Researched & Written by Garry McCallum.
Until 2017, Brackenhill Farm and its surrounding lands were situated in the quiet countryside, high up on a hill, on the outskirts of Hamilton. Its closest neighbour was Meikle Earnock, which was also at one point a small hamlet quite far out from the Hamilton Town Centre.
As Hamilton grew in size, it swallowed up little hamlets like Meikle Earnock and in turn, they all became known as a part of Hamilton. Brackenhill Farm had escaped this expansion of the town and even in the late 1990s, when Torheads was built upon, the Farm of Brackenhill always remained a little bit semi-rural.
In this year, 2018 another new area of Hamilton will be created taking its name from the little farm steading high up on the hill and we will see a new part of Hamilton being born called Brackenhill Park. The new luxury houses are currently being built in three sections by Stewart Milne, Bellway Homes and Barrat – who will finish the off development with their style of houses. The new houses will command views that stretch across Lanarkshire and when complete it will take on the semi-rural feel that Brackenhill Farm had in its day.
The first farmer which I found to be living here was in the year 1858, where a man named John Alston, appears in the old ordinance survey name book. It is unknown at the moment, if he was the man responsible for building the Farmhouse or if he was the person who first farmed the land, and in the old 1858 Ordinance Survey book, Brackenhill Farm is described as “A good Steading, occupied by the Proprietor. There is no other authority of any value to be had in the locality.”
John Alston then appears on the 1864 Valuation Roll of Hamilton where he is listed as the Owner and tenant of Brackenhill Farm.
I wanted to find out a bit more about John Alston, so I decided to do some research on him. Before I tell you about this John Alston, I don’t want to confuse him with the John Alston who owned the Ranche. I found that John Alston was a man who was born in Hamilton c1803 to parents Thomas Alston – who was a Stone Quarrier and Janet Lawrie. The first records I found, told me that the farm consisted of 30 arable Acres.
As I started to research John Alston, I discovered very quickly that this poor man suffered the loss of most of his family. He spent most of his life at Brackenhill Farm and here is his story.
John Alston was born in 1803 in Hamilton and he married his wife Mary Miller on the 14th of June 1830 at Hamilton. Between them, they had 4 children in the space of 10 years. I first found John on the 1841 Census where he is living at 37 Shuttle Street in Glasgow, he is working as a Cow Feeder. He would have moved from Hamilton in the year 1841 as his third son John Lawrie was also born at Hamilton in the same year.
I don’t believe that John would have kept his family at 37 Shuttle Street for too long as it seemed to be quite a rough place. I found various newspaper reports of dark things going on in the mid-1800s, including two suicides at the very same address.
10 Years later we move onto the 1851 census and the Alston family moves downtown to the more upmarket 38 St. Andrew’s Square. John has his kids living here and a House Servant called Isabella Allen, but his wife is not recorded on the Census. I did a lot of searching and I could not find Mary and even her death is hard to find, but I soon established that she died between 1841 and 1851. John Alston never remarried which was very unusual in the 1800s and especially being a Hard-Working Farmer. I get a strong feeling that John Alston was heartbroken after his wife’s death.
City life was not to be long-lived for most of the family as they head back to Hamilton and this is when John Alston buys Brackenhill Farm. He bought the farm between 1851 and 1857 and as I stated, there is no found documents to support my theory that he built the farm but as I can’t find any reference to Brackenhill Farm before 1858, I am making an educated guess that he was indeed the man who built the farm steading and started farming the land.
Brackenhill Farm was now going to be a fully working dairy. On the 1861 Census return, Brackenhill Farm boasted of having 30 Acres. John’s son Thomas stays behind in Hitchesontown in Glasgow where he becomes a master Joiner and House Builder. He marries a local girl called Jane Russell and decides to make Glasgow his home.
As the rest of the family settle into their new home at Brackenhill Farm, life seems to be going along well for John and apart from Thomas, his two other sons and daughter are still living with him. Between 1861 and 1871 he has a dairy maid living at the farm called Elizabeth Henderson.
The first recorded marriage takes place at the farm when on the 29th March 1872 John’s daughter Mary marries another farmer from Meikle Earnock who went by the name of David Strachan. The Strachan’s were probably their closest neighbours and would have been another well-known farming family. David Strachan later becomes the rock of the family and lives and works at Brackenhill Farm.
This was a double celebration as John Lawrie Alston also marries Elizabeth Strachan (David Strachan’s sister) at the Meikle Earnock farm on the very same day. I find this strange as to why the two families did not hold a joint wedding. Why would two farming families living so close together marry at different places on the same day? Was there a fallout, or was it simply just a case of two proud fathers wanting to hold a wedding at their own farm? Perhaps we will never know! I have my own thoughts that the Alston’s and the Strachan’s were a close family and like today a lot of farming families prefer to marry their own kind and within their community.
