Some Impressions of Village Life in the Parish of Strathblane during the First Decade of the Twentieth Century by John K Campbell

Reminiscences

In response to suggestions from several friends I have sought to give a picture of life in the village during the period 1900-1910, during the whole of which time I was resident in it. It is not intended to be what is generally known as a “history.” I wish to acknowledge my thanks to all who have given me photographs, especially to Mr. T. A. S. Johnson, the son of one of the ministers referred to in the Impressions and who is now resident in England.
Strathblane May, 1971 J.K.C

The turn of the Century marked the closure of the last of the several Print and other Works in the Parish when the businesses were transferred to the Vale of Leven and other areas. The two largest of the works were situated in the area of the present football field and in the area between the Blane Burn and Station Road, now known as Blane Crescent.

The operatives in these works were housed mainly in the blocks of houses known as Sunnyside, New City Row, West Row, Wood Place, and Blane Terrace, collectively known “The new Hooses,” and also in that part of Station Road known as Burnside Row. Sunnyside and Burnside have since been demolished.

These worker’s houses were subsequently occupied to a considerable extent by Glasgow families as summer houses, with the result that the Village was unusually busy at the weekends and during the Glasgow Fair holidays.

It was some years after all activities ceased in the works that they were finally demolished. The highlight of the exercise was the taking down of the large Chimney Stalks. The largest of these, known as “Great Chinney Stalk,” was one hundred and sixty feet high and it had been built at a cost of Five Hundred Pounds. So compelling was the prospect of witnessing the taking ‘down of this giant that many of the older boys played truant from School. The schoolboy term for this practice was known as “Plunking.” It matters little how the practice was defined but it is certain that the dominie of that time was in no doubt how it should be treated. He was indeed very angry bur years afterwards he confided in me that this was partly due to the fact that he himself was unable to witness the spectacle. As a historical fact, the date when this chimney was taken down was 17th February, 1910. It is interesting to note that some of the bricks from the demolished works in the Football Field were used in the erection of at least six houses in the Village.

On the closure of the various works many of the operatives left the Village to find employment in other places. Some travelled daily to Glasgow and spent a great deal of time in the process, leaving home very early in the morning and arriving home late in the evening. There was little work left in the Village other than Agricultural or Estate work. The Estates employed many people, both male and female, in many different capacities. In the field of Agriculture there was no mechanisation such as we know it today. The chief crops grown were Potatoes, Turnips, Hay, Oats and Cabbage. Wheat and Barley were very seldom seen in this area. The activities of ploughing, sowing, harrowing and harvesting were all hand operated. In the Dairy sections there were no milking machines and nearly every farm had its own “churn” for the making of butter. Some of these churns were agitated by horse drawn apparatus.

The Print Works

Milk was taken round the Village in a kind of “dog cart” which held two large cans with taps. When the cart arrived at the house door, the housewife produced a can or jug to obtain her supplies. The milk was sold in “pennyworths,” one pennyworth being the equivalent of a pint. Buttermilk was sold from barrels fixed in a dog cart. More than one farmer in the district travelled twice weekly in his dog cart to sell his produce in the 1aryhill and west end districts of Glasgow. From such a practice there originated the words of the old song, “Drivin into Glesca in a Soor Milk Cairt.”

When cattle were being bought or sold, the practice was comnlOl1 for them to be taken to or from the markets along the Public Highway in charge of a man and/or a boy.

In this era there were no restrictions on labour and the hours worked were long and arduous. It was not unusual for farmers and their families to have porridge at the evening meal as well as at breakfast time. Porridge was never made with any refined oars but with the real oatmeal.

In these days motor vehicles were seldom seen and for distance travel the train was practically the only means available. The trains were nor heated and quite a few regular travellers to Glasgow subscribed together to persuade the engine driver to let them have one of the heated long pans which were quite common on main lines. At the weekends many people walked from the car terminals at Maryhill to the Village and beyond , and the emergence of the two-wheeled bicycle in any numbers was seen in the many Cycle Clubs which had outings from Glasgow and the surrounding towns. Trains were used for the transport of heavy goods, and horse drawn carts, lorries and vans were extensively employed. At least one firm of bakers and confectioners covering the villages of Strathblane, Killearn, Balfron and Fintry took two days for the round journey. For those who were in a position to afford the luxury there were various types of horse drawn carriage such as Broughams, Landaus, Victorias, Wagonettes, Dog Carts and the Pony and Trap. Organised outings from the districts outside the Village took place in large horse drawn brakes, accommodating from ten to twenty persons. The roads were surfaced with rolled large gauged road metal, tar and bitumen surfaces being unknown in this area. The state of the roads at summer weekends led to frequent accidents to cyclists, especially at a turn of the road known as the local “Devil’s Elbow.” The corner of the road at Campsie Road and Kirkhouse Inn was another danger spot. Apart from weekends one could walk on the road with comparative safety.

