Written by Garry McCallum – Historic Hamilton.
Tommy Ward, who in his day, was a man ahead of the times. He was a nice man but one not to be crossed, if you did cross Tommy, then you would see Tommy’s aggressive side and by sure, you would know all about it. Tommy Ward, might have been the toughest man of all, he was often seen walking around in drag and being harassed by the teenagers in Hamilton, however he gave as good as he got, and would not be afraid of chasing his verbal aggressors up Quarry Street, swinging his handbag and chasing them to the Top Cross.
Tommy had a wee dog which he named Judy, and there were many a day where he would have been seen walking through the streets of Hamilton, and shouting ‘come on Judy ya wee bitch, move yer arse up the road, or move it ya wee hooer’. Tommy was often seen out and about down the bottom Cross, and he sometimes liked to wear, what looked to some, as a net curtain around his neck, the man loved his lipstick and mascara and back when this was time where it was unacceptable for a man to do this, he did it anyway and got glammed up and went out on the town.
In today’s world, a lot of young guys don’t go on out without a touch of their “Man-scarra”! Young lads don’t leave the house without their hair all styled and maybe if Tommy, was still alive today, he wouldn’t have looked so out of place.
Tommy Ward, wouldn’t change his appearance for anyone and as a result he did get funny looks from the public and as mentioned he got even more verbal abuse from the homophobes in the town, or from people just wanting to wind him up and even the secret closet men, who actually envied Tommy, but could never be brave enough to do what he did, but none the less, most people in Hamilton, accepted him, and he was one of Hamilton’s, characters who was very well known in the town.
He was tall with long dark hair and was flamboyantly dressed and lived in the Auld toon. He frequented the pubs without shame and went to the off-sales for a carry out, just like the rest of us. Maybe he loved the attention that he got when he walked in a room and all eyes were on him.
A few years ago, I came across a story about Tommy Ward:
“Tommy Ward- the World’s First Homosexual?
People who frequented Hamilton Town Centre, in the 1960’s may have heard of the name, Tommy Ward.
Remember, this was a time when Gay was a descriptive word for Paris or described your mood on a night out after a few pints.
In fact, The Sexual Offences Act 1967, became an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom (citation 1967 c. 60). It decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men, both of whom had to have attained the age of 21. The Act applied only to England and Wales, and did not cover the Merchant Navy or the Armed Forces. Homosexuality was decriminalised in Scotland by the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 and in Northern Ireland by the Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982.
To me in my macho world, Tommy Ward was all of the above and a ‘poof’ or any of the other words around at the time, and there were plenty, and worse.
I had heard of the guy, and the fact that he dressed up as a woman, but I had never actually seen him, and as time passed I wrote it off as a myth.
Until one night, coming up from the Splendid Hotel passing by the Chez Suzette’s Coffee Bar and approaching the Cross I was aware of someone standing in a doorway. I turned around, and I’ll be honest, got the fright of my life, it was him – Tommy Ward, not in woman’s clothing, but a tall man, dark hair with makeup, very effeminate looking, a sort of Lanarkshire Liberace.
As I quickened my pace the insults from across the street from a group of lads grew louder, I think you can guess the tone and words used, but he got the works.
I saw him around Hamilton a couple of times after that, and it was always the same, abuse was hurled at him and to be fair he gave it back.
Thinking back, he was a pioneer for gay rights in our area, he took the insults, and life must have been hard for him, but he obviously had guts. He was just born in the wrong era.
Did you know of him?
To me, he was Tommy Ward, the World’s First Homosexual.”
The author of this story is unknown.
So, over the decades Hamilton, has had its fair share of characters, a once in a generation person, who everyone had known in one way or another and still to this day everyone talks about.
In recent years, there have been people like Silvertonhill man?? John Reynolds, AKA “Juke Box Johnny”, “American Joe” from the Glebe, Bert McAdam from Burnbank and auld Mr Peacock from Hillhouse & The Hamilton Accies super fan Ian Fergi Russell, who were all well known in the town and in 30 years from now, people will still be talking about them.
