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18 June 2014
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Immigration and Emigration
Lithuanians in Lanarkshire

Lanarkshire always formed the centre of the Lithuanian community in Scotland, not only did the bulk of the population settle there, but the area also contained the resident Lithuanian priest and the Lithuanian Social Club.

Lithuanian shrine at Carfin Grotto
© Allan Poutney
One of the main focal points of the community across Scotland was an annual pilgrimage to the grotto at Carfin - where the Lithuanians have their own plaque. Many who came to Lanarkshire were allegedly recruited in the Baltic by agents of Merry & Cunninghame, owners of ironworks and coalmines in the Carnbroe area. Whether this is true or not, by 1914 over 4,000 Lithuanians had settled in the area.

The Lithuanians were not made welcome in Scotland. They were seen as competition in the market for jobs, and prepared to do them for less than the indigenous workers. Employers were often accused of using them as strike-breakers. Not only were the newcomers obviously foreign, with little or no grasp of the English language, but they were also devoutly Catholic in a fiercely Presbyterian land. The Lithuanians were routinely referred to as "Poles" - the same as calling a Scotsman an Englishman! Even the Lithuanian names were subject to native ignorance, with many being changed by immigration officials and bosses at the pits to random Scottish names, Vicentas Stepsis becoming Willie Millar for example. There is even the case of a Lithuanian in Ayrshire who after signing for his pay with an X, saw his name transform into Joseph Ecks. Others changed their name voluntarily, in a bid to avoid harassment and fit into Scottish society more easily.

This ignorance and hostility was apparent at all levels of society, John Wilson, the Unionist candidate for St Rollox, Glasgow, in 1900 did not believe "it proper that this country should be the dumping ground for all the paupers of Europe." Trade Unions were openly hostile, claiming that the newcomers' lack of English made them a danger at work; the Glasgow Trades Council declared the Lithuanians in Glengarnock as "an evil" and wrote to the TUC demanding immigration controls to keep them out.

Electoral poster for Keir Hardie
© SCRAN
Even a figure such as Keir Hardie, founding father of the Labour Party, led a fierce, xenophobic campaign against the Lithuanians. Hardie, as a leader of Ayrshire miners, wrote an article for the journal, The Miner, in which he stated that: "For the second time in their history Messrs. Merry and Cunninghame have introduced a number of Russian Poles to Glengarnock Ironworks. What object they have in doing so is beyond human ken unless it is, as stated by a speaker at Irvine, to teach men how to live on garlic and oil, or introduce the Black Death, so as to get rid of the surplus labourers."


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