw a radical change in how people worked. The new workplaces were factories and mines, where people worked away from the home and had their working hours closely regulated.
The new industries and the relative prosperity that they brought drew workers from the Highlands, Ireland, England and Wales first and soon from places further afield such as Lithuania and Italy. In many cases these workers brought with them specific skills, for example in mining or ironmaking.
Industrialists usually housed their new workforce in rows and squares of tightly-packed small homes, located as close as possible to the workplace. In Lanarkshire that usually meant a mill, mine, ironworks or brickworks. Very often these were in remote locations with little or no existing infrastructure. In many cases these settlements stayed remote or even vanished entirely when the industry disappeared; sometimes they instead formed the seed of new towns and villages. Although most of these houses are gone the descendants of many of their occupants are still here, retaining family histories of migration, hardship and community.
Lanarkshire’s mid-1800s schemes of rows and squares were usually small, often hastily-constructed and with no plumbing or drainage. At this time there were few housing regulations. Not surprisingly then, they were almost entirely destroyed during the slum clearances of the 1900s. Another way to look at the rows and squares is as some of Lanarkshire’s first planned communities. Although basic these houses were sometimes more habitable than the older housing stock in the area.
The houses often consisted of only two rooms housing a whole family. Water was collected from a communal well and toilets were outdoor dry ‘ash-pits’ which were emptied once a month. Mining was dangerous work and tragedies were not uncommon; a death or serious injury could cost the miner’s family their home.
Today, it is difficult to appreciate just how much these ghost communities shaped the North Lanarkshire we know. Let’s take a journey to some of them, starting in the northern area that was mostly once part of Stirlingshire.
Part One: Kilsyth & the North
This area includes the former weaving villages of Kilsyth and Cumbernauld. Although the locality had small coal pits for many years earlier it became more industrialised when the iron companies of Falkirk and the Monklands expanded their search for raw materials. What is striking from reports in the late 1800s and early 1900s is that the standard of the new housing built miners was often better than that of the old village itself.
Miners’ rows appear on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map of Kilsyth, so they appear to have been built before William Baird and Co leased the Haughs for mining in 1869. The rows stood on the north side of Kingston Road and the east side of Parkburn Road. By the late 1800s Kilsyth had tranformed from a weaving village to a mining settlement.
Bairds built the Haugh Coke Ovens on the west of the town to turn coal into coke ready for use in the company’s blast furnaces. You can see the Haugh Pit and coke ovens on the right of the picture postcard below:
In 1860 the Coatbridge Ironmasters William Baird & Co opened mines in the area between Twechar and Kilsyth, close to the Forth & Clyde Canal. As was typical they built new housing for their miners. What is remarkable is that fragments of that housing survive today.
Around half of the longest row, the one nearest to the canal survives as an agricultural building, although much of it is roofless:
In nearby Twechar, now just over the border in East Dunbartonshire, William Baird and Co built successive housing schemes of progressively better quality. The last phase, built in the 1920s was only recently demolished. As elsewhere, the surviving housing tends to be the better-constructed and more spacious dwellings for the mine managers.
Although the earliest houses for the miners, a row which ran behind the towpath of the Forth & Clyde Canal has long since disappeared the next phase of housing, the Barrhill Rows lasted much longer.
The Barrhill Rows were built in two phases. The stub of one of the earlier rows survives as an outbuilding. This end building was slightly larger than the rest of the houses on the row because it was a company shop known as the ‘Gartsherrie Co-op’. Despite this name it was actually one of the infamous ‘Truck Shops’.
The rows that formed Queenzieburn village were built in the 1890s. One of the rows survives.
In the 1870s the Carron Iron Company took over Nethercroy Colliery, which had opened in 1840. The company built a row of housing for its workers near to the railway station.
Croy Row was demolished in the 1930s, but there is still a later row of brick-built miners’ homes in the village.
South-west of Croy Station the ironmasters William Baird and Co built Smithston Row for its miners at the nearby Gartshore No.4 ironstone mine.
The photograph below shows women doing the laundry, a physically arduous task with no washing machines and no running water. The water for the more than seventy households came from a single spring which was located behind the outbuilding in the background.
By the time of the photo above, mining in the area was in decline: the 1920s had seen sharp wage cuts for miners and the General Strike of 1926.