The Story of Thomas Hamilton Blair – My Grandpa
My Grandpa was a self made man. Thomas was born on 26 March 1908 in Glasgow to John Blair and Eliza Crawford Littell Rankin.
His mother was known as Bessie. He grew up in a modest middle class home.
John was a cab and taxi proprietor and had a successful business. His company would also assist with funerals.
The horses and carriages were always in use. When Thomas was nine years old his father died at the very young age of 49 years. Bessie was left to raise her son on her own.
Thomas went to Queen’s Park School. He was very involved in the Rovers and went to the Imperial Jamboree at Wembley in 1924. He would tell the story of sword dancing for the Prince of Wales at the Jamboree. When he was in high school he met my Grandmother. In the summer the Blair family used to camp at Whiting Bay on the Isle of Arran in the Firth of Clyde. The Campbell family stayed in a boarding house in Kildonan. My Grandparents were staying on opposite ends of the island but did manage to meet up.
He asked her father’s permission to marry her and was told that Norah would make up her own mind. The first time he asked Norah to marry him she refused saying she had to care for her widowed father. She accepted my Grandpa’s proposal when her older sister returned home because she had been widowed.
Thomas left school when he was sixteen years of age and worked at the Auchengeich Colliery in Chryston near Glasgow. It was owned by James Nimmo & Co. Limited. He entered the job on 15 October 1924 as an Apprentice to Mining Engineering and left on 30 November 1928 to “take up practical mining to qualify for entrance to the examination for a Mine Manager’s Certificate.”
He realized he needed more education to improve his life so he made the decision to go back to school. He would work in the colliery during the day and went to Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College at night. They were allowed to smoke cigarettes to keep them awake during the classes. Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College is now part of Strathclyde University. My Grandpa used to wear the Glasgow Tech tie which was blue and gold. Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College became the Royal Technical College in 1912 but my Grandpa always referred to it as Glasgow Tech.
He was an engineer but had no specific degree. He was grandfathered into the profession because of his skills and knowledge. Thomas was a member of the Institute of Civil Engineering and Mining Engineers.
In 1930 Thomas applied for a job at the Taquah and Abosso Mines in West Africa and soon left for the Gold Coast Colony which is now Ghana. He set sail from Liverpool for Sekondi-Takoradi on 16 April 1930. The Gold Coast was known as the “white man’s graveyard” and he was told he couldn’t fly because the sudden change in temperature would kill him.
He used to stop at the Canary Islands on the way home and the trip would take about three weeks. To while away the hours on board ship they would play cards for martini’s which cost six pence each.
Thomas worked in the surveying department, assay office and as a shift boss underground. He earned 10 shillings and 6 pence a day which would be £50.97 in 2005 according to the currency converter on the National Archives of England website.
There were many photographs taken during his stay on the Gold Coast and we have a small photo album he kept from that time. He had a servant who took care of his every need while on the Gold Coast. When he came home to Scotland he would take off his clothes and drop them on the floor and he got static from my Grandmother for this.
Thomas was found on the Outbound Passenger Lists going to the Gold Coast several times. On 28 July 1931 he was on the Adda and his occupation was Miner.
When he went out again on 2 November 1932 he was on the Appam and his occupation was Engineer. On 14 November 1933 he left on the Apapa and listed his occupation as Mining Engineer.
On the 5th of February 1935 he left on the Apapa again and was listed as a surveyor. He had married my Grandmother two months before he left on this trip.
His last trip was 17 February 1936 on the Apapa and he was a surveyor. In between these last two trips he became a father.
On his last trip to the Gold Coast he was working for Ariston Gold Mines (1929) Limited. He had applied for a Mine Captain job in South Africa and his children believe he would have emigrated but my Grandmother would not go.
When he returned to Scotland he worked for John McAdam & Sons, Ltd. in Sutherland. Here the family had no running water, an outside toilet, they washed their clothes in the bùrn , their nearest neighbour, the Duke of Westminster’s gatekeeper, was 4 miles away and meat, bread and groceries were delivered to their door by three separate men driving trucks laden with supplies.
Then he worked for the County Council of Bute as a temporary District Road Surveyor for three months. In 1938 he joined Francois Cementation Co. Ltd. and started work for Cecil Grundy. He stayed with Cementation until he retired and Cecil Grundy became a life long friend.
During World War Two the family lived in Ripon in Yorkshire while my Grandpa worked at the airfields in the area to repair and build runways. His mother arrived for a visit on 3 September 1939, the day the war started. While she was with the family in Ripon her house was flooded after the German’s bombed Glasgow. Bessie Blair passed away in Ripon and is buried in the cemetery there.
Thomas was hired as an Engineer on the Liffey Hydro Electric Scheme in Ireland. His main duties were concerned with tunnel driving and rock excavation in the open cut but he was also to assist the Agent on the project. Thomas and his family lived in Poulaphouca during the length of his contract. They then moved to Naas in Kildare and back to Poulaphouca. Thomas worked in Ballyshannon in County Donegal on the Erne Hydro-Electric scheme. They then moved to Lucan.
While my father was at Trinity College he met my mother. The economic problems in Ireland in the late 1950s were similar to those of today and there was no work for my father so he was given a one way ticket to Canada upon his graduation. My Grandpa soon followed so it was thought that he might have known he was being transferred to Canada. He was being sent to head the Cementation Company’s Canadian operation.
When Thomas first arrived in Canada he stayed at the Royal York hotel. Louis Jardin the maître d’ at the hotel knew all his likes and dislikes and made him feel very comfortable. Thomas retired on 31 March 1970 because of ill health. He died on 10 February 1979. I was very lucky because I remember my Grandpa as a healthy man.
Thomas Hamilton Blair was a man who loved life and the good things in life. He arranged to have Fortnum and Mason baskets sent to him in Canada before he left. He also brought a few cases of his favourite scotch. His favourite cigarettes were from Foxes in Dublin and these were sent out to him on a regular basis. I remember that Foxes was a stop every time we visited Ireland so that we could bring Grandpa some cigarettes.
He had a great imagination. When his daughter was small he used to take her for a walk to look for faeries and gnomes. While on the walk they would find a bit of chocolate or a small teddy that had been left behind a tree by the faeries. He would go out before they left and place these small gifts for his daughter to find while out on their walk.
When in Dublin Thomas stayed at the St. Stephen’s Green Club and in 1956 the gentlemen were running a Calcutta for the Grand National horse race. He bought a horse called E.S.B. If you bought a horse and your horse won, you won the pot. E.S.B was trailing the Queen Mother’s horse and the Queen Mother’s horse stumbled so E.S.B won the Grand National and my Grandpa won a bit of money. My Grandmother was horrified that he had bet against the Queen Mother’s horse because she was a staunch supporter of the Royal family.
When my Grandfather retired he and my Grandmother moved closer to my family. They were a 10 minute walk from our home. I got to know my Grandpa a lot better during this time and have very fond memories of our time together.
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