BRACKENHILL FARM.

BRACKENHILL FARM.
Researched & Written by Garry McCallum.

Brackenhill Farm WM2.JPG

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.

1864 Valuation Roll Brackenhill Farm John Alsoton.

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.

Alston Family Tree.

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.

Brackenhill Farm WM2

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.Mary Alston & David Strachan Marraige.jpg

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.

John Alston & Elizabeth Stachan Marraige 1874.jpg

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 Death 1890..1.5

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.

1911 Census Brackenhill Farm.jpg

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.

Brackenhill Farm WM3

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.

Harrowslaw DriveWM1

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

THE LOST BELL FORM THE HAMILTON TOLBOOTH. HAMILTON’S LINK TO ITS PAST IS FOUND.

THE LOST BELL FORM THE HAMILTON TOLBOOTH.
HAMILTON’S LINK TO ITS PAST IS FOUND.
 
On the 2nd of January 2017, I published the story of the Hamilton Tolbooth. During my research, I found that the bell from the Tollbooth, was salvaged from the demolition of the historic building, that was first built in Hamilton in 1642. The bell was recovered and it then disappeared, with its whereabouts unknown.
 
That was until July this year, where after I made a few enquires, I managed to track down the link to Hamilton’s past that still survives and I am happy to say is still in Hamilton.
Firstly, let me tell you about the demolition of the Tolbooth Bell Tower, and my reason for going on the hunt for the Tolbooth Bell. The last surviving section of the Old Hamilton Jail was the bell tower wherein 1954, it was demolished for safety reasons when a man, who was looking at an inscription on the wall, suddenly fell through the red ash gravel that was beneath his feet.
Tolbooth..jpg
 
The Cadzow Burn, which ran through a culvert, had started to come close to the foundations of the bell tower due to erosion and underground mine workings. After an investigation from a council official – who made a quick decision, deemed the bell tower unsafe and there was a possibility that it could subside and collapse. A decision was made at the time to demolish the old tower, but after further tests were done, it turned out that the tower was in a sound condition and it could be prevented from being demolished. There was an attempt made to have the building taken over as an ancient monument, but the cost of the repair work being prohibitive.
 
As you can imagine, this would have cost the Hamilton town council money, and as it was cheaper to demolish the historic building, they pushed ahead and approved the demolition and a date was set.
 
The Tolbooth was finally demolished on the morning of Thursday the 21st of January 1954, when a charge of 25 pounds of gelignite exploded at the base of the old Tolbooth steeple and sent it tumbling to the ground.
Tolbooth1
 
Its fall was witnessed by scores of people, some of them within the Palace grounds and others at vantage points in Castle Street, Muir Street and even in Cadzow Street. To set the appropriate funeral note, one of the workmen climbed to the belfry and for about half-an-hour until 11:18 a.m. tolled the Bell. As this sound, has not been heard for several years, the attention of many more people than would have watched was attracted.
 
The steeple came to rest exactly where expected, with the weather vane which for so long had topped the proud and once-handsome tower at the foot of a small tree. It had been feared that the rubble might block the course of the adjoining Cadzow Burn and that part of the stone culvert might collapse with vibration, but only a little of the stonework entered the water, and the culvert remained intact. Surprisingly little rubble fell in Castle Street.
 
When the bell tower crashed to the ground, all the locals – including the children, ran to it and they started to take little souvenirs from the 312-year-old building.
The remains were examined immediately after the demolition, the clock bell was seen nesting among the masonry, and it was still intact. The bell bore the inscription “Thomas Mears, London. 1802.”
 
I discovered that the bell from the Tolbooth was later earmarked to be installed at the Municipal Buildings (The Hamilton Town House & Library) as the old bell from the Townhouse was sold to a Glasgow firm. It was unknown if this did happen, or if the bell went to the Hamilton Museum. This got me wondering what has happened to the bell.
 