In Tommy Ward’s day, there was another couple of colourful characters that were known to most, they were called ‘Jimmy Hamilton’ who was well-known in the town centre, and Jimmy Young, who was the Burnbank man with the Parrot on his head and before all of these people there was also a well-known man called John Williamson, who was better known as ‘Jock o The Lum’. Jock o the Lum, or Jock o the Law were his given nicknames by people. This man was from Hamilton, but was later admitted to Hartwood Hospital where he died in 1910. And even as the late 60s and early 70s, there was still an old saying in Hamilton, where someone would say “Do you think I’m Jock o the Lum” This meant Do you think I’m Daft. This just goes to show how a character from Hamilton, lives on in people’s memories, for years after they had passed away.
People like Tommy Ward are a once in a generation person and sadly, I don’t have a picture of him to show you all what he looked like, to put a face to a name.
If you have a picture of Tommy Ward, that you would like to share, then we would like to add it to our ‘Hamilton Folk’ album. Tell us your memories of the Hamilton’s first Cross Dresser, Tommy Ward.
ACCIDENTAL MURDER AT HAMILTON 1914.
Like most big towns and cities in Scotland, Hamilton has had its fair share of murders, and accidental deaths. As a result of a brawl, which occurred in Almada Street, in Hamilton, on the evening of 25th of September 1914, a charge of murder has been preferred against Robert Tait, a miner, living in George Street, Burnbank, Hamilton.
It appears that Robert Tait and another man named Francis Graham, who stayed in a lodging-house in Limetree, Burnbank, met in Almada Street, and an altercation followed. Both men, were somewhat under the influence of alcohol, and they started to quarrel, which led to increasing in intensity and developed from words into blows. They came to grips with one another, and it is alleged that they fell, Graham, who was beneath Tait, striking his head on the ground with some violence.
There were a number of people in the vicinity at the time, and as Francis Graham was apparently stunned, he was carried into the County Police Office, where he was examined by Dr Hugh Miller, who then ordered his removal to the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow. Francis was taken to the institution in the ambulance waggon, and, without recovering consciousness, died about one o’clock, Sunday morning.
After the man’s death was reported back to the town, Robert Tait was apprehended by a Constable Goldie, of the Burgh Police, and at the Burgh Court on Saturday he was, the motion of Chief Constable Millar, who remitted him to the Sheriff Bailie Slorach.
On the Tuesday, Robert Tait, was detained and remanded in custody and appeared at Hamilton Sheriff Court, he was brought before sheriff Shennan at the County Buildings, and was charged on indictment with having, on 25th September, in Almada Street, assaulted Francis Graham, striking him with his fists, knocking and pushing him down and fracturing his skull, in consequence of which he died on 26th September, and did thus murder him.
Francis Graham was a miner who at the time lived in Burnbank, and it seemed that in recent times before he died, luck wasn’t going his way. Before he was killed, he was living at Birdsfield Lodging House, or better known as the Model Lodging House in Birdsfield Street, in Limetree, Burnbank.
Francis had been in trouble with the law before as in the 31st of March 1902, he had appeared at Hamilton JP court, on a charge of Breach of the Peace, however, the charges were dropped against him and on the 1st of December 1905, he was again brought before the courts on another Breach of the peace when he was loitering on a Hamilton footpath, this time he was charged and fined 7s 6d.
Francis was the son of an Irish Family who were called Francis Graham Sr, and Ann Jane Lang. His father had died in 1876, and his mother had remarried to a man called Robert Beggs.
He was from Dalry in Ayrshire and had probably moved to Hamilton to gain employment in one of the many coal mines. His brother, William Graham, had moved to Hamilton, so he may have come with him, however his brother had a tied house to Earnock Colliery and he was living at 13 Argyle Buildings at Burnbank. It is unclear as to why Francis would not have a tied house himself.
I did find that Francis had a wife, who was called Mary Thompson, and a son, who was also named Francis. The son was born in Hamilton, on the 13th of January 1899. I then found that his wife and son had left Hamilton, and were living back in Dalry without Francis, as they appeared on the 1901 Census without him.
It appears that Francis may not have been a law-abiding citizen and going by what I have found out, it does paint a picture of a man who may not have been a nice person, so I must ask myself, did this man Francis Graham bring this upon himself?
