Larkhall Stories

         THE END OF THE WORLD. (LARKHALL STYLE.)        1871.

In 1939 an unnamed “auld” Glengowan laddie wrote about a day long gone but well remembered in Larkhall. He recalled that it was midsummer and he was playing with friends around the old Raploch Pit. As they looked over Glengowan towards Claybanks and Cadzow they saw a thick wall of darkness travelling towards at speed towards them. Within a short space of time it was upon them and all around was almost in total darkness even though it was mid-day.
The boys and everyman about the pithead made immediately for the smith’s shop. The smith, Wullie Watson (not the master smith of that ilk), was sitting on the hearth looking very serious and crowded around was a bunch of carters—Jimmy Greig, Jock Jaap, Archie McMillan; the two enginemen Wullie Broon and J. Moffat; auld Tammas Wilson, horsekeeper; the young Provost o’ Millheugh, J. Wilson, pitheadman; and Sandy Findlayson, checkweighman who made that day a very silent and sombre gathering.
Ultimately the smith, as became his position, spoke up saying, “Well, men I’m a wee feered oor day’s wark is dune; yin o’ you men that gangs tae the Kirk micht pit up a wee bit word or twa o’ a prayer!” Well, I thought if things were so serious, I might be better at hame; so I scooted over the bing to Glengowan, bit it was oot’ o’ the frying-pan intae the fire. At Numbers 18 and 20 the weavin’ shop was empty and the looms were silent. Everybody was upstairs, and as both families on the stair were good, honest Kirk-going folk they were doing all their own praying. We are told that when things are at their worst they begin to mend, but be that as it may, it soon began to clear, and the praying ended also for that time at least, because as you know,
 When the devil was sick,
     The devil a saint would be;
But when the devil was well,
   The devil a saint was he.
It was not only in Larkhall but over Lanarkshire that dark day struck terror to the common people, and it was long before it ceased to be a subject of conversation, but the cause of the phenomenon the storyteller never heard. Ref. Hamilton Advertiser. 10/12/1938. Here awa’ There awa’ by “Lavrockha’”

Wilma Bolton 2005


A hundred years ago there were two schools in the Parish of Dalserf—one in the village of Dalserf and one in Larkhall. Those two schools were under control and superintendence of the minister and Kirk session of the Parish Church.
The principal school was at Dalserf and an old record remarks that: “Like the Parish Church, it is inconveniently placed for the population.” The Parish School at Larkhall seems to have been subsidiary to that at Dalserf and was built by public subscription, but was later taken over by the Heritors of the parish on what terms is not quite clear.
The qualifications required of both teachers seems to have been of a surprisingly high standard, they being expected to teach English, Reading, Writing, Grammar, Book-keeping, Practical Mathematics and Latin. A fairly comprehensive “repertoire,” even modern educationists agree.
Both incumbents of that day had been at college for two or three sessions but, whether they, like so many teachers of those days, were “Stickit Ministers,” is not on record. In addition to the ordinary scholars at Dalserf, we are told that there were generally a “few young persons” learning Greek and French” and although not made quite clear, there is reason to infer that those “few young persons” were taught by the minister himself, who was certainly a man of learning and culture.
If Greek and French, in addition to his other qualifications, were acquirements of the schoolmaster, then  he was head and shoulders above the schoolmaster in Goldsmith’s “Deserted Village,” whose
“Words of learned length and thundering sound,
Amazed the gazing rustics ranged around—
And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew,
That one small head could carry all he knew.”
That quotation from “Oliver” takes me back to my schooldays, sixty-five years ago, when we were given poetry to memorise—albeit, often as a punishment for sins of omission or commission.
The parish schoolmaster at Dalserf had a maximum salary of £34 4s 4 1/2d. We are left to surmise that the fourpence half-penny is the result of translating “Pounds Scots” into sterling. Added to the salary there was a house and “garden of the dimensions and extent required by law.” But the schoolmaster’s perquisites seemed to be more valuable than his salary for he was session clerk and collector of poor rates which with various other “pickins” brought his salary up to £90 per annum.
The schoolmaster at Larkhall was not so well placed as was his contemporary teacher at Dalserf, but he also had a good house, schoolroom, and garden, to which was added the school fees, which cannot be accurately estimated, but we are told that even with the full compliment of seventy scholars his annual income could not exceed £40 to £45.
The fees paid were according to the subjects desired and the sums named were on a quarterly basis. English, Reading and Grammar, 2s; Arithmetic and Mathematics, 4s; Latin, 5s: and Book-keeping, 10/6 per set.
The number of “Private Schools” varied from time to time, probably through the economic vicissitudes, as happened to one at Rosebank which, after struggling for a time, had to give up.
We gather from a report to the Lord Advocate in 1835 that in addition to the two parish schools, there were several private schools, but of those only two were worthy of notice—one at Larkhall and one at Millheugh, both of which were “efficiently taught and well attended.” In these private schools only Reading Writing and Arithmetic, or to borrow Mr Gladstone’s euphemism of later years, the three R’s were taught. But although the “poor and working classes” had little or indeed no say in parish affairs, still we must in fairness give the “Superior Class” who managed public affairs full credit for their very real interest in the education of the poorer children of the parish. Thus we find that the Kirk Session were certainly not indifferent to educational needs of the children whose parents were too poor to pay school fees. The parish schoolmaster was bound to teach all the children of paupers—a horrible name, now happily an anachronism—and the school master at Larkhall also taught a number of poor children. The Kirk Session determined that every child should be taught to read, write and cipher, paid the fees of those who, although not paupers, were still unable to pay fees. In 1835 the “superior classes” in Dalserf to their credit, realised that if education was to keep up with the times government interference would be essential in order to secure a better class of teachers and a more efficient system of education for the largely increased population of the Larkhall district as the provision then made by law was quite inadequate. It was expressly stipulated that new schools erected by government help should be placed under “the control and supervision of the Church of Scotland as heretofore, as that body had long and valuable experience of educational affairs.” A fair view of the conditions existing in 1835 few with a knowledge of Scottish educational history will question the justice of the Church’s claim.  A.B. Ref. Hamilton Advertiser. 7/1/1939. Page. 7.
Wilma Bolton. 2005.   

