Abandoned Communities ..... Ayrshire

Another family at Glenbuck were the Bains. Richard Bain moved into the village around 1870 with his partner, Anne Murdoch, and the six children that had arrived by that date. Four more children were born in Glenbuck, the first of them, Hugh, going on to spend the whole of his life in the village until his death in 1946. Richard Bain died in 1882, and to help make ends meet Anne Murdoch then started a small business, selling provisions from her house. Eventually Anne handed over the business to her sixth child, George, who had been injured in an accident in the pit. George opened what became known as Bain’s Store, providing competition to the Co-operative store. He also started a delivery service with a horse and cart, a branch of the business that became well established when George won a contract to supply fruit and vegetables to local schools.


When George Bain died in 1949 the shop in Glenbuck was taken over by his son, also called George. Within a few years, however, as the last inhabitants of the village were departing, the younger George Bain moved to Muirkirk, where he continued to trade from a shop in Pagan Walk.


There were two main factors, apart from its geographical isolation, that led to the desertion of Glenbuck. One was the gradual closing of the coal mines, the other the poor quality of much of its housing.


At the last two pits, Grasshill No. 1 and No. 2, lack of orders meant that by 1932 there was very little work. There were a number of temporary closures, and then these pits were closed for good in 1933. After the nationalisation of the coal industry in 1947 there were two small scale licensed mines. One of the licensed mines closed in 1982, and the other, the Viaduct mine, closed in 1991, but long before that date all residents of the village had moved away and the housing had been demolished.


I mentioned earlier that a lot of the housing provided for miners had come under severe criticism before World  War I. In 1913 a scathing report was supplied to the Royal Commission on Housing (Scotland) by two agents of the Ayrshire Miners’ Union, Thomas McKerrell and James Brown. At that time a socialist view of politics was dominant in Ayrshire. Keir Hardie himself, the first  leader of the Labour Party, lived for much of his life in the town of Cumnock, a dozen miles west of Glenbuck. The gap between the living conditions of miners and those of the company owners was understandably regarded as unacceptable.


We will return later to the report by McKerrell and Brown. Here we will focus on what it had to say about one part of the village of Glenbuck, the Grasshill rows. These rows had 33 two room houses, with a population of 123. In each house one room, called the kitchen, was 15 feet by 12 feet, while the other room was 12 feet by 9 feet. Criticisms included:


·    There was one dry closet for every four tenants, each closet able to accommodate two people but with no partition.

·    There were no washing houses.

·    The closet, ashpit, and coal-house were under one roof. The ashpits were very dirty.

·    The footpaths were unpaved and dirty, with dirty, sluggish, open syvors in front.

·    Most of the houses had large rents across them, presumably caused by the vibrations of works locomotives and wagons passing near them and the poor quality of the foundations.

·    The sewage ran in an open drain till it reached the main road. McKerrell and Young went there in December, but were told the drain smelt badly in summer.


You can see the full report on the Ayrshire History website. The word syvor, meaning a sewer, was used widely across central Scotland at that time. It was pronounced seevor, spoken very quickly. From each house a kundie ran down into the syvor.


Some improvements may have been made, but in the long run it was clear that alternative housing had to be provided. As far as I know the housing authorities in Ayrshire did not offer new accommodation to people from Glenbuck until after World War II. In the 1950s a new housing estate was developed in Muirkirk, and Glenbuck people moved into two adjacent streets on the estate.