His wife and son were no longer living with him and he was in trouble with the police on at least two occasions, and could he have possibly been the person who was the agitator on the night of the 25th of September 1914, and also the one who started to exchange words with Robert Tait?
It is likely, that these two men would have already known each other or possibly worked together. They were both from Burnbank, so there may have been some bad blood between them.
After researching Francis Graham, I tried to find what became of Robert Tait. I could not track down any information on his whereabouts. I also couldn’t find any information on the trial, so I have to leave this open for further investigation and possibly another story for another day.
What I did find, was in 1915, I found a Robert Tait living at the Workmen Burgh Dwellings at Low Waters, However I can’t confirm if this is the same Robert.
In my opinion, this was just a tragic accident and one we still hear of in modern times. What started as an argument left one-person dead. When I am researching the history of Hamilton I find lots of nice stories, but sadly, for every nice story that I uncover, there is always a sad one that is waiting to be found.
Researched and written by
Garry McCallum – Historic Hamilton.
“From the middle of the 19th century, Hamilton and surrounding hamlets and villages were dangerous places to live and work. Health and safety was not on the list of priorities and many people were killed in industrial accidents. This story tells of the carnage in Burnbank on the 19th June 1876, when dynamite exploded in a builder’s yard the site of which today would be behind Newfield Crescent at the Burnbank entrance to Pollock Avenue”
During the 1850’s, the discovery of rich coal seams in Hamilton and Burnbank heralded the beginning of the development of the infrastructure required to accommodate the industrialisation of what had been a rural setting. With the development of Greenfield Colliery commencing in May 1859, Burnbank expanded rapidly and railway lines were constructed with branches leading off to the coal mines and developing heavy industry.
Within a short period of time Burnbank, had gone from a quiet little hamlet of only a few houses and farms, to a dangerous, noisy, hub of industry with people coming from all over the country and Ireland to seek employment.
By 1876, John Watson had started extensive colliery operations in a field on the lands of Hillhouse farm and with the purchase of a small piece of land at Burnbank he now had access to the new Bothwell- Hamilton railway line which was under construction. Building this railway was Charles Brand & Sons railway contractor Hope Street, Glasgow whose workshops at Shawsburn were at the end of a narrow road just beyond the bridge which spanned the burn going under the Burnbank Road. Originally a farm, the old buildings had been adapted by the company and one of the buildings, 60 feet by 20 feet, had been converted into a store, joiners shop and a smithy, separated by a wooden partition. Another two buildings were used as stables with stalls for twenty four horses.
At twenty-five past eleven on the morning of Monday September 19th June 1876, Burnbank was rocked by an explosion so loud that it was heard beyond Baillieston, Wishaw and Stonehouse. So violent was this explosion that both the County Buildings and Hamilton Barracks along with the rest of Hamilton, shook to their foundations. Debris from the explosion caused damage to property hundreds of yards away and seven workmen employed by McAlpine, building houses at what would become Burnbank Cross were nearly blown off the roof when the building shook violently and debris rained down on top of them.
At a house thirty feet away from the smithy, a woman named Mrs Hughes who had been standing at her doorway was knocked unconscious when she was hit on the cheek by a brick and her daughter who had been doing a washing, was covered in plaster from the roof and walls. Their comfortable home was extensively damaged. Another two houses close to the site of the blast and occupied by James McGinnigan and James Stirling were left uninhabitable. In Burnbank more than one hundred windows were blown in. People ran out on to the street and collected in groups, speculating on the source of explosion and the general consensus of opinion was that a boiler must have blown up.
Men from all around the area ran towards the scene of the explosion. Navvies left the nearby railway-cuttings where they were working and soldiers from Hamilton barracks, and police and officials from the county buildings all headed as fast as they could towards Burnbank, where a huge cloud of smoke hung over the disaster.