The clock in St Machan’s was not known to be the best of timekeepers, prompting the following article in the Hamilton Advertiser.:----
To quote my old and dear departed frien’ Willie Stewart, the clock on the steeple at St Machan’s has been a bit ravelt this wheen o’ days or mair. At the beginning of the week the various clock faces appeared to be as united in their indication of time’s fleeting hours as the members of St. Stephen’s discussing the Cabinet crisis, while to continue in Parliamentary phraseology, though north and south made a brave show of hands, the west dial with bare-faced affrontery stared at the world with a look that was both vacant and meaningless. That same evening, curiously enough, St. Machan’s cantrips enabled me to do a bit of fast travelling, a bus which left Charing Cross at six thirty-five landing me at Hamilton Cross at twenty-five minutes to seven. “Lilts and Larks” verses on St. Machan’s clock written nearly fifty years ago, should prove of particular interest to members of the younger generation.
The folk in auld Larkie are angry the noo
An’ a roon about there’s a hullabaloo;
They swear Daddy Time has got donnert or fu’,
For the clock on their steeple is ravelt.
So auld Daddy Time o’ yer daeins’ think shame,
An’ strive in the future your fame to reclaim.
Min’ steady gaun Larkie can ne’er be thehame,
   O’ onything squinty or ravelt.
Put a haun on the dial that airts where I bide*
Put a haun on the face on the “Buffy’s” blin side,
Gar the ither twa donnert anes sink a’ their pride,
An’ let nane o’ the fow’r mair get ravelt.
Ref. Hamilton Advertiser.  5/3/1938. Page 7. Wilma Bolton. 2005.

