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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is unknown where this scroll is now kept, Hopefully in the Hamilton Museum.
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)
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.
Over the past few weeks Wilma Bolton has been sending us her Hamilton Advertiser newspaper transcriptions from her collection.
The names of the people mentioned are mostly now out of recent memory to the families involved, however throughout the day we will be posting Wilma’s transcriptions for you to read.
To start things off, Wilma sent me an article on my 2nd Great grand uncle who was called Michael McNamee, and he was killed in action over in France in 1918. Like many young Hamilton men who went to fight in WW1, a lot never came back. I did know a little about Michael McNamee as I have researched him and have most of his details in my Family Tree, however I didn’t have the transcription from the Hamilton Advertiser, so thank you Wilma for sending this to me.
PRIVATE MICHAEL McNAMEE.
35 CHURCH STREET, HAMILTON, WW1. 1918
HAMILTON AND THE WAR.— Pte. Michael McNamee, son of Mr and Mrs McNamee, 35 Church Street, has died from wounds received in action of 18th October.
Twenty-one tears of age, Pte, McNamee left his employment in Ferniegair Colliery in June 1915, and enlisted in the Royal Scots. For his gallantry on the field he was awarded the Military Medal. His commanding officer, writing to his parents, says, Pte. McNamee was “a great favourite with both officers and men.
He was a great boy, and thoroughly deserved the honour he gained, as he always showed himself a brave lad, and willing to help others.” Ref. Hamilton Advertiser. 7/12/1918 page 4.
(Wilma S. Bolton 2012)
Let us know if a member of your family has been mentioned in Wilma’s transcriptions.
Dan Daly was in his day, one of Hamilton’s most notorious figures; he was liked and loved by many people and also feared by many. If you had a problem, you went and saw Dan and it would be sorted. Dan was a local legend and known throughout Hamilton.
Dan left school and and got his first job working at the Slaughter House on Bothwell Road, he worked there for a while before deciding that he wanted something different. He was a keen boxer and later his boxing talents gained him respect in the streets of Hamilton.
Back in the day there were no licenced betting shops and pitch & toss was rife among the local hard working man, back street gambling was like a release for someone who had just finished a hard week at work. It took someone really ‘hard’ to stop fall outs and make sure that money was paid out. Before Dan Daly, people like Michael McNamee who was a bare knuckle fighter was known as the ‘head tosser’ in Hamilton.
Dan stepped up to the plate and gained respect from the local men in the town and he later ran the Tossing Schools in Hamilton. Dan Daly was only 5’7 in height, however through his boxing training, he was heavily built and had a very wide chest and big shoulders and arms that were just as big.
He met a local Burnbank girl called Elsie Dunn and they soon got married in 1951, they had 6 kids, Diane, Brenda,Daniel,Irene, Peter & Paul.One story that was reported in the Hamilton Advertiser was titled ‘Notorious hard man head split by wife’ and it was from the time that Dan’s wife Elsie was charged for ‘bursting Dan’s head open’ and knocking him out with a frozen chicken. Dan had been winding her up for the dinner not being ready on time and she hit him over the head with the frozen bird. That old saying comes to mind….Behind every strong man is an even stronger woman……
Dan later became the manager at the Hamilton Hibbs Club, ran the doors, was in charge of the bar and he had his own team of guys that would back him up in any situation. Dan also ran busses to the Celtic games, he was a Celtic man through and through. He later ran the doors at the Double J and was mates with Jimmy Johnstone.
One of the infamous stories that circulated was the time that Dan and his mates skidded up in a van, beside a group of guys at the Burnbank flats (where the BP garage is now situated) and they ‘done them in’ with baseball bats, it turned out that they had got the wrong guys and these unfortunate group of lads took someone else’s beating.
As much as Dan was feared, he was a gentleman and he looked out for his family, neighbours & friends and it was not uncommon for Dan to help people out during hardship and times like Christmas.
Hugh Haney was kind enough to share one of his memory’s of Dan, Hugh wrote:
“Dan Daly, whit a man, lots of people only heard stories about this guy, i remember as young lad runnin aboot the toon, my first run in with him was in the two up in Baileys Causeway, underage n’ bein a clever shite” he gave me enough rope, then a quick kick up arse,
sent me home while i still had some winnings left, soon after i thanked him, he would always call me Tiny Tim” you can ask the people of the Auld Toon, Dan had an idea that they should get a double decker bus for anyone goin tae the Auld firm match mixed tae save money, SMT bus , it never left the auld toon because the conductor shouted “Catholics inside, blue noses upstairs ” that bus had tae be towed away! Thir wis hell on, Dan went balistic,
Later i married and my wife was expecting our first child, i was in the Hibs one Wednesday dan asked about how things were ,,,,
I told him the wife wis in Belshill maternity, He dragged me up the street, knocked on the florests windae got a bunch o” flowers put me in a taxi paid the driver, n” sent me tae the hospital,,,to be with my wife Mary, jist some examples of whit a good man he was, But by no means a saint, jist a typical HAMILTONIAN””
Sadly Dan Daly died from a stroke & aneurysm at the age of 60. When he died, the streets of Hamilton were packed and there were many famous faces at the funeral,including Jimmy Johnstone. He was buried at the Bent Cemetery.
We would like to thank Dan’s Granddaughters Ann Marie & Diane for telling us the story of Dan Daly. What was your memories of Dan Daly?