It’s 1977 and the late Sir Rodger Moore is taking a well-deserved break from filming The Spy who loved me. What else is there to do but catch up on all the latest gossip that’s been happening in Hamilton.
I would like to think that Sir Rodger Moore was a weekly reader of The Hamilton Advertiser, however, it would more likely have been one of the workers on the set that lived in or around Hamilton who bought the Advertiser.
Great picture none the less and a big thank you to Paul Veverka for sending this picture to Historic Hamilton.
Hamilton has long outgrown the days when every school boy knew the town like the palm of his hand and could give an interesting precise on the local “who’s who”. Now one can get lost in a labyrinth of streets with not a kent face in sight, for the separate communities that compromise the whole have no common bond, except perhaps the supermarkets, the libraries and the ever increasing burden of paying for the mammoth development schemes.
In the process Auchingramont Road has become just another thoroughfare cluttered with parked cars. Structurally it is little changed although the north church has been demolished and replaced by a block of flats called “Gramont” and several villas have been concerted in to office. Lately the Glen hotel has put the area on the motorists’ map, it being recommended by the automobile associations.
Formally the residents would have stood aghast at such intrusions. In fact, it is doubtful weather Auchingramont proprietors would have allowed it, as they permitted nothing or no one to interfere with the amenities of the road.
COUNTRY QUIET LANE
They had every reason to be proud of it, for its air of elegance and grace could not be matched elsewhere. It was as peaceful and quiet as a country lane, with the sanctity of the churches pervading the atmosphere. Its beauty entered the soul and one felt refreshed and stimulated physically and mentally.
Doctors, Lawyers, ministers and bankers were representative householders, whose illustrious careers were followed by the general public. Character and breeding shone from every window, but wealth was never blatantly exposed to incite resentment or envy in poor citizens. Rather it appeared as something substantially worth wile, and inspired dreams of achievement without covetousness.
A stroll along Auchingramont was always a pleasure; there was so much to admire and delight to the eye. It is still a lovely residential area but that indefinable something which defies analysis or description has to some extent disappeared.
BUSIEST ON SUNDAYS
In the old days Auchingramont Road was busiest on Sundays, for each of the three churches had good congregations. After morning service, the worshippers were wont to standing little grounds outside their church discussing the sermon or perhaps evaluating a lady’s ensemble. The vicar of St. Mary’s was usually in evidence, and his engaging smile and friendly manner left a lasting impression on many an onlooker.
When the death of Edward the peacemakers was announced, the Episcopalians were first to hold a special service. Women hurriedly acquires black hats, and gloves then rushed to the church, accompanied by young daughters whose mark of defiance consisted of black velvet ribbon tied round their necks. some wore borrowed hats, so that they appeared more like guys dressed for Halloween than mourners. But it was a sad and moving occasions and the laughs at the weird attire were reserved for after. Memorial services were held in other churches, Auchingramont, North being elaborately draped in purple and black.
My dearest memories of Auchingramont, however, centre around the North Church, particularly during the ministry of the Rev Thomas Brown M.A. and that of the Rev John McCallum, Robertson M.A. I can still hear Mr Robertson’s talk on “The House with the Green Shutters”. His Sunday evening disclosures drew people from far and wide and filled the church to overflowing, so that they had sometimes to sit on the balcony steps. He was a great orator. Thus his successor began with a disadvantage. Mr Brown however was warm-hearted and easier to approach than the scholarly Mr Robertson.
The first minister of Auchingramont was the Rev Peter C Duncanson, who came with the congregation from the relief church in Muir Street, now part of Smellie’s Market. The church dates back to 1776 and its exiting history has been written by Baillie James F Hamilton, a man of high endeavour and personal magnetism.
I possess a stucco bust of Duncanson which was executed by J Mossman and originally belonged to the Bishop family of Barncluith. It was given to my grandparents, who never tired of telling how much pleasure it gave their beloved minister to see his image on their mantelshelf.
The new church was opened on 24th November 1867. Special services were held and Dr Johnston, limekilns occupied the pulpit in the morning. Mr Duncanson officiated in the afternoon and Dr Eadie in the evening. The collections for the day amounted to £202.3s.4d.
The church cost £5,233.13.7d and the manse £1,703.19s. The old church was sold for £525. This, together with various contributions and the proceeds from a bazaar held in the Town Hall, considerably reduced the sum outstanding. But it took 26 years, a second bazaar held at the Art Galleries, Glasgow in October 1884, and a third held in the Town Hall in 1893 to liquidate the debt. The ladies of the congregation made every effort to make the bazaar a success and the £3,180 raised in this way was a very gratifying result.
Mr William Cassels personally collected £105 – the cost of the bell erected in the tower. I may have been prejudiced but as a child i considered it had the most melodious and distinctive tone of any bell in Hamilton. The bellringer then was Mr Scott of Selkirk Street and the Beadle was Mr Williamson.
Wilma sent this story to Historic Hamilton at the start of last month and the story could be seen as controversial, however it is based on facts and letters published in the Hamilton Advertiser.
