It's an all too commonly held view that the Romans stopped their advance north at Hadrian's Wall, where they camped for the next few hundred years, fighting off the odd attempted incursion by our ancestors from the north. Anyone who believes that should ask themselves why Wishaw's Main Street is quite so straight.
The Romans actually came into Scotland on a number of occasions. They had a well established road up the north-east side of Clydesdale. The line of the Roman road was followed by later road makers, and could still be traced when, in 1825, the Clydesdale Distillery was set up next to it in largely open countryside by Lord Belhaven.
A distillery needs workers, and workers need houses, and the little village that grew up along the line of the Roman road and around the distillery became known as Wishaw. The name probably came from the Old English for "Willow Wood", and though you might not guess this as the origin looking at Wishaw today, it is easy to believe the area could have been rural enough to justify the name in 1825.
Wishaw grew dramatically in the 1830s, with the arrival of railways and a gas works, plus the opening of the first of many collieries around of the town. By the time the Caledonian Railway's main line came through Wishaw in 1848 it was a major mining centre fuelling an important part of Scotland's industrial heartland.
Hot on the heels of the coal came iron and steel manufacturers, setting up works both to the east and west of Wishaw. The Clydesdale Distillery never really recovered from the closure of the industry during the First World War, but in the early part of the 1900s truck manufacturing was an important local industry. From 1920, Wishaw effectively became part of Motherwell, some three miles to the north-west.
Like Motherwell, Wishaw benefitted from the growth of the huge Ravenscraig steel works in the early 1960s, which lay between the two. But although employment there reached many thousands in the mid-1970s, the works declined throughout the eighties, and closed in 1992. The mining industry had already ceased to exist in this part of Scotland, and for a time Wishaw had some of the worst unemployment levels in Scotland. One estate, Gowkthrapple, a mile south of Wishaw, stood out in the 1991 Census as having Scotland's highest density of inhabitants; its highest proportion of households without a car; and its second highest level of male unemployment at 35%.
Scotland's economy has improved considerably since; the Ravenscraig site has been cleared for major planned development; and today it is difficult even to see where the pit-heads once stood. Wishaw is a town emerging from a difficult period in its history and looking ahead to better things.
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