The bell was never documented where it went – I made a few enquires, firstly at the Hamilton Town House and then at the Museum, where no one knew about the story of the Old Hamilton Tolbooth Bell. I was left thinking that the bell was taken from the demolition site and its whereabouts lost forever.
I thought it would be worthwhile going back to the Hamilton Town House and asking if a trained member of staff could have a look in its bell tower to see if it was there, and a few weeks later and much to my delight, I received a message on our Facebook page telling me that it was found.
Tolbooth3.JPG
The link to Hamilton’s past has been discovered at the Hamilton Town House and to confirm it is the same Bell from the Hamilton Tolbooth, the Inscription reads “Thomas Mears London 1802”. It appears that after the demolition of the Tolbooth, someone in the Hamilton Town Council made the correct decision to house the old bell in the Townhouse.
 
I am really pleased that the bell has been discovered, but now I know it is here, it has got me thinking about its historical significance to Hamilton!
 
I am asking myself, should the old bell from the Hamilton Tolbooth, which is now 215 years old, be sitting open to the elements?
 
The Hamilton Tolbooth and its bell tower were another lost piece of Hamilton’s rich history, which was taken away from us and the more things that we can find to tell the story of Hamilton’s past should be preserved and looked after.
 
I now would like to see the bell removed from the Bell Tower of the Townhouse, restored and put on display at the Hamilton Museum. In modern-day Hamilton and to the best of my knowledge, the Townhouse building doesn’t have any need for a bell and if there was a need for bells ringing, then surely a loudspeaker could be housed in the tower.
 
In the meantime, perhaps an arrangement could be made with the Hamilton Townhouse to ring the bell one day and let the people of Hamilton hear a sound that all of our Ancestors regularly heard from the year 1812 onwards.
Written by Garry McCallum
Historic Hamilton.

THE LAST TANNERY IN HAMILTON.

The Last Tannery in Hamilton.

The Hamilton Tannery December 1958..JPG

Greenside Skin works, or better known as “The Tannery” was built by Thomas Naismith in the year 1700, and it was a purpose-built Tannery situated next to the old slaughterhouse on Muir Street.

TanneryLocation from Back Row..JPG

The location of Greenside Skin Works, was roughly where the new flats are situated at the side of Back Row. It was a two-storey structure built on the banks of the Cadzow burn and the Tannery stood on this site for 258 years.

Tannery 1904water..JPG

The Naismith’s who owned the Tannery had also owned other properties in Hamilton, one was on Almada Street, which in 1819 it was known as the road from Ayrshire and Glasgow and the second property, was a large house on Church Street, right next to the entrance of the Old Parish Church. In the year 1819 there were also properties on Cadzow Street and Townhead Street that were owned by a William Naismith and a Jason Naismith, however, at the moment I can’t confirm if these people are from the same family.

The Tannery was passed through generations of the Naismith’s up until 1888, where it was sold to a firm of curriers called Gibson and Gillon who were also an established Currier and Leather Merchant who ran their business from 8 Postgate.

The Tannery was eventually sold 4 years later in 1892 to a man from Perth, this man was called William Murdoch and he ran the Tannery business up until 1942 where it was eventually shut down.

William Murdoch married a Hamilton girl called Jeanie Smith-Lochhead who was from Selkirk Street. They lived in Hamilton and William died 7 years after he closed the Tannery. He died at his home Inchyra, 16 Auchingramont Road and he was 91 years old. William had a son who he named John, after his father. John Murdoch lived in Hamilton and he also lived right up to the grand old age of 96, he died in 1997. If one of our readers think that they may be related to John Murdock, who died in this year, then please let us know.

John Murdoch Birth 1900..JPG

The Historic building was left to go to ruin and lo and behold the Town Council bought the building from John Murdoch. Time had eventually caught up with the old Greenside Skin Works and demolition started in December 1958, the old Tannery was no more. People who had known about the Tannery and who also saw it every day did regret the demolition of the building, but that’s the price of progress.

Written by Garry McCallum,
Historic Hamilton.

OLD HAMILTON, FURTHERING THE SCHEME OF DEMOLITION. AN OUT-DATED FUE DISPOSITION.

Back Row.JPG

The following story was printed in The Hamilton Advertiser on the 21/1/1933 and was transcribed by Wilma Bolton.
 
Another old landmark in the town is fated to disappear within the next few days. A start had been made with the demolition of that angle of building behind the Public Library long known as Fore Row and Back Row.
 
For nearly 150 years these two rows of houses have been a conspicuous object, overlooking the Common Green from their loft perch, and as seen from Cadzow Bridge in these latter days, contrasting unfavourable with those palatial villas which adorn the slightly higher reaches of Cadzow Burn.
 
