Mr H goes doon the pit

A mere 27 years since he last worked doon a pit, Mr H returned on his works day oot in 2011. You can see photos of the day oot over here – http://www.stuarthamilton.co.uk/doonthepit/ – a cracking day made all the more real by the array of Hamiltons, Bells and Walkers who spent their whole working lives slaving away tae make a living.

Lady Victoria Colliery, Newtongrange

Doon The Pit

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Mr H Goes To Carnwath

Way back in ye olde days, when my Dad got his first car – a second hand Austin 1100, in a delightful shade of bottle green – he used to go doon to Carnwath 4 or 5 times a year. He had aunts and uncles there on his mothers side, and it pleased him to drive on what were quiet country roads to visit them. He wouldnae go doon the lang whan, as he liked to detour via West Linton, where he would stop the car, and wax lyrical about how he planned to retire there, as it was his favourite village Ever.

Then he’s put his flask of tea away, and head off to Carnwath. Now, back in the 1800’s, his mothers family lived in Haywood, a prosperous mining village a couple of miles outside Carnwath. However, like many others, the closing of the mine slowly killed off the village, and where there was once 1200 people with their own Co-op, there’s nothing left bar a lonely war memorial. All the buildings were broken down, and the stone used to build houses elsewhere.

Haywood War Memorial
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As the miners moved on, one lot of the family moved to Carnwath, and the others (my Dads lot) headed East to Breich, Fauldhouse, Addiewell, West Calder and Polbeth. But he was delighted to be able to visit his family, now he had a car, and from about the age of 5 till I was about 9, it was a regular weekend outing. Of course, then he became too ill to drive very far, and it all stopped.  So, for the first time in 35 years, I went back for a look.

It’s a lot less pretty than I remember, and the council houses my relatives used to live in are mingin nowadays. But that’s what 35 years of neglect will do. However, there is a nice wee church, a cracking bakers, a cafe through the back of the paper shop, and public toilets that are still open. I had a good wander, thinking back to being a bairn, and there’s a slideshow of picture over here.

Main Street, Carnwath
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Train and bus to Carnwath
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Hamilton miners: Woodmuir Colliery, West Lothian

A large number of the Bells and Hamiltons ended up working in the now derelict Woodmuir Colliery near Breich in West Lothian.

Thanks to the power of the internet, there is a selection of photos available here.

Here’s one of them, as an example;
Woodmuir CollieryIf you would like to see more about coal mining in the Lothians then I would heartily recommend “Mining The Lothians” by Guthrie Hutton, which you can get on Amazon.

If you want to know about shale mining, which is what the Hamiltons did before they dug for coal, then try “Shale Voices” by Alistair Findlay.  It’s also on Amazon, although not a particularly easy  read.  However, despite it being a huge industry, employing 10,000 people at its peak, it’s Scotland’s forgotten industry.

Polbeth and West Calder, November 2009

So, I finally summoned up the courage to retrace my family routes in the wilds of West Lothian. And, let me tell you, it doesn’t get much wilder than Polbeth on a November afternoon. Thankfully, the train station at West Calder is one of the ones that has been reopened, so Day Saver in hand, and off I went.

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When I arrived in West Calder, it was blowing a wintry gale, but the sun was shining, so I decided to save my £1.20, and walk the couple of miles down the road to Polbeth. Now, it’s been a long, long time since I was in this part of the world. Barring my Uncle Wullies funeral in the early nineties, when I got a lift there, I hadn’t been back since before my Dad died in 1980.

In my head, though, I knew exactly where I was going. I’d been so many times when my grand-parents, Alexander Hamilton and Mary Dawson Bell had lived there. Add on the number of visits to my Dads Auntie Kate and Uncle Wullie (Catherine Logue Bell and William Linton), and I had no doubt that my feet would just follow the route.

So why didn’t I recognise anything. Granted, there is nothing in Polbeth. And by nothing, I mean nothing. A garage, a couple of wee shops, a primary school and some splendid views of the shale bings.

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But nothing seemed familiar as I walked down the main road. Now I don’t know if it’s early onset dementia, but it took me 10 minutes to realise that it was because everything was backwards. See, when my Dad used to drive his prized second hand Austin 1100 to Polbeth, we came in from Edinburgh. But I’d got the train. And walked back towards Edinburgh. Which was why Chapelton Grove was nowhere to be seen on the left hand side. Because it was on the right hand side. Idiot.

Having established that, I decided to nip down past the school to the house where my Grandparents lived in the sixties, in Burnside Avenue. I was very young when we used to visit here, as my Gran moved to Edinburgh, to live with my Uncle Ian (John Sorely Hamilton), a couple of years after my Grandad died in 1968.

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They lived in virtually the last house in the street, and this was where my Dad, Alexander Walker Hamilton, set off from to marry my Mum, Grace Muir Robinson. It’s the middle door in this picture.

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Then it was back over the main road to head for Auntie Kate and Uncle Wullies. Strangely, my feet led me right to the shortcut inbetween the houses that I’d used a hundred times back in the seventies. Chapelton Grove is a cul-de-sac, and rather than walk round the long way, we’d nip up the path which led right to Auntie Kate’s front door. Now, this was weird, as it felt just like yesterday, although I can’t have been here since 1979. The lived in the keyhole of the cul-de-sac, and Uncle Wullies garden hut was right where I remembered it. Although I assume it’s a new one, just visible to the right of their old house.

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If memory serves, Auntie Kates son, Robert Linton, lived in the same street, on the right hand side somewhere.

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Naturally, being Polbeth, the rain decided to descend, so I jumped on the bus to go back into West Calder. Incidentally, any furriners reading this, the locals pronounce Calder as Cothar. Go figure.