When we consider the damage to local buildings caused by the extraction of coal during the 19th and 20th centuries, Hamilton is indeed fortunate to have many fine old grey, red and honey coloured sandstone buildings still surviving. Looking at these buildings, some of which still show evidence of subsidence damage, it is hard to comprehend how the town’s residents managed to live with the daily threat of collapsing homes and the ever present danger of falling masonry and slates.
Such was the extent of the damage, a town Bailie is recorded as saying at a council meeting during December 1891 that “if a stranger were to pass through the town at present, he would think it had been wrecked by an earthquake,” another remarked that “tenants were living in terror”. On June 3rd, 1911 the Hamilton Advertiser reported that “that the new and costly Academy in Auchincampbell Road is showing signs of fracture from mineral workings before the walls are more than half-way up”. To prevent further damage, coal hundreds of feet below the building was purchased from the Bent Coal Company and left in situ to provide solid foundations. Graphic accounts in local archives tell of joists snapping in the middle of the night and people in night clothes fleeing their homes as gable ends, roofs and chimney stacks collapsed. Fractured gas mains set fire to property and buildings all over the town were being shored up to prevent them collapsing. If the old buildings which are left could talk, many of them would have extremely diverse and interesting tales to tell.
A classic example of this is the grey sandstone building at number 116 Cadzow Street, the story of which is inextricably linked to the industrial history of our town and which without a shadow of a doubt, has more stories to tell than most. Now being privately renovated, it was seriously neglected by South Lanarkshire Council who had bought the property. The building was paid for by coal miners contributions and was once the proud headquarters of Lanarkshire Miners’ Union. If only the building could talk, it is a silent witness to a gargantuan battle between moderate trade unionists and the Communist Party who were intent in achieving total control over the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union.
Designed by Alexander Cullen and built to replace the New Cross offices of the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union, the building was opened on July 16th, 1908, by John Robertson the building committee convener. Union secretary David Gilmour in his opening speech, publicly acknowledged that Blantyre’s late William Small was one of the pioneers whose labours had made it possible for them to reach their present strong position.” He also spoke of another great pioneer Alexander MacDonald, M.P. 1821-1881, who in 1829 at the age of eight entered a Monklands mine where he worked for eighteen years. Harnessed like a beast of burden, MacDonald and other children aged from seven to eleven slaved every day transporting hutches of coal to the surface. Almost forty years later, on the 28th April, 1868, when called to give evidence to the Royal Commission on Trade Unions, he gave a graphic account of how the children “wore leather belts for our shoulders. We had to keep dragging the coal with these ropes over our shoulders, sometimes round the middle with a chain between our legs. Then there was always another behind pushing with his head.”
Alexander MacDonald was gifted with a quick mind but had little formal education; however, in his twenties he started attending night school after work and developed an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Eventually he gained admission to Glasgow University the fees of which he funded by working as a coal miner during holidays. His education enabled him to work as a teacher, but never forgetting his years underground he spent the rest of his life trying to improve the lives of coal miners by becoming actively involved in the formation of a miners’ union. His harrowing evidence given before the Royal Commission on Trades Unions was instrumental in the passing of legislation for the 1872 Mines Act which vastly improved the working conditions for both miners and children. Another product of his leadership was the Mines Act of 1860, which empowered miners to appoint and pay a checkweigher from among their number to be present at the weighing of coal to ensure that the correct weight was recorded. Prior to this, miners were regularly underpaid for the coal they sent up to the pit head. In 1874 MacDonald stood as a Lib–Lab candidate for Stafford and won, becoming one of the first working-class members of the House of Commons. Throughout his life he fought to improve conditions for coalminers. He died in 1891at Hamilton’s only recently demolished Wellhall House and was buried in Monklands Churchyard. As his funeral cortège passed through Hamilton, the streets were lined with thousands of miners paying their last respects to a good man and a great trade unionist.
Many men of a similar caliber followed in Alexander McDonald’s footsteps. Men like Keir Hardie, Hector McNeil, Robert Steel, John Dunn, Robert Smillie, William Small, William B. Small, David Gilmour and John Robertson, all of them trail blazers who fought long hard battles to win safer and better conditions for miners and whose qualities of courage, honesty and conviction count them with Alexander MacDonald as the founding fathers of the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union.
The end of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century saw a relatively prosperous period for miners, but with war clouds gathering over Europe, life for them was never going to be quite the same again. With the declaration of World War One on August 4th 1914, countless men left the pits to fight for their country and they fought with distinction and great courage.
The peace which followed the carnage resulted in thousands of miners returning home expecting to be re-employed in local coal mines only to find that the market for British coal was collapsing and their chance of finding work was almost negligible. Hamilton pits still working were on short time and in September 1919, the Bent, Greenfield, Earnock, Neilsland, Hamilton Palace and all the Larkhall collieries closed until further notice throwing 10,000 men out of work. It was during this period of mass unemployment there appeared a more insidious and dangerous enemy than any they had ever encountered before….. the Communist Party, organised by local power hungry political extremists.