It was evident to the people making for the site of the explosion, that whatever had taken place lay up the narrow road at Shawsburn. The first on the scene was county police officer Sergeant Cruikshanks who had been riding only 100 yards away when the explosion occurred. He arrived at the smoking ruins followed by workers from the McAlpine’s building site and was met by a scene of utter devastation. The smithy and joiners shop no longer existed and in their place was a tangled mass of wood, stone and iron. The stables were recognisable but only just. The roofs were gone, and there was a lot of damage caused by flying debris.
The rescuers heard screams of pain coming from cartwright Alexander Livingstone who was lying covered by debris. When released and questioned, he said he had been working that morning with two blacksmiths, two hammermen, two joiners, a labourer and a policeman, a total of nine men. He was carried him to the stable furthest away from the scene of devastation and laid on clean hay where he was treated by Drs Robertson and Grant who had arrived after hearing the explosion. Within a very short space of time, the disaster scene was crowded with officials and helpers, including Sheriff Spens, Commander McHardy, Lanarkshire’s Chief Constable from the County Buildings and Lieutenant Brewster and Dragoons from the barracks in Almada Street.
The scene at the smithy was one of indescribable horror with several of the bodies atomised and lying in a pool of blood near what had been the door was an unidentifiable mass of what had shortly before, been a living human being. One body was found under the upright wheels of a cart and another two were found locked together some nine feet away and a fourth some twelve feet distance. At first it was thought that there were five victims but the arrival of Constable Charles Chrichton with the news that Constable James McCall was missing increased the total to six.
Chrichton and McCall although county constables and wearing the uniform, were both employed and paid by Messrs Brand to watch the railway works. Because the joiners shop also doubled as a pay office and general local headquarters of the firm both men had arranged to meet there to see if any complaints had been lodged before they started their work. Charles Chrichton had escaped death by a few minutes as he had been on his way to the yard when the explosion occurred. Immediately after the disaster he was been dispatched to find a doctor and returned an hour later.
The remains of the victims were removed to a stable where the work of identification could begin. Constable McCall was identified by a piece of his belt and fragments of his handcuffs and police sergeant Cruikshanks and the Rev. Stewart Wright Parish minister at Blantyre had to break the bad news to his young widow Catherine who was heavily pregnant and already the mother of four children.
By that evening six sets of remains had been recovered and as dynamite had been found in the wreckage, work was halted until someone with knowledge of this explosive attended the scene. The following day the suspicion surfaced that there was a seventh victim after a local dog was found running about with a scalp which was later identified as belonging to John Kennedy a labourer.
Three people were injured; cartwright, Alexander Livingston lay unconscious for several days at his father’s Greenfield home but went on to make a good recovery. John Rafferty hammerman at the smithy had a miraculous escape. John had been aware that there was damaged dynamite being stored in the joiners shop and due to the close proximity of the smithy he had repeatedly complained about it, and warned that it could be dangerous. John had been the first one to see that something was going wrong in the workshop when he noticed a blue flame in the corner where the dynamite was stored. He quickly drew the attention of Black the foreman blacksmith’s to it and was told to get a pail of water. He had only reached the door when the dynamite exploded and the force projected him for some distance finally dumping him behind a hedge. When he recovered consciousness he staggered back to the workshops to find the building had been blown to smithereens.
Over 100 pounds of dynamite were found in the debris and one stick complete with fuse was found lodged in a chimney on the McAlpine building site several hundred yards away. There was a public outcry that despite the 1875 Explosives Act, dynamite was being stored in an unauthorised area. Subsequently James Donald Clark, engineer and sub-manager of Messrs Charles Brand & Son was charged with the culpable homicide of the seven victims.
During the trial, one of the witnesses, John Bathgate, told of how on the instructions of Dickie the foreman joiner, he carted 200 lbs of water damaged dynamite from the magazine approximately a quarter of a mile away, to Brands yard and left it in under Dickie’s bench. It was stated that Dickie was in charge of the magazine key and gave dynamite out when authorised. When it was found that a quantity of the dynamite was water damaged, Clark ordered that the magazine be cleaned out and repaired. Experiments had then been carried out with the damaged dynamite including the use of detonators, gunpowder and then a bonfire but it failed to explode and it was concluded that it was useless.