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Now West Calder isn’t that big, but that doesn’t stop it having three churches in the main road. United Reform Church, Church Of Scotland and Roman Catholic. Here’s the Catholic one, just to get my Wee Free Gran turning in her grave.

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There are reminders of what used to be, everywhere.

Here’s the Masonic Hall.

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This is the West Calder Co-operative Society clock, erected in 1884.

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And here’s the memorial that was added after the Burngrange mine disaster in 1947.

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This is the library.

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This is the main street looking West.

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And looking East.

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It was an odd day, as I had some pretty vivid memories of being there with my Dad, doubly odd, as I can think of no reason why I will ever return. But it was nice to see places I associate with good times.

The Hamiltons

My Dads family, the Hamiltons fae Breich and Polbeth.

Back row – Mum, Auntie Molly (Keepe), my Dads sister. Middle – Great Uncle George (Tod) and Great Aunt Euphemia (Famie), my dads aunt. Front row – early hat potential, probably very early seventies.

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My Great Uncle George (Tod) who taught me to swim, took me to the pictures and, along with my Aunt Famie, looked after me as a wee boy, pictured centre, in front of the drum, playing with the Edinburgh Senior Citizens Orchestra at Dalry House on April 22nd 1974.

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A Famie and George special. George and Euphemia Tod were my Dads aunt and uncle. Euphemia (Famie) was my Grans sister. They didn’t have any children of their own, but looked after me, when I was at primary school. They lived 3 doors down from us in Temple Park, and I spent most of my early school years with them.

Picture 1 shows Famie as a young woman, with my Dad, and his sister Molly (Mary) and brother Ian (John), probably in either Breich Terrace or Addiewell, in the twenties.   Picture 2 shows Famie and George as I remember them in the seventies.

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Here’s a few photos of relatives from years gone by.

This is me and my Grandad, Alexander Walker Hamilton, in the back garden at Polbeth, probably about 1967.

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Here’s Uncle Wullie and Auntie Kate with my Great Aunt Euphemia Moore Bell in the same back garden, also in the mid-sixties. I spent a large part of my childhood in Great Aunt Euphemias flat in Edinburgh, as both my parents worked, and she and her husband George Tod were childless. They were remarkably good natured considering they were in their sixties when a three year old was thrust upon them for the next five or six years, until I qualified for my own key to the front door. I couldn’t pronounce Euphemia of Famie as everyone in the family called her. She was always Mamie to me.

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Going back in time, this is Mamie as a young woman, surrounded by assorted members of her family, the Bells, probably in the nineteen twenties, in Addiewell, West Lothian.

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Here’s Mamie, with what is probably her Auntie Kate, (Catherine Toner nee Bell 1852 – 1939) who Mamie lived with after her mother died when she was 2, leaving her miner father with 12 children, hence why they were farmed out to family members .

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Here’s another batch of Hamilton / Bell photographs which mainly came to me via my Great Aunt Euphemia (Mamie) and my Uncle Ian.

This is my Auntie Molly (left, born Mary), my Dads sister, with her mother, my Gran, Mary Hamilton, nee Bell.

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This is Mamie in the back green at 17 Temple Park Crescent, with one of her nephews (either Bill, John or Alex, with unknown dog. We lived in No 11 when I was a wee boy, but with my Mum and Dad both working, I spent most of time at Mamies or playing in this green.

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This is Mamie with A N Other and my Auntie Molly (centre).

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This is Mamie, Euphemia Tod nee Bell, with her husband George Tod, in Princes Street, Edinburgh, opposite Binns, where my Mum worked years later.

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And this is my Dad, Alexander Walker Hamilton, with his Mum, Mary Dawson Bell, in the bottom left corner.

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Here’s three more photos that came from Mamie (Auntie Euphemia) via my Uncle Ian (John Sorely Hamilton).

The two solo pictures are of the same girl, probably Mamie. No idea who the two boys are, although they’re from the same batch, so it must be two of her nephews. The one on the right looks like my Dad, Alex Hamilton, so the one on the left is likely to be Ian or Bill, the other brothers.

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Here’s another couple of Hamilton photographs;

The first is my Grandad, Alexander Hamilton, taken in Polbeth sometime in the mid-nineteen sixties. He died in 1968.

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And here’s one of my Auntie Molly (Mary Moore Hamilton, my Dads sister), daughter of Alexander Hamilton and Mary Dawson Bell , who was born 30 November 1924 in Breich, Addiewell, West Lothian. She died November 2000 in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. From the uniform, I would guess this was taken in the forties.

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Here’s a wee Mr H in the back green at West Saville Terrace, Edinburgh where my Uncle Ian (John Sorely Hamilton) had a tied cottage at the industrial laundry he was boilerman at. The cottage had a steep garden which ran down to the railway line, and was perfect for growing tatties on. My Uncle Ian is seen here with his ever present pipe.

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Here’s my Dads cousin, Jean Marshall Linton getting married to Thomas Peuthere Hamilton (no relation, fingers crossed) in 1954 at West Calder. The bridesmaid on the right is another cousin – Euphemia Bell Linton – who was named after my Mamie, my Great Aunt Euphemia. We used to visit Jean and her family in Polbeth a lot. Euphemia Bell Linton was known as Fay, and I remember being taken to see her when she worked at Woolies in Lothian Road, in Edinburgh. Fair play to Fay, who married for the first time when she was 73 (in 2002)!

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Here’s a a very rare picture of me, my Dad (Alexander Walker Hamilton), and my Uncle Ian (John Sorely Hamilton), in the vegetable patch at West Saville Terrace – Ian had a tied cottage, which went with his job at the large industrial laundry he worked at. After my Grandad (Alexander Hamilton) died in 1968, my Gran, Mary Dawson Bell, moved in, staying there until she died in 1980.

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