The fues for these houses now being removed were given off round about 1782. The superior was then John Campbell, of Saffronhall, Hamilton and some half- a-dozen pieces of ground were separately feud. In the fue disposition then granted in favour of the various feurs the ground is disponed with the liberty and privilege “of passing upon foot by the front of the said houses through a part of my said other ground to and from the Burn of Hamilton for water according as I shall lay off a road for the purpose, said passage to be shut up upon Sundays, and an hour after sunset every other day.”
 
Cadzow Burn was then a stream of some considerable utility in the town recourse being had to it not only for washing purposes but for domestic supply of drinking water. When the Fore and Back Rows were built, the site would be well on the outskirts of the town, and as dwellings, they housed in some instances citizens of status and substance.
 
In the Fore Row are three very characteristic Scottish houses with their steep roofs, stone skews and circular moulded club skews. But the house at the corner of Muir Street is particularly interesting. Architecturally it is an interesting little gem, with its projecting quoins, rusticated arched doorway, well-proportioned windows, stone cornice, Scottish dormer windows and stone ridge. The front wall has been cemented at some later date, but, in its original state when the stonework was exposed it must have been a very attractive and imposing front.
 
There is no date on but it appears to have been erected in the early eighteenth century. The design is not unlike the Parish Church which may indeed have provided the builder with some inspiration.
 
Latterly these 150 years old dwellings were adjudged to be wretched hovels, only fit for removal. A new block of Corporation houses is to be built on the site and the Dean of Guild as already approved of the plans.
 
Considerable improvement will be affected in Church Street by the demolition of the range of former dwellings between the two common lodging houses there—Greenside and Hamilton Home. Plans have been prepared for a new lot of houses on this site consisting of a block facing the street, and a hostel at the back overlooking the Common Green.
 
This will almost complete the very substantial scheme of improvement which wiped out the New Wynd, and which transformed Grammar School Square, Back o’ Barns and the Postgate.
 
Thus steadily is old Hamilton falling a victim to the modern conceptions of public health and housing.
 

THE HAMILTON TOLBOOTH 1642-1954

THE HAMILTON TOLBOOTH 1642-1954

Like many towns in Scotland Hamilton had its very own tolbooth. The tollbooth in Hamilton was so grand that some thought it was a church. It was noted that in its day, this jail was one of the grandest jails in Scotland.4

tolbooth-1-5

The tolbooth was erected in the reign of Charles the First, around the year 1642, there is no actual exact date for the construction but the old tolbooth stood as a silent reminder of the days of long ago.
When the tolbooth was still standing in 1941 a newspaper account in the Hamilton Advertiser read “The vicinity of the jail has changed much since 1642, no doubt then it would be the civic centre of the town. Anyone having a look at it today can see evidence that the levels of the adjoining roadway have been raised more than once since its erection.”
The north-east corner had been splayed off and corbelled over when built. This would indicate that at the time of its being built there were other buildings very close to it and the splay on the corner would be made to give room for persons passing through. It would have been one picturesque feature still left of the ‘Old Hamilton’.
The old jail would was at the heart of the town and it sat between the Hamilton Palace and what we now know as the Old Town. To put things in to perspective, the old Jail sat on the land that now occupies the roundabout between Asda and the Museum and the Kids play park on the palace grounds.

Tolbooth1.JPG

Today if the jail was still standing, you could walk down Castle Street and see its imposing tower.
The old jail of Hamilton in 1642 was one of the most ornate buildings in the town and you would think that the men of Hamilton in 1642 must have loved a jail more than they loved a Kirk, but to be fair to our own fellow townsmen of that time, it should be noted that very likely Hamiltonians in 1642 would have no hand in the erection of the Jail. It was more than likely to have been built by foreign hands.
There was a French look about the building, in the time of the Stewarts there was much coming and going between France and Scotland and no doubt French artisans had a hand in the building of the old jail.

tolbooth-1-8

The Tolbooth acted as the most important building in the burgh as it was the council chamber, court house and jail. The town council fitted a clock in 1656 at a cost of £314-13s-8d (Roughly £23,777.47 in today’s money) and four years later, a further £45 was spent on a new Tolbooth bell, weighing 8 stones 8lbs.
In 1666 John Pate who was the town officer, was paid an annual salary of £30 “For keeping of the clock and ringing the bell” On the ground floor of the Tolbooth there were three booths, or shops, which were let annually, providing extra income for the burgh revenues.