Patrick McAvoy, Donald McGinnes, James Semple, James Clark, John Rafferty and Alexander Livingston all gave evidence as to the presence of the dynamite under the bench. At the summing up of the trial the Advocate- Depute asked for a verdict of guilty but the jury after an absence of half an hour returned a not guilty verdict by a majority of 13 to 3.
Eight weeks later, the report on the results of the official inquiry into the explosion, laid the blame for the explosion at the door of the engineer Mr Clark, despite him being found not guilty in court. The inquiry stated that he was morally responsible, if not criminally responsible for the accident, because it was under his instructions that the dynamite had been stored at an unlawful place i.e. the joiner’s yard. The report emphasised the necessity of keeping dynamite free from contact with water whereby it became extremely dangerous and unstable. Messrs Charles Brand & Son were also implicated.
At Hamilton Sheriff Court the following March the young widow and children of James McCall sued Charles Brand & Son for £2000. Despite the finding of the official inquiry she was awarded only £150 damages.
William Dickie. 50. Foreman joiner. Native of Ayrshire.
George Horne. 43. Joiner. Native of Ingie, Buckie, Banffshire.
David Black. 29. Foreman blacksmith. Native of Balerno.
John Fraser 26. Native of Inverness.
William McLay. 22. Hammerman. He belonged to the district.
John Kennedy. 66. Labourer. Native of Elginshire.
James McCall. 25 Police Officer. High Blantyre.
© Wilma S. Bolton
Of all the countless the people you meet during the course of your lifetime, if you are fortunate, there will be at least one you’ll never ever forget because of the positive influence they had on your life. For me that very special person was the late Mrs Margaret Alexander my former English teacher at Earnock Secondary School.
Earnock opened on the 26th August, 1957 and I was among the first intake of pupils. The teaching staff were excellent but human nature being what it is we all have favourites and Mrs Alexander and science teacher Jimmy Maxwell were both right at the top of my best teachers list. However, you can’t put an old head on young shoulders and being headstrong my only ambition was to leave school and get a job. I certainly put little thought into what I would do and how it would affect my life.
At fifteen I was off as soon as I could and went straight into the into the world of a Glasgow basement typing pool and what a culture shock that was. The two unhappy looking female owners looked and dressed like something from the turn of the century. They wore grey cardigans and long black ankle length dresses and their faces suggested that a substantial meal would do them both the world of good. The working conditions were like something out of a Dickens novel. I stuck it for four months then moved on to a Glasgow construction company and you couldn’t have made up the scenario in this office if you tried. It was whispered that the managing director had a penchant for the “ladies” and and he used the building to entertain them in the evening when his staff had gone. There was also a beautifully dressed, very distinguished looking but homeless chartered accountant sleeping in one of the offices. He was not long out of jail for embezzlement.
Office jobs were plentiful and I moved on to a company supplying motor car spares to garages. My weekly wage was £2 10/- (£2 50p) for working nine to six Monday to Friday and a half day Saturday. With train fares and deductions there was not a lot left. I enjoyed working there but moved on after about eighteen months and followed the “big money” straight through the gates of Philips factory and into the lamp section. We sat at a capping wheel making stop and tail lamps for cars and when I got my first wage I felt like a millionaire. In less than a year I was earning £7 10/- a week if I worked a Saturday shift and my widowed mother finally had a decent money coming into the house. She gave me 10/- (50 pence) pocket money and bought my clothes. We even went on holiday to Belgium and she just loved it.
I was married when I was twenty and left Philips after the birth of the eldest of my four children. Money was really scarce and as soon as they were all off to school I started cleaning shops and offices. Some years later the free weekly paper The Lanarkshire World came on the scene and with my youngest daughter delivered 1,400 papers every week for the magnificent sum of one penny a paper which gave us £14. The money went a long way and so did our feet; from Swiscott to Hamilton Central and we delivered them for quite a substantial number of years. I was also cleaning an office at the Peacock Cross starting at 5 am and when I was finished there I would run down to Marks and Spencers where the conditions were quite good and I enjoyed it as much as I could ever enjoy a cleaning job, for I will put my hands up and plead guilty to never ever being over fond of housework.