The Print Works
Willie Renfrew, Gatehouse Keeper at Print Works

Because of the very nature of the road transport at this tin1.e the local blacksmith carried on a thriving business at the local “Smiddy,” situated at the East side of the burn near the old School. The blacksmith and his sons were typified in Oliver Goldsmith’s The Village Blacksmith, in that they were indeed “Mighty Men” with tremendous arms as strong as iron bands. Boys from School used to gaze spellbound as the sparks flew from the hot metal on the anvil and the fire being blown up with the huge bellows. Here horses were shod, wheel rims made and other metal fashioned, and the young people were not forgotten, there being a brisk demand for runners for sledges and also those large hoops with cleeks, affectionately known as “Girrs.” The circular hoops were propelled along the ground with the cleeks and speed was determined by the skill with which the user handled his cleek.

During this period many house holders had to depend on outside pumps for their water supplies. Indoor sanitation was a rarity and houses with all modern conveniences were regarded as having the essence of luxury. Local Authority houses did not make their appearance for nearly two decades after this period. There was no electricity in general supply. Lighting was by paraffin lamps gradually improved by refinements in burners and mantles. There was no street lighting and paraffin hand lanterns were in common use. Cooking was carried out mostly on coal fired gr ates although the larger “Range” was not uncommon. Roasts of beef and mutton were often cooked by being suspended from a large hook above the grate and rotated in front of the fi re, an exercise requiring considerable skill. Coal was supplied by the local stationmasters and was never ” bagged.” It was usually delivered by cart in ton loads at the nearest point in the road to the residence of the purchaser, who then had to convey the coal to his own cellar by whatever means he could. Where it was not practical to use a barrow resort had to be made to pails. Removing a ton of coal by pailfuls was a tiring and lengthy process. For those unable to afford a ton of coal, barrowloads could be obtained. The price of coal at this time was about fifteen to eighteen shillings per ton and the barrowload-containing approximately one hundredweight-could be had for one shilling.

Fall of the Great Chimney
Early Motor Car at Blanefield House

The responsibility for most local affairs was vested in the Parish Council, and education was in the hands of the local School Board. Children had to walk to School even from the outlying parts of the Parish, such as Auchineden, The Quinloch and Easterton, north of the Distillery at Glengoyne. School buses had not been heard of. The School was heated inadequately and those pupils who were farthest removed from the fire never complained of excessive heat. There was no School Meal Service and children who by reason of distance could not travel home at lunch time had to carry with them what was fondly referred to as a ” piece” or a “chit,” the alternative being to obtain a large scone and jam for the price of one halfpenny at one or other of the two shops in Station Road. There were no Secondary Schools in the area and those desirous of obtaining secondary education had to travel to Glasgow or Lenzie. Notwithstanding these inhibitions, quite a number of the pupils of that time made their mark in this and other countries, and these same pupils would be the first to acknowledge the influence on their lives of the dedicated services of the teachers of that time, teachers who believed that the exercise of discipline was a pre-requisite for the inculcation of knowledge, and who basked in the reflected glory of the success of their pupils.

Family life was tremendously important. The home was the focal point of entertainment and musical evenings and sing songs with friends were greatly enjoyed. There were usually about two concerts and two dances held in winter months. At the concerts there would be the usual soprano, contralto, tenor and baritone or bass, and of course the comedian. The comedian seldom had any material of his own composition and his success was measured by his ability to emulate the top of the bill comedians of the day. Dances always started on time and lasted until four or five o’clock in the morning, thus enabling the dancers to get home in time to start the day’s work. At these functions the gentlemen always wore white gloves. Individual programmes were in vogue and every effort was made by the gentlemen to have their programmes filled with the names of the best lady dancers; if a lady did not wish to dance with any particular gentleman she intimated her regret that her programme was complete. One of the advantages of this programme fashion was that it ensured a prompt start to the proceedings.

The Smithy, Blanefield
Outside Village Water Pump

During this time young men spent much of their spare time at a small hall in Edenkiln where they played bagatelle and billiards.

