Blantyre the town

Some History

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.
Evidence has been found of prehistoric habitation within the parish with several Bronze age graves being found, and the remains of a hill-fort at Camp-Knowe (Calderside).

image of priory from 1878

Blantyre is first mentioned in historical records as being the site of the Blantyre Priory which is thought to have been founded sometime around 1296, and to have been a cell of the Abbacy of Jedburgh, the monks of which are said to have found Blantyre a place of refuge when the incursions of English raiders made the border counties unsafe. The name of Friar Walter of Blantyre, and Frere William, Prior of Blantyre, are mentioned in medieval documents.

Demographics

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 Reverend James Anderson gave an account of the population of the town.

1755-----------496
1801----------1751
1811----------2092
1821----------2630
1831----------3000

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 and the town contained many miners' rows around the three main hamlets of High Blantyre (including Auchinraith and Auchentibber), Low Blantyre (including Blantyre Works) and Stonefield (including Dixon's Rows, Baird's Rows and Springwell).

During the 20th century it slowly increased with "baby-booms" in evidence in the years following the World wars.

1901----------14,145
1921----------18,154
1951----------17,769
1971----------17,735
1991----------18,500

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.

Naming of Blantyre

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".

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"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..... "
Hugh McDonald C1855

However, 40 years later, "Blantyre was reputed to be, at this time; "a district of pits, engine houses, smoke and grime", this description no doubt led to the nickname the town endured for many years as "Dirty Auld Blantyre."