The turning point for me came right out of the blue when I met Mrs Alexander in Duke Street, Hamilton and twenty three years after I had left school she gave me the third degree as to where my life was going. She was anything but amused with what I told her and went straight into lecture mode. “You wasted a good brain, get to night school and sit your O Grades and Highers.” I thought she was winding me up but she was deadly serious and gave me food for thought and a lot of good advice. When I was seventeen I had seriously considered nursing, but at that time you had to live in the nurses home and that was out of the question with my father not a year dead and my mother really struggling to come to terms with his loss. Taking Mrs Alexander’s advice, I paid a visit to Brandon Street Job Centre to find out what qualifications I would require to be accepted as a student nurse and the answer left me reeling. Five O Grades and two Highers! Not a chance! The only writing I had done in the previous sixteen years was to sign my family allowance book.
Deep down I knew that it was now or never and so at the age of thirty eight I enrolled for night school classes at Hamilton’s Bell College and opted for O Grade English starting in September. Eight months later I was sitting in a large assembly hall filled with students and we were listening to the adjudicator giving out instructions for the exam. I was was scared out of my wits and when it was over I swore I would never put myself through that amount of stress again.
On the day the results were due out I was pacing the floor at the crack of dawn and popping outside every five minutes to look for the postman. When I finally spotted him, I was up the street like a shot to get my results. He must have thought I was barking mad and at that particular moment I would have fully agreed with him, however he handed over my envelope. By this time my hands were shaking so much I could barely open it and when I succeeded I found to my absolute disbelief I had obtained a B grade. That was when the penny finally dropped and with it came the realisation that I had taken what for me was a gigantic first step and it had paid off. There was no way I was giving up a second chance to have a good education, a career and freedom.
The following year I sat Higher English and Mrs Alexander was in Marks and Spencers on the day the results came in. She spotted me, grabbed my arm and said “how did you get on?” When I told her that I got another B grade she danced me around the racks of blouses and skirts saying “I knew you could do it” and I knew that I could never have done it without her encouragement and told her so. Two down and five to go. The next year I passed my O grade Biology.
With my confidence increasing and having almost half the required qualifications, my legs were then kicked from below me when Bell College discontinued the night school classes. I was devastated! Two years later I heard that adults could now attend day school with the children and so I found myself sharing classrooms with fifteen year old pupils at Holy Cross High School. Originally I intended to go to Hamilton Grammar because it was nearer to both my home and Marks and Spencers. However, my children were not at all amused about the idea of their mother joining their classes and on hindsight I don’t blame them so I was off to Holy Cross and it was a really good move. I would finish work, run like a greyhound down to Muir Street and arrive just in time for the bell ringing. In the two years I spent there I was the only adult in the four classes I attended and both children and staff were excellent. I still occasionally bump into one of the girls who was in my Higher Biology class and we have a wee blether. She is now in her early forties; how fast time flies away! It only seems like a few years ago since we sat in class together. I met her recently and she told me that she had just got a provisional acceptance for university and I am absolutely delighted for her. She is planning on becoming a teacher and I have no doubts that she will succeed.
I obtained the required 5 O Grades and 2 Highers and at the age of forty four I applied to train as a Registered General Nurse at Hairmyres Hospital. My interview was held in the Lanarkshire College of Nursing and Midwifery at Monklands Hospital and I was a nervous wreck. After countless probing questions from the three senior nurses interviewing me, the Sister Tutor looked me up and down and speaking slowly and deliberately said, “I cannot possibly give you an answer today as to whither or not you will be accepted as a student nurse, you will be notified by post in due course”. I felt my stomach hitting the floor! My O Grade and Higher certificates were lying on her desk and with both hands she slowly spread them out like a fan, looked directly at me, smiled and said, “what I can tell you is that you ought to be proud of yourself. I would suggest that you buy a pair of white lacing shoes” and I knew that I had been accepted.