This hall was later converted into a house but the activities which had been catered for were later provided for on a much better scale by the erection of the building known as “The Village Club.” The building was given to the Parish through the generosity of the late Sir Alfred Yarrow. Some two years later this same gentleman gifted the Tennis Courts situated to the north of the Village Club. A successful Carpet Bowling Club was carried on during these years and its activities took place in what was then known as “McGregor’s” Hall, situated underneath the grocer’s shop at Netherton.

With the closure of the Print Works, the Bowling Green in the vicinity of Blanefield Station became derelict. The proceeds of a bazaar held in 1894 were used to provide the present Bowling Green in the vicinity of access road to\Vester Leddriegreen. The Clubhouse was presented by the late Mr. John Wilson of Carbeth Guthrie, and the surrounding shrubs and fencing by the late Mr. G. D. Wilson, Drumquhar (now known as Campsie Dene). The opening of this Bowling Green was marked by the availability of copious supplies of liquid refreshment with the result that quite a few parishioners were out of commission for a day or two, after arriving home by circuitous routes.

The Parish Church and the United Free Church had separate congregations and it was many years later (1934) that they united to become one congregation.

In 1905 the United Free Church was destroyed by fire and, until it was replaced by a new building about a year and a half later, the congregation worshipped in what was then known as “The Pavilion” adjoining the building opposite the Blacksmith’s premises. The Ministers of these two churches were the Reverend W. B. Moyes in the Parish Church and the Reverend Theodor Johnson in the United Free Church. These two much loved and respected men pursued their high calling of the preaching of the Gospel for fifty years and forty-five years respectively. They indeed did much to mould the character of the young people of that day and age. The Church Bell, which at that time rang at 10.30 a.m., was not the “Sunday School” Bell as was generally supposed, but was originally the Bell which warned outlying parishioners to get ” ready” for the Kirk at 12 o’clock.

Voters arriving for School Board Election, 1903
Strathblane Church. Cottage in foreground (left) local Police House Cottage on right, Church Cleaner’s House

A highlight of church activity for young people was the meeting of the Band of Hope and one of the leading personalities in this was the Stationmaster at Blanefield Station, the late Tom Shanks, affectionately known as “Tooch Boo.” At the meetings, in addition to Hymn Singing, children sang their songs or recited their special pieces of poetry, and doubtless some saw themselves as future Ellen Terrys or Henry Irvings. The season’s activities ended with a “Grand Soiree,” when, after tea and a “poke” of buns and cakes, the children were subjected to addresses by three or four visiting ministers.

Much of the purchase of household goods was affected through Packmen, n1.ore commonly referred to as “Scotch Cuddies.” These men carried on their backs enormous packs wrapped in a tarpaulin sheet. There was a refinement of this practice by a family named Robertson, who came to the Village about three time a year. This family lived in circus-like caravans and was headed by “Granny,” who wore a spotless white apron and a black mutch. Her word was law and she supervised the carrying of the huge hampers in to the various households. She had little to learn from the modern type of salesmanship. One local lady of that time said of Granny that she could “sell snaw frae a dyke.”

The local doctor of that time had to show his versatility by acting as a “dentist” and an offending tooth was extracted without any anaesthetic. On completion of the operation the patient was invited to “gang o’er and spit in the jawbox.”

Hallowe’en customs were different and there was competition amongst young people in the making of lanterns fashioned from huge turnips. Much effort was put into disguise and all guisers had to ” perform” by singing or reciting before being rewarded with an apple or orange and nuts. There was no question of counting the ” kill” in money at the end of the night. “Dooking” for apples was a practice indulged in by most families at Hallowe’en. This involved bending over the top of a chair and, having a fork in the mouth, endeavouring to fork as many apples as possible from a tub of water on the floor.

Old United Free Church
The Reverend Theodor Johnson and The Reverend William B. Moyes

There seems to be a remarkable decrease in the variety of birds, possibly due to the noise created by the present mechanised age. Deer are rare and wild ponies are never to be seen.

Dress fashions have undergone many changes since these early times. Ladies wore tight fitting jackets and ankle length skirts; blouses were worn right up to the neck with usually a lace collar. Woollen stockings were the order of the day and footwear were black lacing shoes, although black button boots were not uncommon. Hats were usually large and Easter Sunday was the day when new headgear made its appearance. Elderly ladies often wore” granny mutches.” Cardigans and pullovers were not in vogue but shawls were in common use and it was not deemed seemly for elderly persons to have these in colours other than black or dark “parson” gray. Ladies slacks were undreamed of.