Seeing the vulnerability and despair endemic in the coal fields, the Communists seized the opportunity and the battle for complete control of 116 Cadzow Street began. Party zealots targeted the unemployed miners knowing that hunger and poverty left them extremely vulnerable to their persuasive tongues. Had employment and working conditions been normal, the usually sensible and hard working Labour voting miners would have laughed at their radical beliefs, but destitution and worry can change the way people think and the propaganda preached to men who were at their wits end trying to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads appeared to some like the solution to their problems. Desperate men blinded by promises of full employment, a six hour day and wages higher than they could ever have dreamed of were brainwashed into believing in a Communist utopia.
Blantyre in particular had become a Communist hotbed and the miners’ smoldering insecurities were blown into flames by highly organised propaganda campaigns orchestrated by communists like Andrew McAnulty and William Allan, who taking their instructions and orders from their Communist masters preyed upon the despair of the unemployed coal miners in their effort to gain outright political power.
During the 1921 miners’ strike and the long drawn out agony of the 1926 strike, the members of the Communist Party of Great Britain were to the fore in using the dissemination of their propaganda as a political strategy in an attempt to win over the coal miners to their cause. A letter clearly referring to the dangers appeared in the following excerpt from a letter published in the July 19th, 1926 edition of The Lanarkshire which left the reader in no doubt as to who the writer’s was talking about when he asks “is there a Labour man in Blantyre who imagines he can see home questions better with Soviet spectacles than with Scottish or Blantyre goggles?”
By 1927, 20,000 Lanarkshire colliery workers were unemployed. The disastrous 1926 strike resulted in large regular European orders being lost to Silesian coal companies where miners were paid £1 for working a seventy hour week. The coal from these mines was sold at prices Britain could never compete with. Another major factor for unemployment among Lanarkshire miners was the exhaustion of many of the seven to ten feet high seams of prime splint coal used for blast furnaces and a greater part of the coal output was being obtained from seams of two feet or less in thickness. These seams were more difficult and expensive to work resulting in the closure of many uneconomic collieries. This had a knock on effect on neighbouring pits where the pumping equipment failed to cope with the flooding coming from the abandoned mines, causing them in turn to shut down. The Hamilton Advertiser noted on December 15th, 1928, that “78 pits were reported to have closed down in Lanarkshire, throwing 3218 employees out of work and 540 pits previously employing 34,330 wage earners had been abandoned in Great Britain since January 1927”. For the once great British coal industry, this was the beginning of the end.
A stark warning about the Communist infiltration was included in the March 12th, 1927 edition of the Hamilton Advertiser. This article records how “The Miners’ Minority Movement was carrying out intensive propaganda for the reorganisation of the Miners’ Federation and taking advantage of the dislocated condition of the Federation and district unions as a result of the strike. They are a unit of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and their objective is the overthrow of the present system by revolutionary methods. They make demands which are economically impossible. It is not their desire that the miners should reason them out, but accept them as submitted so that they can carry out an attitude of discontent which is the most important factor in their propaganda. Their movement is not wholly maintained by their members, who are mostly unemployed. It would be of interest if some of the officials, say Mr Allan, would come forward and let the miners be acquainted with the source of their revenue.” The article advises that “the workers must do their part in refusing to listen to the agitators who create strikes for their own benefit and to the detriment of the miner.”
Miners were aware of the indoctrination tactics being used by the Communists and articles and letters on the subject were appearing on a regular basis in local newspapers. A letter published in the Hamilton Advertiser of February 18th, 1928 points out the dangers and makes the following plea to the mining community “we need a Miners’ Union free from the scarlet fever of Communism. Referring to the carnage of World War One, the writer reminds readers that “all nations are now banded together in an effort to abolish war with all its horrors. The only section of the community is that of the Communists, who seek to let loose the dogs of commercial strife and this is but a step forward to the rattle of machine guns and the sowing the seeds of death and desolation. War, whether in the battlefield or in the industrial field must be paid for. What decent folk want is peace and the prosperity that alone can come from peace.”
By this time most branches of the Miners’ Union had been infiltrated and the Hamilton Advertiser of August 18th 1928 published a letter from an outraged miner in Ponfeigh near Douglas Water, telling how James Hunter the “late” Communist local branch secretary of the Lanarkshire Mineworkers’ Union, had attempted to falsify a Communist majority in a Union ballot. The writer describes how the entry written by Hunter in the minutes of the local branch meeting of 5th December recorded a Communist victory for a ballot which was not held untill the 9th, three days after he had documented the “results” in the book.
