Shannon Broughton from Toronto in Canada got in touch and asked:

“Hi Garry, I’ve been looking into our family history for my grandmother, and I’ve hit a block with her grandfather. His name was Peter McKie, and the only clue I have is that he lived at 14 Grammar School Square in Hamilton in 1921 when his daughter was born. Is there anything you can tell me about that address that might help me find out more about him? Thank you!.”

Hi Shannon, So, here is what I can tell you about Grammar School Square. If you have researched your family History and if some of your ancestors were living at Grammar School Square or Portwell, during the census, then this is how some of the houses & buildings at the auld toon would have looked between 1841 & 1901.

The Old Town of Hamilton, or better known to us locals as the ‘Auld Toon’ was an area built up on higher ground just up the road from the Hamilton Palace. Grammar School Square took its name form the old Grammar School that was built in 1714.



The old Grammar school No longer existing as an independent institution, Hamilton Academy had a history going back to 1588 when it was endowed by Lord John Hamilton, 1st Marquess of Hamilton.

The school, then known as the Old Grammar School of Hamilton (not to be confused with the present Hamilton Grammar School) stood near the churchyard adjoining Hamilton Palace until in 1714 Anne Hamilton, 3rd Duchess of Hamilton, great-granddaughter of the Founder, re-located the school to a new building on the newly named Grammar School Square also in the lower part of the town, and presented this to the Town Council of Hamilton.

The Statistical Account of Lanarkshire of 1835 notes of this school building that it “is a venerable pile, near the centre of the town, containing a long-wainscoted hall, emblazoned with the names of former scholars, cut out in the wood, as at Harrow.

The old school building of 1714–1848 In 1847 this old school building on Grammar School Square was sold for £253 and survived until its demolition in 1932. So, this building would have been familiar to your 2 x great grandparents.

A plaque commemorating the site of the Old Grammar School of Hamilton (which was renamed Hamilton Academy in 1848) was commissioned by pupils of Hamilton Academy and unveiled by the Academy’s rector, David Anderson MC, on 21 March 1932 at a public ceremony in the presence of Academy pupils and teaching staff: the Provost and members of the Town Council, and members of Hamilton Civic Society.

Also, in the year 1885, 14 Grammar School Square was owned by his Grace, the Duke of Hamilton and the first tenants of the building was a man named Bernard MacCusker. At the rear of the building there was a man named John Robertson who owned a Bark Mill & Drying Shed.

I did have a look to see if I could find Peter in between censuses, however, the name appears in quite a few places. Can I ask was he a Hawker by Trade? During the time when Peter lived at Grammar School Square, it was a real poor place to live, it was damp, and people lived in cramped conditions and sometimes you would have 13 people in a family sharing the one room.

I myself had many family members who lived in Grammar School Square during this time and my family would have probably known your family.

When doing family research, we often hit what is called a “brick wall” and sometimes no matter how much you search, you will never find the people who you are looking for and the reason for this is because we have to rely on information provided in census returns, newspaper advertisements and so on and if the information is not there, then as we only go on facts, we hit the old brick wall.

Shannon, if I could give you any advice to track down your ancestor, it would be to expand your search and not get too hung up on the family living at Grammar School Square. In some instances, people lived at one address for a week and then in a house around the corner for a month two days later. This happened in my family and I sometimes found it hard to pin them down to one location.

Good luck with your family research and if you do see what become of the family, then let me know. And once again, thank you for your donation to Historic Hamilton, its much appreciated.



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