Though many citizens were unaware of the midnight radio intimation that the war had ended, the glad tidings soon spread rapidly. The bells of Trinity Church rang out the joyous news just after midnight; and hooters and sirens added their quota to the announcement of peace. At the Police Station “Wailing Minnie,” the A.R.P. siren, soon cleared its throat after the initial effort, and struck a rich, clear note in sounding the long-awaited last “all clear.”
Citizens were soon about in the streets, quite a number of them with pyjama trousers showing beneath hastily donned overcoats. By half-past twelve many bonfires were already ablaze. “Bonfires watching” was the chief peace celebration with the older folks, though the younger elements engaged heartily in singing and dancing.
The principal celebration points included Hamilton Road, Harleeshill, Old Cross, Raploch Cross and Strutherhill.
Many groups held victory parties, one at Burnhead parading a V.J. dumpling with musical honours. At the Welfare Hall on Wednesday night a victory dance was sponsored by the C.W.C.F. Entertainments Committee, while the evening’s successful functions also included a concert, relayed by loud-speaker apparatus, at Hamilton Road Housing Scheme. Many districts also arranged parties for the children to celebrate the victory. Ref. Hamilton Advertiser.  18/8/1945. Page 4.
Wilma Bolton. 2005.  
A very serious outbreak of typhoid fever has  occurred in John Street, here, there being somewhere about fourteen or sixteen cases just now. In one instance it has proved fatal, while several are still in a very serious state. All the cases have occurred since the beginning of the year. Being resident with my family in its midst I feel naturally interested in this matter, and have good reason for asking what has the Local Authority been doing to stay its ravages? I am sorry to say I hear of nothing. No extra precautions being insisted upon; no disinfectants being used. The privies and ashpits during this rainy season, are filled to overflowing, and, coupled with the extra mildness of the season, filling the atmosphere with the germs of the disease. All the evacuations from the body are thrown into these receptacles. It was only yesterday I saw taken to the street several carts of manure taken from a pig’s sty, which much have been impregnating the atmosphere and the ground around it with deadly gases for several months, and that, too, within twelve or fifteen yards of a street well that is being used daily by many in the neighbourhood, in fact by all who have been infected. I make no apology for this letter. Such a state of things deserves the severest condemnation. I would suggest that all the ashpits and privies be properly cleaned and the excrements carted away and all such places properly disinfected by our sanitary inspector every day till the epidemic is stamped out. Trusting that they will apply the remedied thorough, and in no second way, to try and ameliorate the present state of things, is the earnest desire of yours, &c., HYGIENIST. Ref. Hamilton Advertiser. 19/1/1884. Page 6.
Wilma Bolton. 2006.
The second ramble of the holidays-at-home week was again under the guidance of Mr William McPheat, M.A. and Mr Matthew Y. McWhirter, J.P. The ramble embraced a walk along historical surroundings. A start was made at the “auld toon” which undoubtedly was the foundation of Larkhall. From 1744 to 1800 marked the rise and progress of the population to the proportion of a village.
The reason why Larkhall had an influx of families at this period could be attributed to several factors. The great trunk road between the Western Highlands and England, via Glasgow passed here, and it was the changing place for the stage coaches plying between Carlisle and Glasgow, while the coaches from Lanark and Strathaven passed along the highway if the auld toon. The introduction of the improved system of agriculture, with the extension of farm boundaries, rendered the lesser or crofter allotments non-existent, and those unfortunate people had to adapt themselves to other trades for a livelihood, Handloom weaving being the staple industry at this period, it was natural that families resident in the outlying parts of the parish should move to a convenient, busy centre. The old school-house situated in the “spaur” with the new school known as Duke Street, called for mention, and the schoolmasters such as Fisher, Caldwell, Stevenson, Herbert, Paterson, Frame and McPheat were worthily noted.
The next halting place was at the Pleasance, where the early venture in building societies had its origin. The first meeting took place at Martinmas, 1914, and the Pleasance Park was secured  as a building site on March 1 a815, consisting of 4 acres 2 roods.
The fue charter was entered into by Mr John Burns, Auld Machan and John Scott, Jasper Davidson, Thomas Teesdale and John Robb, weavers in Larkhall Building Society. The houses were all erected within twenty years, when each tacksman was granted a fue charter. This early venture formed the early beginning of the building society movement, and within the next three-quarters of a century other sixteen societies had completed building operations—thus the designation of the bonnet lards of Larkha’.
The party walked down Gallowhill and entered the avenue leading to Broomhill House, where the belt of trees on either side of the carriageway called for special comment. A wealth of information on the characteristics and peculiarities of the growth, foliage and flowering arrangements proved an entertaining subject of the wonderful work of nature. On reaching the entrance of Broomhill House the traditional story of the commencement of this branch of the Hamilton family was recounted. The date of entry to the estate by John Hamilton was February 16, 1473, and the Hamiltons had an uninterrupted succession for 220 years till 1693. The last John Hamilton was tossed between creditors and William Duke of Hamilton until his brother-in-law paid his debts and relieved the estates. It is recorded of John Hamilton that he was a hearty comrade at the bottle and a searcher for coal sheughs that brought him an advantage.
The first John Birnie of Broomhouse was educated for the ministry and presented to the Church at Carluke. Hr took up his residence at Broomhill after having acquiring considerable wealth. He made a successful country laird, and for many years before his death allotted the tenth part of his yearly income for the needs of the poor. The Birnies occupied Broomhill in succession for over 180 years James Bruce occupied Broomhill towards the end of 1817. He was a native of the “auld toon” who set sail for Calcutta when a young man. Successful in business he returned to his native soil, bought Broomhill estate and settled down as a country laird. He married a Glasgow Merchant’s daughter and had issue of one daughter names Jessie Bruce. James Bruce died on January 26, 1835, and his will led to extensive litigation up to 1847. James Bruce had three brothers and six sisters, so locally there are many families within the district who claim kinsman ship with the laird of Broomhill.
The concluding part of the ramble was a journey to Braehead Park the history of which was related from 1709. Forrest, McMillan, Burns Grier, Cooper, Hamilton and Lambie were owners in succession. The outstanding owner was the Rev. John McMillan (1734-1753) who occupied Braehead during the last nineteen years of his life. He was known as the great Macmillan and ministered to the Cameronians as a “lone scout” during the major part of his ministry. Braehead House was demolished by the County Council when they took over the estate for refuse purposes. It is now laid out as a pleasant park, where the present park ranger from time to time introduces a touch or originality to attract the attention of the public. Ref. Hamilton Advertiser. 1/8/1942. Page 6.