The Hamilton Advertiser regularly warned the mining communities about the dangers of Communism. On June 2nd, 1928 headlines of “COMMUNISM EXPOSED” reported how the National Union of Scottish Mineworkers had issued a strong condemnation of the Communist and Minority Movement at a meeting in Glasgow of the Executive Committee presided over by Mr Robert Smellie, M.P. the first President of the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union from its inception in 1889 until January 1919. At the meeting, he made an appeal for the “the men and women in the Scottish coalfield to support the Union.” Their movement he stated had only been made possible by the service and sacrifice of numberless men and women who had paid the price in suffering, privation and victimisation as the result of their activities on behalf of the workers.” He added: —“The growth and development of our organisation during recent years encourage us to hope that at the next General Election a Labour Government in power is reasonably possible. With Labour in power the beginning of a new and happier era in the working class struggle will commence.” His explicit message couldn’t have been any clearer as he spoke of how “the Communist Party and its auxiliary body, the Minority Movement, were acting on definite instructions from an outside and foreign executive authority and were seeking to capture the industrial and political machinery built up by the workers of this country. Their method of achieving this is as unscrupulous as it is dishonest. ‘Don’t trust your leaders’ is their slogan, while their own slavish subservience and implicit obedience to their own masters the autocrats of the Red International, is only equalled by their desire to attain the position of those whom they have systematically transduced with that object only in view. That the Communist Party and the Minority Movement are one and the same is now proved. They are the children of the same parents, and cannot by the very nature of their connection carry out the will of the workers, as they must not concern themselves with what the Union members think but only what the Executive of Moscow International decides. The will of the majority means nothing to them and their professional desire to serve the interests of their fellow Trade Unionists becomes a lying phrase in the mouths of men who have bound themselves to carry out the dictates of this autocracy to whom they are responsible… their method of obtaining selection and election.”
At 116 Cadzow Street, a desperate battle was being played out in an attempt to prevent the Communist members of Lanarkshire Mineworkers’ Union taking over the Union at elections due to take place in June 1928. Moderate members of the Executive tried to place a ban on Communist interference at a meeting of the Executive held at Hamilton and the following resolution was submitted by them:– “To draw attention to the interference of the Communist organisation and its ally, the so-called Minority Movement, with the questions affecting the internal and domestic affairs of the Lanarkshire Mineworkers’ Union by holding open public meetings to which persons are invited who have no concern or interest in the miners’ organisation and, at which resolutions are made to support the candidature for official positions in the Lanarkshire Mineworkers’ Union of such persons as are willing to carry out instructions given or conveyed to them by emissaries of the above named outside and alien organisations; and as their interference is an invasion of the right of members of the Lanarkshire Mineworkers’ Union to choose their representatives in a manner consistent with their usual custom and practice, and intended to cause friction and dissension, this Executive Committee recommends that any person on the panel of those outside organisations, and being recommended by them, be declared ineligible to hold any official or executive position in the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union, and that his or their name or names should not be submitted to the members of the organisation to be voted upon at any election.”
Communist Andrew McAnulty, by now Union president ruled the resolution out of order, whereupon his ruling was challenged and it was moved that he be asked to leave the chair. This motion was carried by a 2 to 1 majority, whereupon the proceedings were adjourned. At a subsequent meeting, McAnulty insisted on continuing as chairman and as a consequence, another state of deadlock was reached.
By June 30th, 1928 the Communist leaders of the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union were reported to be sending delegates into English mining areas to ask for help in their fight to clear out the “old gang” (the moderates). The same week it was stated, “A Lanarkshire Communist has been in Nottingham coalfields begging the miners there to assist the Lanarkshire “Reds” in their plans to capture the union machine.” The majority members of the executive of the Lanarkshire Miners’ County Union, who have been demanding that Mr Andrew McAnulty should vacate the position of chairman, issued a manifesto yesterday in support of their attitude. The objection to Mr McAnulty arose because of his refusal to allow a motion which proposed to ban all nominees for union positions whose names appear on the lists of the Communist Party and Minority Movement.” The manifesto, which was signed by three miners’ M. P.’s and others declared:–
“The Lanarkshire Miners’ Union have been in chaos since June 5 when the business of the union has been held up by the chairman Mr Andrew McAnulty, who has put forward a claim that “his decision on any subject must be accepted by the members as final and conclusive”. He has repeatedly refused since the above date to allow the question at issue, viz., the right of the members to appoint their officials, delegates, and members of the Executive Council free from the interference of persons belonging to the Communist Party and Minority Movement, to be considered either by the Executive Council or a conference of delegates. As this arrogant and impudent claim, if admitted, would destroy all representative and democratic organisation, the following members of the executive who form the majority, have no alternative but to advise local officials and members that any communication they may receive from the chairman and secretary of the union with respect to elections or any other matter will be unauthorised and irregular until after a conference of delegates has been called.”
Andrew McAnulty was a fanatical hard line Communist and a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The objective of every Communist was to infiltrate organisations, increase party membership and supply new recruits. The Communist radicalisation of the Lanarkshire coal miners had begun and with McAnulty at the helm, Communists infiltrated the union at an alarming rate.