Outside the Tolbooth were the burgh stocks where wrongdoers were padlocked by the ankles. In the year 1670, James Hamilton, a merchant, was “to be brought publicly to the market cross, and be laid in the stocks” for striking his parents and uttering “Vile and Unchristian expressions”.

The council chambers which were recognised by many throughout the nineteenth century were built in 1798 and this building joined on to the tolbooth and not only was it the council chambers, it was used as the court house and jail.

Tolbooth Stocks..JPG

On the balcony of the old jail, the prisoners were shown to the abusive public and later on towards the end of the nineteenth century life inside the jail was not always without its comforts; visitors were allowed to bring food and drink and “Merry Parties” were held, with the compliance of the poorly paid jailers. However, for some it was a short last walk to the Gallowshill.

Accounts of life in the old jail make interesting reading. The penalties for what are now regarded as comparatively trivial offences were severe to the point of being vicious. There is a record of a woman “an Egyptian,” being convicted of the theft of wine and sentenced to death. One of her accomplices was ordered to be whipped “on the bare back.”

Capital sentences were carried out at the top of Muir Street, the Gallows being at what was variously known as “Doomster’s Hill,” Gallows Hill,” and the “Deil’s Elbow.” The location was roughly opposite the present site of the Bay Horse.

The tolbooth was the seat of “Justice” for not only Hamilton but for the whole of the old middle Ward of Lanarkshire. In addition, the offenders against criminal law who were dealt with, there was a proportionately large number of debtors. Public punishment was inflicted, and many a prisoner had the terrifying experience of being the target for sundry missiles from an angry crowd.
As stated there appears to have been no restriction on feasting and drinking and it was a commonplace to see bottles handed in and out without hindrance.

There was only one turnkey and hard labour was unknown. Indeed, the jailer seemed to regard his charges as decent fellows who ought not to be imposed upon any more than was absolutely necessary. His “coigne of vantage” was a shop he occupied under the belfry, from where he could see all that was going on.

Debtors in the jail led what was, in the circumstances, quite a jolly life, with eating, drinking, singing and dancing. Accepting their loose confinement with more than resignation, they showed little grief. Perhaps they were relieved whom they owed money.

Prisoners were, on occasion allowed out of the tolbooth for a walk or to attend a funeral. Some must have been favoured by the jailer, for it is on record that one so abused his privilege that the jailer threatened to lock him out if he persisted in returning late!

Figures available for the years 1823-1835 give an idea of the proportion of the prisoners in the tolbooth who were debtors. (The figures do not include all Hamilton offenders, however, as some were dealt with in Glasgow.) In 1823, of the total number of inmates, 45 were criminals and 50 were debtors. The following year debtors numbered the same, but there were five fewer criminals.

From then debtors tended to decline and criminals to increase. Only once in 1831, were there over 100 criminals, the number being 102. Then there were 48 debtors, an advance of 17 on the previous year. The following year saw an increase of six debtors, and a decrease of four criminals, but for the first half of 1835 debtors were reduced to a bare 23, with 61 criminals.

In 1835 it was reported that the building, although handsome in its day, had deteriorated and would “soon all be removed, except the steeple, town clock, and bell.”

Despite the rather farcically lax treatment of some prisoners, however, life in the tolbooth was grim. At long last it aroused public feeling and in 1839 the new court and prison was built in Beckford Street, leaving the tolbooth a rare relic of the days when law was sternly enforced.

Plans for the extensive alterations to the tolbooth and old council chambers in 1860 are still in existence. They show that a new clock face was to be installed and the upper part of the tower to be reconstructed. The plans were drawn up in the Hamilton Palace.

tolbooth-1920s1-6

The first indication of the perilous state of the building was revealed in the summer of 1949 when a Hamilton man, who was examining a plaque fixed to the wall of the tolbooth (The plaque read: Drs Cullen and Hunter practiced in premises across the street) at its junction with the old council chambers fell through the ash footpath when it suddenly subsided. At this point the Cadzow Burn is conducted under the building by a culvert, and examination showed that this was in a very dangerous condition, probably due to mineral workings and also through erosion from the action of the Burn.