Wilma Bolton. 2005.


In the late 1800’s the introduction of a huge lumbering traction engine hauling coal from the old Raploch Colliery near Braehead to Larkhall East Station caused a sensation in the town. Hands were lifted in horror and it was the topic of conversation for weeks. Villagers tut, tut tutted and spoke of the impending disaster as the engine raced through the streets at less than three miles an hour.
The coming of the traction engine resulted in a dozen horses being sent to the auctioneers and their drivers being put out of work.
 In the 1870’s there were a number of carters working in Larkhall and among them were a few characters. One of them Jamie Nelson was employed by Boyd and Company quarries and builders known locally as “the company.” Now Jamie like the rest of the Larkhall carters was proud of his calling and he was intensely proud of his “pepper and salt” grey horse. This animal was undoubtedly the largest and most spirited horse in the village and a beautiful sight to see as it brought in a load of stone from Broomhill Quarry with Jamie at its head leading it in to the village. Jamie took great pride in his horse and the two of them together were a study in contrasts with Jamie a small made man leading this giant of a horse down the road.
Another of the carters was “Wullie” Millar. Wullie had lost his job when the traction engine appeared on the scene but his reputation as a carter meant he was not unemployed for long. His job was to cart the dross from the old Raploch Bing to the Bleachfield and like his friend Jamie Nelson he was a small made man but never the less he could handle a horse sixteen to seventeen hands high with no bother at all.

Wattie Broon another carter was an entirely different character from Jamie and Wullie. Wattie was much taller and heavier than his two contemporaries and whereas they were both quiet men Wattie was the opposite. Wattie a loud noisy man was employed by Tom Hepburn, Builder and Quarrier and the two of them with the purchase of a horse at Rutherglen fair provided the village with many a laugh for quite some time.
The men purchased a horse from a young man for eighteen pounds and for all intents and purposes the horse looked a strong fit animal. When they returned to Larkhall the horse was looked over at the Smiddy where Wattie boasted that it “could pu’ doon a hoose.” The farrier Willie Watson had his doubts and suggested that it should be tried in the yoke. This done he didn’t take long to prove that the horse was so weak in the back that it couldn’t back a cart over a straw. Tam and Wullie were mortified and the horse was soon sold to some gypsy’s for three pounds.
Gavin Fairservice was another carter but he was different from the previous three as he owned his own horse and cart.  Now this set Guy a cut above the others as he was his own boss and what he gained in prestige in this respect was probably lost on account of the fact that he was ower fond of the drink and frequently in Peggy Cooper’s bar. When his Christian belief’s surfaced he would attend Church on a Sunday and on Monday he stayed away from the pub. By Tuesday he was having a wee drink and by Wednesday he was back to his old ways.  Guy earned his living transporting stone from the quarries to the various building sites in the town. His wife owned several milking cows and had her own prosperous dairy business.

The Bleachfield had a horse traction cart which left Larkhall before five in the morning with a load of finished material. It was nine o’clock at night before it returned.
There were several carters who transported coal which in those days was sold either by the ton or if you could not afford this, five to seven hundredweight would be couped at the door for you. Sanny Buwhannan (Buchanan) and his cuddy “Wattie” could deliver up to seven hundredweight from the Old Raploch or the “Patchy” pits. Sanny had the reputation of having an aversion to soap and water and it was reputed that when he did take a bath he used a saucer.
Among his business rivals were Phil McLaughlin and young “Glessie” Glassford. These two men were by far and away more powerfully built and took orders for up to ten or twelve hundredweights. Larkhall in the 1870’s was a rare wee toon with employment for all. Tradesmen prospered and there were jobs for man servants and maid servants at the “big hoose” Broomhill House and Larkhall Building Societies prospered. . Ref. Hamilton Advertiser.15/7/1933.
Wilma Bolton. 2005.