In August 1928, local non Communist miners’ MP’s and Lanarkshire Miners’ Union members in an attempt to remove McAnulty and his Communist comrades applied for and were granted a note of suspension and interdict in the Bill Chamber of the Court of Session, Edinburgh. This suspension prompted his resignation at the end of August 1928. In his letter of resignation he gave “a loss of self esteem and his nerves being affected” due to the attempts by the moderates to have him removed.
into a union, I should like to set a few plain facts before them. For some time past we have had nothing in our district but debt and disunion. Now our enthusiasm is rekindled and we are told if the Blantyre miners intend to attain to their former admirable position, we needs just copy the wise example of other districts. Very good indeed, Mr McAnulty is the one that has to enact “the one eyed monarch among the blind,” and we, the Blantyre miners, have to contribute our quota to keep up the magnificent fun. I marvel much at their impertinence when we miners reflect on the unions of the past. Now sir, I could carpet a floor with union books and all the union money vanished in expenses. Now, we are asked to start another by the same agent that made the rest of the unions beautiful failures. Surely the Blantyre miners are not going to ballot a man on for his ability and cleverness in breaking up unions. If that be the case, I as one object, until I get a clear understanding. Has Mr McAnulty not openly said that all the unions in the past were useless? Then I ask him on what lines he is intending to draft this new species? Will it be one of the old species? Will it be one of the old kind which took all we miners could contribute for postcards and what the committee could borrow for ink? If that is to be the sort of union, I would advise the Blantyre miners to have none of it. Let us not build up another frail, fragile sham. If we have to be in union at all, let us have a solid one that will be appreciated and carry weight with it. Goodness knows, it makes men’s brains sick to observe so many unions set a going only to crumble away. I am, yours, etc., Frederick Farrell.
In recent years the airbrushing of Andrew McAnulty’s contribution to Lanarkshire’s mining history has resulted in him being erroneously described as the “first” president of the Lanarkshire Miners’ Union and “champion of the working class,” instead of a dyed in the wool Communist whose political ambition and radical extremist beliefs caused nothing but strife, strikes, suffering and poverty for miners and their families. Much has been made of his unfurling of the National Coal Board flag at the newly nationalised Dixon’s Collieries in 1947 and of being awarded a weekly pension of £2 by the National Union of Mineworkers’ whose General Secretary William Pearson just happened to be a close friend of McAnulty and a fanatical Communist and a prolific contributor to the letters column of the Hamilton Advertiser, where his descriptions of the wonderful working and living conditions enjoyed by Soviet miners in Stalin’s Siberian coal mines beggars belief. Sixty years after Andrew McAnulty’s death, Blantyre’s Stonefield Public Park was renamed McAnulty Park much to the anger and disbelief of many Blantyre residents a number of whom noted their disapproval through the letters pages of the Hamilton Advertiser.
Historical accuracy is often the first casualty when eyewitnesses are dead and no one is left to challenge what has been written; but the indisputable evidence of the Communist take over of Lanarkshires Miners’ Unions has not vanished into the mists of time. The rank and file throughout the coal mining communities repeatedly contributed to local newspapers voicing their alarm at what was happening and in doing so, they recorded the facts, fears and their eyewitness accounts of what was taking place throughout the Lanarkshire coal field and beyond. Their testimony can be found in the archives of the old Hamilton Advertisers which are available for the public to read at Hamilton Town House Reference Library situated at 102 Cadzow Street and only a stone’s throw from the former miners’ union headquarters at 116 Cadzow Street, Hamilton where this story began
On Monday afternoon there was laid to rest in Hamilton Cemetery all that remained of Mrs Ritchie, (Janet Young) a remarkable woman in many ways. She was one of those quaint, delightful characters whom a J.M. Barrie or an Ian MacLaren would have made the most of. Quick witted, clever, and with a keen sense of humour, her friendship was coveted by many kinds of people in different walks of life, and to all she was interesting.
She came from an old Covenanting family, and running through her whole life was that deep seated religious strain which was so characteristic of many of the old stock. He religion was not a bigoted one; it was broad minded and charitable, and on that account her influence for good was always apparent. Amongst those with whom she came into contact she never made any parade of her strong spiritual convictions, but one always left her feeling better for her conversation and companionship. She was a loyal Scotchwoman and an enthusiastic Hamiltonian, in the Ducal Palace she claimed a special interest as many of her folks wrought as tradesmen on the building in the good old days.
Mrs Ritchie lived and died in the town that she loved, and all who knew her will cherish her memory amongst their brightest and tenderest recollections. Ref. Hamilton Advertiser. 6/12/1902 page 4. Wilma S. Bolton. 2012
HONOUR FOR A LOCAL SOLDIER.— Congratulations to Sapper William McInerney, R.E. on his award of the Military Medal for a little bit of smart work during the advance. Along with an officer he went out to reconnoitre a village from which it was presumed the Hun had been cleared out. But not quite.