Usually men had one suit for Sundays and other special occasions in addition to their work-a-day clothes. For formal occasions in addition to the “Frock Coat” there was the “Morning Coat” and the “Swallow Tail” jacket. The common type of sports wear was the ” Norfolk” jacket. The “Ulster” type of overcoat was greatly favoured. Men’s footwear consisted of heavy tacket soled boots for manual work with “fine” boots, often buttoned, for special occasions. In addition to the traditional ” Bunnet,” headgear was usually a broad bowler type hat, either black or brown and the black tyle hat was worn on Sundays and at funerals. It was the custom for families to walk in the Village in the afternoon or in the evening and walking sticks were greatly favoured by young men as well as by the elderly. Ladies wore their watches pinned on their blouses and men had pocket watches and for dress wear the gold watch and chain were worn, the chain passing through a special button hole in the waistcoat. In this village as indeed in other rural areas throughout the country, home dressmaking was the rule rather than an exception. Men’s suits and coat and overcoats were hand tailored by local tailors, of whom two carried on business in the Village for many years.

The Village was honoured by a visit of the late King Edward VII to Duntreath Castle and during his stay he attended Divine Service in Strathblane Church. The local Boy Scout Troop, one of the first to be formed in Stirlingshire, was privileged to form a “Guard of Honour” at Blanefield Station. It is interesting to note that this same troop was later one of a number inspected by the Sovereign in the grounds adjacent to Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh.

Bowling Green and Clubhouse, 1907
Early Cycle Rally

An important annual event in these days was the Flower Show. Here the rivalry was keen and there were many exhibits. Most of the prizes were won by members of three well known families.

A feature of the period was the severity of the winters. There were lengthy spells of frost and snow. The lochs were all frozen, sometimes for several weeks at a time. The favourite loch for skating and curling was Loch Ardinning, as none of the others was regarded as being sufficiently safe. Curling matches were frequent and there was a stone hut in which there were facilities for cooking and in which refreshments could be obtained.

The Boer War was in progress at the beginning of the century and culminated in the relief of Mafeking (referred to by some local people as “Mane”) in May, 1900. This event was marked by a bonfire in a field near Napier Lodge.

Queen Victoria, who had reigned for over sixt-three years, died in January, 1901, when King Edward VII acceded to the throne. His Coronation was celebrated in the Village by a huge bonfire in the area of the “Green Seats,” North-West of Braehead on the Cuilt Road. King Edward VII died at the end of this period.

The telephone made its appearance in this decade bur it was by no means in general use. There were two telephone concerns in operation at this time, The National Telephone Company and The Glasgow Corporation Municipal Telephones, with the latter operating a cheaper service. Two years after the end of this decade both these concerns were taken over by the Post Office when the general use of the telephone spread quickly.

Before automatic exchanges came into being, the local telephone exchange during almost the entire period of its existence was in charge of the late Miss Jean McGregor.

The Village had its worthies. There was Charlie McFarlane, who lived in a shelter in the old Cuilt Wood who came round the shops and houses soliciting help about once a week. Seldom was he refused. Another vagrant was Ned McManus whose range was wider. He appeared in the Village about once in every three ·months and was well known to all school children as “Old Ned.”

The location of the shops then was much as it is today, but the shopping methods were very different. Goods were sold “loose” and never prepacked. Refrigerated goods were unheard of and shopkeepers had to spend much of their time in weighing and wrapping up goods. Even the children’s sweets had sometimes to be weighed.

Dr. WaIter L . Rankine
Local Troop of Boy Scouts at Blanefield Station, September, 1909

During the era young people never grumbled about having nothing to do in their spare time. They created their own amusements and spent a great deal of time in exploring the Parish so that they became thoroughly familiar with the peculiarities of all parts of it. No one expected facilities for enjoyment to be provided by other people.

It is significant that during the entire ten years the Village was served by one policeman. He was provided with no transport and carried out his duties on his own two feet. He saw all that was going on and there never was hooliganism in the area. Included in his duties was the role of attendance officer for the School. In this capacity he was known as the ” Whupper In.”

The top of the “Campsies” provided a vista of beauty and grandeur which was difficult to equal. It exuded an aura of peace and quiet which was strangely at variance with the ever increasing noise resulting from mechanisation and the space age.

Now that the Village has grown and assumed a more urban look, one is tempted to muse on those far-off days and realise how apt was the title of that great book, How Green was my Valley.

Photo of Strathblane before Recent Development

STRATHBLANE Some Impressions of Village Life in the Parish of Strathblane during the First Decade of the Twentieth Century. John K. Campbell
(originally printed by Jamieson & Munro, Ltd., “Observer” Press, 40 Craigs, Stirling)

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