Sadly, John Lawrie dies at Brackenhill Farm on the 14th of November 1874 and he dies of bronchitis. Thomas Alston was the informant of the death and on the 10th of November 1878, James Alston also dies of congestion of the lungs. John has lost two sons in the space of 4 years and both have died as the direct cause of a respiratory problem. His wife remarries another farmer called Andrew Baird, who was a farmer at Townhead Farm in Coatbridge. It is unknown currently if this is the same Baird’s who later own Brackenhill Farm.
In the meantime, John’s daughter Mary has been living over at Leighstonehall Farm with her husband David Strachan. They have been working on Leighstonehall Farm for roughly around 10 years.
John Alston lived to the grand age of 86. He died at Brackenhill Farm on the 11th of January 1890 and the cause of his death was Senile Decay. His son in law David Strachan was the person who registered his death.
Brackenhill Farm is left to Thomas Alston in his fathers will. Thomas’s wife dies at Glasgow and he moves back to Brackenhill Farm as the new owner, however as he was a Master Joiner and House builder, farming wasn’t his forte. His sister and brother in law David Strachan also move to the farmhouse and David takes over the Farm.
The 1891 census return lists Thomas as a Visitor but I believe that he moved back to his family home to escape the smoggy Glasgow air. Perhaps the fresh country air was what he needed as he had been diagnosed with cardiac disease.
Thomas died at Brackenhill on the 7th of October 1893. His brother in law David was the person who registered the death.
Brackenhill Farm for its first time has a new owner which does not bear the Alston name. David Strachan takes over the farm and continues to work the land and when we see the family recorded as living here in 1901, he has 1 Ploughman also living here who went by the name of Thomas Baird. I believe this man is no relation to the Baird family who will later become owners of Brackenhill.
Mary Strachan becomes the fifth and final member of the Alston family to die at Brackenhill, she dies on the 7th of July 1904 and the cause was a haemorrhage.
David Strachan continues to live on the farm where he sees out the rest of his years and we last see David recorded on the 1911 Census, where he has his daughter Mary and his sister Janet living here with him. David also dies at Brackenhill on the 19th of August 1917, he lived to the grand old age of 86.
After the death of David Strachan, the Farm gets bought by Thomas W Watson, who was the son of Sir John Watson the 1st Baronet of Earnock. The farm for the very first time now has a Tenant Farmer working the land. The tenants are called William and Mary Berry. They are renting the Farm for £126 per annum.
As we track the tenant farmers throughout the years we see that in 1925 Gilbert Berry is now the tenant farmer, paying £125 per Annum and when we move on to 1930, it is still owned by Thomas Watson of Neilsland, and the tenant farmer is a man named William Wood, who was paying an annual rent of £195.
On the 21st of March 1935, Thomas Watson dies, and the farm is now in the ownership of Douglas Hamilton Watson and William Wood is still the tenant.
Douglas Hamilton Watson died on the 20th November 1958, and by this time the lands which the Watsons owned were starting to be sold off. The farm is sold and is now back in private ownership.
At this point, I needed help to identify who the recent farmers were, so I turned to the readers of Historic Hamilton for help and at that point, I managed to speak to Scott Baird and Ross Power.
Ross managed to fill in the gaps with the recent farmers and he told me that Alexander Thomson was the owner, who I believe would have purchased the farm from the Watson Family.
Alexander Thomson later sold the farm around 1968, to a man named Bill Boreland who ran it up until he eventually sold it off and the very last owners of Brackenhill Farm were the Baird’s. The Baird’s being a well-known farming family in Hamilton.
The Baird’s purchased Brackenhill Farm on the 27th of March 1973 and they continued to live here until they sold the houses and the land off to Stewart Milne Homes in 2017. When I spoke to a representative of Stewart Milne homes they told me that the negotiations between the Baird’s lasted for 13 years.
This was indeed the end of an era for the little farmhouse high up on the Brackenhill. There has been a family living on the farm since at least 1857 and possibly even earlier and the sale of the land has ended 161 years of farming around this little farm steading.
In May 2018, the first houses on the land are complete and the first new people have moved in. This will be the start of possibly another 161 years of occupation on this land and in the coming years, I personally believe that we will be joined on to East Kilbride.
I am lucky enough to be moving into the first phase of the development in June. The second field, at the start of the Stewart Milne development on Meikle Earnock Road, will now be known as Harrowslaw Drive. The name of the new street will keep some sort of reference to the land that has been farmed here for the past 161 years.
Garry McCallum – Historic Hamilton. © 2018