The officer and Sapper McInerney ran into 25 of the enemy concealed in a trench, including two officers. They were promptly compelled to cave in, and were marched back as prisoners to the British lines. Sapper McInerney was formerly employed at Cadzow Colliery, he enlisted in 1914 in the A. and S. Highlanders, but was subsequently transferred to the R. E. He has been in France since September 1915.
In November of last year he was wounded, but sufficiently recovered to again take his place in the fighting line, where he has now distinguished himself. His parents reside at 8 Lamb Street, Hamilton. Ref. Hamilton Advertiser. 26/10/1918 page 4. (Wilma S. Bolton 2012)
Captain W. Dykes Loudon, Commandant B (Hamilton) Company, 2nd V.B. Scottish Rifles, had just received a very interesting letter from two brothers, Private John and Thomas McEwan, former members of his Company. When the war broke out, they applied, through the local depot, to join the Regulars in order to go to the front, but found the regulations were against them.
Nothing daunted, they paid their passage to Cape Town, and their letter, which is as follows, tells its own tale as to their subsequent movements: “Victoria West Camp, Cape Colony 12th Dec., 1899.—Sir—My brother and I arrived in Cape Town on 25th November, and joined the South African Light Horse, a regiment of cavalry raised by the Imperial Government for service against the Boers. We are presently stationed behind the base at Dr Aar to guard the lines of communication and to check any attempt by the local Dutch to assist the enemy.
My squadron (F) patrols a large district, while my brother, who belongs to E, is stationed about 30 miles up country. I was promoted ambulance sergeant a week ago. We get good pay—food, however is scarce—5s a day for a trooper, with 2s 6d extra for rations. The regiment is a very mixed lot, the only qualification being ability to ride and shoot. We have English, Irish, Scotch, Canadians, American cowboys, Australians, New Zealanders, Swedes, French and Swiss in our squadron, many of whom have seen active service in different parts of the world. Our commander is a retired Major of the Blues.
This camp from which I write is a miserable hole—the sandstorms nearly blind us, and we shall be very glad when we advance further up country.” Ref. Hamilton Advertiser. 6/1/1900 page 3.
In the late twenties, William (or Bill) Anderson, a grandson of the aforementioned Thomas Anderson, became aware of the health-giving benefits derived from physical training and started a course of gymnastics. Others got curious, then interested, so Bill and his cousin William Allan, at present town chamberlain of Campbeltown, together with John Neilson and Adam Steel, founded Burnblea physical culture club which met nightly in the Anderson home. Unlike the scouts or Boys’ Brigade, where the leaders were older men, this was a club run by youths for youths, and it proved an instant success.
So many young men wanted to join that the founders commenced a search for premises. Mr Sherret, the butcher who had taken over the farm-steading when Bent farm was vacated by Abie Brownlie, let them have the barn for 5 Shillings per night. Aladdin oil lamps were bought to light the place and bales of hay were used as mats. For the sum od sixpence per meeting, members enjoyed every minute of their strenuous exercise and quite a number became proficient weight-lifters. Part of the fun was a dip in the big boilers of cold water.
The barn was not the choicest of premises, however, and with the ever-growing membership a friend suggested that Anderson contact Mr A K Foulis of Hamilton Estates. Bill did this and permission to use the riding school was granted in 1930. This proved an ideal arrangement and the 150 members met for three hours every Tuesday and Friday evening. For the nominal sum of 10 Shillings per month, lighting, heating and bathing facilities were included.
The lads were delighted with this generous offer and the Boxing Marquis, the present Duke of Hamilton, became their hero.They were well acquainted with johnnie Brown, who sparred with the Marquis, and they now felt they knew the nobleman too. Later they maintained a lively interest in the Duke’s flying adventures, especially his flight over Everest.
A number of young ladies heard of the success of the club and asked Mr Anderson to form a female group. Bill was hesitant at firs, but when a deputation of girls from Gilchrist’s Bakery approached him he was persuaded and so in 1932, with a membership of 30, Hamilton’s first league of Health and Beauty was formed. Members paid an annual subscription of two shillings, plus sixpence attendance fee. An ante-room in the old Town Hall was rented and the ladies met there once weekly. After a few weeks, larger premises were necessary and the Masonic Hall was rented for one evening a week at 12s 6d per night.
Every kind of training apparatus was purchaser and the membership rose quickly to 120. Social evenings, dances and hiking expeditions brought the sexes together and both clubs had a continued run of success until they terminated, the physical culture club because of the war and the league of Health and Beauty because of the many other interests of the founders.
One fellow, James Lang still has his membership card which he carries around as a memento of the many happy evenings spent in congenial company. A few have a better reminder for they found romance. Bill Anderson and Adam Steel fall into this group, as they married members of the League of Health and Beauty.
Like most of Hamilton, Burnblea Street is undergoing big changes. Police houses have long since replaced Chassels’ tenement and during 1963-65 burgh houses and a new self service Co-operative licence store were erected on the vacant field and on Nicholson’s site. The other tenements have been ear marked for early demolition and soon all individuality will have been erased from the street. Instead of the once beautiful stone tenements, one shall find new brick and roughcast dwellings; inferior in my opinion, but for the fact that they contain kitchenettes and bathrooms. A few people, however, are reluctant to move when they compare their present rentals with the high rents of the council houses, for therein lies a problem far greater than the lack of a bathroom.