No sign of damage to the culvert had been apparent and it was reported to the Town council. Regret was expressed in the town council that the old Jail was doomed, the foundations having been damaged to such an extent by flooding that the building was liable to collapse.

Following this an unsuccessful attempt was made to have the building taken over as an ancient monument, the cost of the repair work being prohibitive. An inspection at the end of 1949 revealed that there were no signs of fracture in the stonework above ground level on the clock tower, although part of the foundation would require to be examined further when the jail was removed.

tolbooth-1952-1

The tower five inches off the plumb in one direction and three inches in another. This did not mean however, that the building was not stable. It was anticipated that it would be possible to retain the tower.

The council made plans to underpin and strengthen the foundations of the tower as it was in a very bad state of repair and it was hoped that the remedial measures which are to be taken would prevent the need to demolish it.

A certain amount of the tolbooth wall was to be left to give the tower support and this was also going to be underpinned.
Messrs John C Burns of Larkhall were appointed the job of demolition of the old council chambers.

They were to carry out the work at the end of January 1951 weather permitted. As part of their contract they were allowed to take the stone, but it was not allowed to use again for building, it was to be used as rubble.

 

When the old council chambers were being taken down workmen discovered in the foundation stone, near a fireplace on ground level a Scroll on which was written, in meticulous and still-legible hand writing: “This Town House was built in the year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-Eight. And in the Thirty-Eight year of the reign of His Majesty, King George the Third.” The scroll also contained the names of the civic dignitaries of the day.

Tolbooth Scroll 1..JPG

It is unknown where this scroll is now kept, Hopefully in the Hamilton Museum.

tolbooth-demolition

Hamilton’s link with the old past comes to an end.
The Tolbooth was finally demolished on the morning of Thursday the 21st of January 1954 when a charge of 25 pounds of gelignite exploded at the base of the old tolbooth steeple and sent it tumbling to the ground.

Its fall was witnessed by scores of people, some of them within the Palace grounds and others at vantage points in Castle Street, Muir Street and even in Cadzow Street. To set the appropriate funeral note, one of the workmen climbed to the belfry and for about half-an-hour until 11:18 a.m. tolled the Bell. As this sound, has not been heard for several years, the attention of many more people than would have watched was attracted.

Those who saw the final touches being put to the preparations for the big bang included the Provost Mrs Mary s. Ewart, The Town Clerk (Mr James Kelly), the burgh surveyor (Mr James A. Whyte), senior police officers and a group of pupils from the Hamilton Academy, who were accompanied by the rector, Mr E. G. MacNaughton, M.A.

After everyone had been asked (and some persuaded) to go beyond the danger limits, a whistle blew at 11:43 a.m. Immediately came the deep-throated roar of the explosion. The base of the steeple, where a number of holes had been drilled to take the gelignite, was shattered instantly and within a few seconds the whole structure had crumbled before everyone’s eyes.

The steeple came to rest exactly where expected, with the weather vane which for so long had topped the proud and once-handsome tower at the foot of a small tree. It had been feared that the rubble might block the course of the adjoining Cadzow Burn and that part of the stone culvert might collapse with vibration, but only a little of the stonework entered the water, and the culvert remained intact. Surprisingly little rubble fell in Castle Street.

When the remains were examined immediately after the demolition, the clock bell was seen nesting among the masonry, and it was still intact. The bell bore the inscription “Thomas Mears, London. 1802.”

Close by were the shattered dials of the clock, with its cogs and wheels scattered around. Clear of the main mass was the weather vane, on which before the explosion a sparrow had alighted for a brief moment.

There was a plaque that was attached to the base of the tower commemorating the fact that Drs Cullen and Hunter practised in premises across the street was removed an hour before the demolition. (Hopefully this plaque is kept safe at the Low Parks Museum)

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The bell from the Tolbooth was later earmarked to be installed at the Municipal Buildings (The Hamilton Town House & Library) as the old bell from the Townhouse was sold to a Glasgow firm. It is unknown if this actually did happen, or if the Bell went straight to the Hamilton museum.

tolbooth-location1