My three years as a student nurse were divided between the Lanarkshire College of Nursing and Midwifery for theory and the practical experience was mostly at Hairmyres Hospital but with placements at Bellshill Maternity Hospital, Hartwood Hospital and the district nursing services. I enjoyed it immensely and graduated as a Registered General Nurse. At that time there were no permanent nursing posts available and for almost a year I got a lot of first class experience working as a bank nurse mostly in the Intensive Care Unit where I had already spent three months as part of my student nurse training. The patients in this unit needed one to one care and I vividly remember one particular night when my patient was a critically ill ventilated man in acute renal failure and on haemofiltration. He was connected to so many infusion pumps and other types of equipment it reminded me of a scene from the Starship Enterprise. Looking around the unit I could scarcely believe how my life had changed and all because of a chance meeting in Duke Street. Some weeks later, a permanent post finally came up in the Acute Medical Receiving Unit and I was offered it and enjoyed every minute I worked there.
I thank God for Mrs Alexander’s faith in me and for giving me the confidence to change my life completely. Without her input I would never have had the courage to do it. My children were also really supportive and encouraged me every step of the way. My only regret was I had waited until it was almost too late. I loved nursing and would have worked for nothing. It was the best eighteen years of my life.
The reason for this very personal narrative is to pay tribute to Mrs Margaret Alexander, a first class caring teacher whose influence on my life was incalculable. She convinced me that no matter how difficult your circumstances may be, nothing is impossible.
Life is not a dress rehearsal, it is the only one you are going to have and there are no second chances. Before you know it, the years have vanished and you are old and you don’t know when it happened. If you want something badly enough, seize the moment, give it everything you have and watch the miracle unfold. So go for it; it might just change your life and be the best move you ever made. It was for me…… thanks to Mrs Alexander.
Wilma Bolton. 10th August 2016.
Little Udston farm was situated right at the end of Hamilton, just next to Blantyre and is not to be confused with the Udston area of Burnbank. The farm was a working one with vast open spaces and a good panoramic view looking over Hamilton. Today the land where Little Udston Farm was situated, is at the top of Hillhouse, undeveloped between Fleming Way & Townhill Road.
The earliest record for Udston that I have found so far, is on the 1654 map of Scotland, where it has been written as Utoun and the first house or dwelling was built between 1662 and 1773. By the 1892 Map the larger house no longer appears, so I assume it was demolished by then.
Little Udston Farm was part of the larger estate of Udston House, which was owned by Lewis Potter. Lewis Potter, who was one of the directors of the City of Glasgow Bank until the disaster occurred, in the recession of October 1878. He borrowed large sums of money for his land speculation. In the 1878 recession, the City of Glasgow Bank collapsed with debts of over £5 million. The directors were found guilty in January 1879 and Lewis Potter was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment.
Udston was a two Farm Steadings belonging to different proprietors & sharing the same name without any distinction whatever. The properties, respectively, of Mrs Jackson & Mr. Sinclair. The road to these Steadings is supported by the Parish to the extent of the Lands of “Udston” belonging to “Udston House”.
In the year 1816 there is a Mr Jackson who is listed as the owner and he was still listed as the owner of Udston in the 11th of August 1846 as there was a story written about him in the Hamilton Advertiser on the (03/08/1918) when he was elected chairman for the collections of poor relief. On the 1816 map there seems to be a substantial house next to Mr Jackson’s name. This would confirm that this was the main Farm House and Little Udston at this time was a small part of the estate.
On the Udston estate there was four farm houses, two at the Little Udston, Udston Cottage and Udston House, Udston House which was further down in what is now the Udston council estate in Burnbank.
When the rich coal seams were discovered under the ground at Udston the little quiet farm became a really busy place with the opening of Udston Colliery and one of the entrance’s was situated right at the front of the farm and later a railway line that was used originally as a mineral line to Quarter, Eddlewood and Neilsland Collieries who transported their coal on it. The line was eventually extended to Strathaven. The Minerals rights were later owned by the trustees of the late William Jackson and now as well as having tenant farmers, William Dixon ltd & The Udston Colliery Company were also tenants on the farm.
During the lifetime of the farm there were many tenant farmers that worked the land and the last of the families that lived here was the Mains. John & Robert Main took over the Tenancy between 1905 & 1915 and the family worked her right up until the farm was bought by compulsory purchase by the council. Robert Main later moved from Little Udston Farm around 1930 and they moved to Auchintibber for a while then managed to buy another place Rowantreehill Farm Braehead Forth where he settled.