Thinking of the now headquarters of the British legion and Toc H, I walked up Quarry Street to the site of the old town hall. There I took a seat, as the burgh has placed several benches around as a temporary means of beautifying and utilising the spot while awaiting development.
In imagination I was soon inside a packed hall listening to the Albatross Singers who came periodically to delight audiences with their sacred music. The faces of Hamilton songsters and talented entertainers flagged before my eyes, among them Messrs Gold, Millar & Black, also Miss Pug, Mrs Thompson and a special friend Miss Tina Brunton, a contralto of some repute. For several years before her death Tina was partially blind but she maintained a courageous front and remained cheerful to the end.
I also recalled many amateur dramatics and the words of one little girl making her stage debut ran through my ears…..”Duncan and a’ sodgers made o’ wid?” Somehow I have never forgotten that line or the child’s resounding voice.
I, however, associate the Town Hall mainly with the First World War, the War Pensions Office held therein and the suffering of the men who queued for their disability pensions. Full treatment allowance at that time was £3 per week for a single man, as compared with a basic allowance of £6.15 Shillings today plus the various other amounts to which he may be entitled.
All types were dealt with among them hard cases who knew every trick and device by which they could obtain something for nothing. Others were so grateful for a crumb of comfort that they almost worshipped the staff whom they would occasionally make a small gift. I still cherish such a present, beautifully embroidered by the wife of the war veteran called “Thomas Barr”. He had heart trouble and was crippled by rheumatism, yet one never herd him grumble.
To observe these men and note their reactions to certain circumstances was an education in itself. Returning to “civvy” street totally totally or partially disabled was always a problem and a number could not adjust themselves. Some refused to wear their artificial limbs. One man in particular came in almost fortnightly and threw his artificial leg on the counter accompanied by a torrent of abuse not so John Robertson of Meikle Earnock. Despite severe agony he preserved and for years one did not suspect that he had an artificial leg. Now over seventy his disability tells but he remains a fighter and a hero.
Many disabled accept government grants or had their pensions commuted for a lump sum which to set up in business. Dozens did this but I can name only one who made a success of it. Opportunities were also given for a collage education.
Two men, both joiners, accepted the challenge and they became woodwork teachers at the academy and St Johns respectively. They too deserve praise for making a new life for themselves. Although in retirement now they are still outstanding citizens ans model ex-servicemen.
But it was in a large measure due to the insight and understanding of the various sectaries of the war pensions committee, that the pensioners found new hope. The first was Walter Henderson, depute town clerk. He conducted business in an office in the municipal buildings ans continued from there until work grew to such dimensions that he could not cope with two jobs satisfactory, so he resigned. A new salaried secretary was elected in the person of J Glen Boyd of Lanark, and business was transferred to a larger premises in the Town Hall.
Walter Henderson who died recently, held many positions of trust, including that of county clerk. He was a tireless worker and could not tolerate laziness and inefficiency in his staff. Able and just he was respected by staff and colleagues alike and if I were asked to name the perfect boss it would be Walter Henderson.
Glen Boyd, who suffered a hand injury in the war, had a charming personality. He was tall and handsome, broad shouldered and solidly built. His blue eyes under well groomed fair hair could split fire if necessary. But “Glennie” was a big man in every way and became a very popular secretary. He resigned to become the secretary of the sick children’s hospital in Glasgow. His marriage partner was Miss Constable, a teacher at St. Johns.
John Robertson of Blantyre was the third secretary. He was an older man, whose benevolent disposition prevented him from getting tough with any client, however trying the circumstances. His term of office was short for the Hamilton War Pensions office was closed in December 1922 and all work transferred to Motherwell, the area office.
Before I close the door on that part of the Town Hall’s history, mention should be made of the medical referees, Dr Hugh Miller of Auchingramont Road and Dr Robertson of Union Street. The latter always breezed in with his reports, his military training evident in his bearing and his air of authority, whereas Dr Miller was polite and unassuming. Both were well liked by the pensioners.
Dr Robertson vaccinated the staff during the smallpox scar, and the penny-sized dent in my arm is attributable to him and a constant reminder of those far off days. In Mr Henderson’s time Dr J Murray Young was referee with all the traffic on the Town Hall stair, cleaning was no easy task but this was ably undertaken by Mrs Robertson, widow of Charles Robertson, the renowned Town Office and hall keeper. Mr Robertson was allowed to retain the latter post as long as health permitted.
By this time of course, Alfred Duke was the town officer and caretaker of the municipal buildings. I knew Mr Duke and admired him as a smart, intelligent and affable officer. But he is associated with a different story…….
Published in the Hamilton Advertiser on the 3rd June 1966.
