In the late twenties, William (or Bill) Anderson, a grandson of the aforementioned Thomas Anderson, became aware of the health-giving benefits derived from physical training and started a course of gymnastics. Others got curious, then interested, so Bill and his cousin William Allan, at present town chamberlain of Campbeltown, together with John Neilson and Adam Steel, founded Burnblea physical culture club which met nightly in the Anderson home. Unlike the scouts or Boys’ Brigade, where the leaders were older men, this was a club run by youths for youths, and it proved an instant success.
So many young men wanted to join that the founders commenced a search for premises. Mr Sherret, the butcher who had taken over the farm-steading when Bent farm was vacated by Abie Brownlie, let them have the barn for 5 Shillings per night. Aladdin oil lamps were bought to light the place and bales of hay were used as mats. For the sum od sixpence per meeting, members enjoyed every minute of their strenuous exercise and quite a number became proficient weight-lifters. Part of the fun was a dip in the big boilers of cold water.
The barn was not the choicest of premises, however, and with the ever-growing membership a friend suggested that Anderson contact Mr A K Foulis of Hamilton Estates. Bill did this and permission to use the riding school was granted in 1930. This proved an ideal arrangement and the 150 members met for three hours every Tuesday and Friday evening. For the nominal sum of 10 Shillings per month, lighting, heating and bathing facilities were included.
The lads were delighted with this generous offer and the Boxing Marquis, the present Duke of Hamilton, became their hero.They were well acquainted with johnnie Brown, who sparred with the Marquis, and they now felt they knew the nobleman too. Later they maintained a lively interest in the Duke’s flying adventures, especially his flight over Everest.
A number of young ladies heard of the success of the club and asked Mr Anderson to form a female group. Bill was hesitant at firs, but when a deputation of girls from Gilchrist’s Bakery approached him he was persuaded and so in 1932, with a membership of 30, Hamilton’s first league of Health and Beauty was formed. Members paid an annual subscription of two shillings, plus sixpence attendance fee. An ante-room in the old Town Hall was rented and the ladies met there once weekly. After a few weeks, larger premises were necessary and the Masonic Hall was rented for one evening a week at 12s 6d per night.
Every kind of training apparatus was purchaser and the membership rose quickly to 120. Social evenings, dances and hiking expeditions brought the sexes together and both clubs had a continued run of success until they terminated, the physical culture club because of the war and the league of Health and Beauty because of the many other interests of the founders.
One fellow, James Lang still has his membership card which he carries around as a memento of the many happy evenings spent in congenial company. A few have a better reminder for they found romance. Bill Anderson and Adam Steel fall into this group, as they married members of the League of Health and Beauty.
Like most of Hamilton, Burnblea Street is undergoing big changes. Police houses have long since replaced Chassels’ tenement and during 1963-65 burgh houses and a new self service Co-operative licence store were erected on the vacant field and on Nicholson’s site. The other tenements have been ear marked for early demolition and soon all individuality will have been erased from the street. Instead of the once beautiful stone tenements, one shall find new brick and roughcast dwellings; inferior in my opinion, but for the fact that they contain kitchenettes and bathrooms. A few people, however, are reluctant to move when they compare their present rentals with the high rents of the council houses, for therein lies a problem far greater than the lack of a bathroom.