The council had originally planned to have 2 Apartment houses built on the Udston farm site, however as they believed that this would cause overcrowding and scrapped this idea.
The following report was published in the Scotsman on the 12th December 1934.
Hamilton Housing – No two apartment Dwellings at Udston Farm Scheme.
Following representations by the Department of Health for Scotland , Hamilton Town Council decided last night to accept a recommendation by the Housing Committee that no two-apartment houses be included-in the scheme of 900 houses at Udston Farm site , near Burnbank .
“The Department , in a letter to the Council , which was read at a meeting of the Housing Committee , expressed its strong conviction that it was not desirable to have any two apartment houses in the scheme .
They pointed out that . according to the 1931 Census returns , 63 per cent , of the houses in the burgh are of one and two apartments , and that , in addition , there is always great danger of overcrowding where two-apartment houses are allowed , and that if three-apartment houses were substituted it would greatly facilitate the efforts of the Council to deal with overcrowding ”
In the 1940s/50s, the council built there new 900 home housing estate on the land surrounding the farm and it is now known as Hillhouse.
We would like to thank Jim Cochrane for sending us his pictures of his Gran & Great Grandfather at Little Udston Farm & also to Paul Veverka of The Blantyre Project for pointing Jim in our direction.
A summer morning bright and clear
Nae traffic or a morning rush
Tae frighten wains by the gates
Playin their ane we gems
Wae bools an rifle by their side
Fur the coming war.
Ah see wee sammy’s curtains open
Jist five minutes ago
Ah telt mah brither Robert
Tae get his jakeit oan
You get his flank an ahl go straight
Ah hear he hiz a wee pal styin
Tae fight us tae the death
Ur afore oor maw starts cawin.
Awe summer long we fought fae street tae street
An ambush here a picket their barricade an awe
The lassies widnae jine oor war but laughed at us insteed
A block hoose guardin Livy brae
Lookin doon tae stanley street.
We cawed in the boys fae kenilworth
An charged them wae oor boggies
They wull nae come back tae oor street
Until the winter comes tae shine oor slides
And laugh wae us fawin doon the brae.
The snaw wiz thick an white the sallies were awe singin
The curtains were closed and the blinds were shut
Billy cotton was shoutin wakey wakey
The lum wiz reekin fae oor hoose
That gave the gem away.
A hit squad was assembled ahint the raspberry canes
Tae hit us first as we came oot the back door
They came in fae Kenilworth oan oor back grun
And waited patiently fur their turn
Tae seek the spoils o’ war.
Snawbaws tae the back and side whistlin past oor ears
We didnae see them comin we didnae make the gate
Got cut off fae the street and crawled tae oor front door
Ah hud tae drag mah wee brither in he wiz in a state
He wiz sore and wounded wae snaw baws whizzin
Ah bandaged him and cleaned the jam oaf hiz hawn
Tae fight another day.
Mah maw led the coonter attack
And beat them awe back fae sight
She chased them oot the gairdin
Back the wey they came
Telt them awe she knew their maw
And ahll be roon at yir hame
Yir da wull skelp yi tae be sure
Fur pickin oan mah wains.
Ahint the co we could find arrows long and straight
Tae make a bow like Robin Hoods
And practiced day an nicht
And bonfire nicht we had a plan
But we were beaten back
The boys fae king street outdid us awe
Wae their rockets fae three streets doon.
The night wiz rent wae whistling sounds
Fae salvoes o’ russian rockits
It might have been a stray wan
That came crashing through oor lines
It felt like hundreds mair wur whizzen
Fawin oot the skies.
Awe aroon me wur Scared and injured sobbin
Red cross nurses administering tae the burned and blinded
First aid was in triage out by command post one
The front line wiz over run….i tried to tell mah maw
She said its your imagination you should write a story
It could hiv been the Hill st boys careless o’ the wind
Noo go tae sleep an nae mair stories afore yir da comes in
Who ever heard of a wee squib causin awe that din.
The above was written for Historic Hamilton by John Stokes.