Agnes writes about James Mackie the town Chamberlain, Edith Forbes of the library, Sweet the painter, and the famous “Black Doctor” of Regent Street who mad snowfire ointment a household word; plus a number of “Weel Kent” faces in the vicinity of the old Town Hall, now demolished to make way for the £2m shopping precinct at the New Cross.
One can see the face of Hamilton changing day by day as buildings are demolished and streets wiped out. Often, and for too long, there is an aching void into which associations disappear leaving no trace behind. But past and present are inseparable, so while the new town spreads and lifts its head to the sky, let us pause and pay a tribute to the old and to those worthy citizens of yesterday who helped create the Hamilton now passing.
Death, whether of person or place, is always sad and the sharing of poignant memories is both an outlet for emotion and a memorial to the dead.
As i watched demolition squads at work in the area around Holmes Street, the floodgates of memory open and i saw myself in the Burgh Chamberlain’s office being served by Mr James Mackie, senior. He was the epitome of efficiency and pleasantness and one sensed that the finance of the burgh was in capable hands. The office was small but showed character and solidarity. One distinctively felt that here, if anywhere, communal interests were safe, and that their custodian did not take his responsibilities lightly. His work was his life.
Outside again, I crossed the street and followed Mr Thomas Cameron, secretary of the Glasgow chamber of commerce, into his mothers comfortable little house. Mt Cameron was married but the bond of love between mother and son was a joy to behold. Over afternoon tea, I heard stories of big business on the one hand and words of praise and adoration on the other. He made a conspicuous figure as he cycled with a pole and pail from job to job. At present his son-in-law carries on business from the workshop.
The shop of Sam Pollock, another-well known name, is also no more where it was but Mr Pollock has been lucky enough to secure the premises in Chapel Street which were formerly occupied by Jean Frame.
The window of the supermarket in Regent Street shone clean and bright but I did not see the goods displayed. Instead I saw in memory twenty people surrounding the stance of the Black Doctor who was demonstrating his corn cure on the foot of a man obviously the worse of drink. The drunk was the only spectator bold enough to take off boot and sock and he kept the crowds hilarious as the doctor accidentally tickled the sole of his foot.
The doctor sold a variety of medicines, including a rub for rheumatics, pills for all ills, and a sure cure for baldness. Quite a number swore by his remedies and returned regularly to obtain further supplies.
Although the doctor made his own compounds, he introduced one man to snowfire. It proved so effective for cracked lips and chapped hands that he recommended it to his workmates. It was used unfailingly thereafter by every stonemason in Hamilton during the winter months. It was easy to apply and cost only 2.5 pence a block.
FROM FARM TO FAIR
Continuing down memory lane, I passed the corner pub outside which Jock, and Jennies from the Fair danced with joyous abandon. They led a hard tough life and a day away from the Farm was freedom indeed. It was “Feeing Day” and perhaps a new job would bring greater happiness.
Most of the lads sported a “Monkey” in their caps and their pockets bulged with bottles and coconuts. The Jennies too were laden with articles their partners had won for them. The music and noise from the showground was deafening so I turned into Allen Place and found sanctuary at the Yuills.
From their parlour window I could see Mrs Forbes and her children in the garden opposite. Mr Forbes was the local inspector for the prevention of cruelty to children. The cruelty Man, as he was called, had to deal with many pitiful cases and his work taught him to be a shrewd judge of character. His wife survived him and lived till well over ninety, being ably taken care of by her daughter Edith who was admirably suited for her job.
On fair days and at the weekends, the Regent Street of past, saw many Street Hawkers, their barrows piled with fruit. One hawker called Paddy Sinclair came out with his float from Glasgow every Friday and did a roaring trade. His bonnie red-cheeked wife could wheedle an order from any man while Paddy had a way no woman could resist.
Gazing beyond the cars parked on the derelict I pictured the shop of James Sweet, affectionately called the lightning painter and the poor man’s friend, because he was quick reliable and kept his charges moderate. He was always in a hurry…..
Agnes Anderson was born at No.8 Woodside Walk on 7th.June 1901 and her parents were William Anderson & Mary Allan.
After leaving school Agnes was a shorthand typist. She worked for T J &W A Dykes Cadzow Sreet Hamilton.When she was about 20 years old she went and worked for a businessman in Malaig. His wife was a doctor.
She later came back home to Hamilton to live with her family at Beechwood house, 41 Portland Place. Agnes got married to James McNeilly Scott, they got their first house at 11 Fairhill Place Meikle Earnock and this is where her son Neil Scott was born. The family then moved to No.15 Fairhill Place as they required a bigger house.
Later in life Agnes became a keen historian and she started to document her life growing up in Hamilton. Her stories grabbed the attention of the Editor of the Hamilton Advertiser and from the 3rd of June through to December 1966 the Hamilton Advertiser published Agnes’s memoirs.
Neil Scott who is Agnes’s son has kindly donated his mums book to Historic Hamilton for us to publish her stories. We will be doing this soon. We would like to thank Neil for sending us his mums memories of growing up in Hamilton.