Scottish slavery – lest we forget

You see a lot of people still banging on about slavery in the UK, despite the fact that in 1838, enslaved men, women, and children in the British Empire finally became fully free after a period of forced apprenticeship following the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.

But they never seem to talk much about the slavery that existed in Scotland.  Half of my ancestors were miners working in shale and coal mines where legally sanctioned slavery operated.  This was a time when at the baptism of a child of a miner, the mine owners could buy them into slavery for life by a system called the payment of “arles”.  MIners were the property of the mine owners until death.

Even when they died, miners were segregated from free folk.  In parts of Fife in the 18th century, miners could not be buried in church graveyards or other consecrated ground and barriers were erected in church so that the decent worshippers wouldn’t have to mix with the miners and their families.  Some churches even had a separate door!

And this isn’t ancient history.  The 1606 Act “Anent Coalyers and Salters” had placed Scottish “coalyers, coal-bearers and salters” in a condition of permanent bondage to their employer.  This wasn’t reversed until the Colliers and Salters (Scotland) Act 1775 which noted that the Scottish coal workers existed in “a state of slavery or bondage”.

Even then it took a subsequent 1824 Act of Parliament, the purpose of which was to “explain and amend the Laws relating to colliers in that part of Great Britain called Scotland.”  Finally, all Scottish colliers were to be free from servitude and were now subject to the same legislation that governed other workers in the country.

So what about a nice apology from the Prime Minister for the institutionalised slavery that bound my ancesters for over 200 years.  I’m sure Robert, my 4x Great Grandfather and Archibald, my 3x Great Grandfather, slaves both, would appreciate it.

Pictured below – a Scots slave collar.  Featured image at the top is my coal miner Grandad, scion of Robert and Archibald, Scottish slaves.



Auntie Famie

Mrs H had an auntie die this week. It was her Auntie Famie.  I never met her as she’s moved to England a long time ago, along with her husband Bob Todd.  I only found out her name was Famie Todd after she’d died, which was downright spooky because I had an Auntie Famie, who married a man called George Tod!  So we both had Auntie Famie (Tod/ds).  Weird.

Anyway, my Auntie Famie was actually my Dads Aunt, so she was my Great Auntie Euphemia.  My Grans’ sister, Euphemia Moore Bell was born on February 5, 1906, in 3 Faraday Place, Addiewell, her father was William and her mother, Mary. She married George Robertson Tod on December 24, 1932 and died on March 18, 1994, at the Eastern General, at the age of 88.

Her Mum died when she was 2 years old, and she was farmed out to her aunt and uncle in Dalzel, Lanarkshire. I mainly lived with her and George from when I started primary school aged 4, up until I got the key to my Mum and Dads house when I was about 9. They lived 3 doors down from us in Temple Park Crescent and as I had a lisp as a youngster, she was always Mamie to me, as I couldn’t handle the letter F back then..

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 George as a young man. He was a violin maker, and had a workshop in his house, as well as playing in orchestras and dance bands.*
Picture 3 shows Famie and George as I remember them in the seventies.
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*picture taken by Drummond Shiels, Photographer, 70 & 72 Lauriston Place, Edinburgh

Great Uncle Charles’ First World War

Charles Moore Bell was my great uncle.  He was born on the 15 Oct 1898 in 19 North Street, Addiewell, which meant he was the perfect age for the First World War.  All 5 foot and 1 inches of him served in the Salonika (today called Thessalonika) campaign in 1917, which you can read about here.

Basically, the Greek Prime Minister asked for British and French hep for the Serbs in their fight against Bulgarian aggression.  1917 saw a fair amount of fighting;

  • The First Battle of Doiran (22 April – 8 May)
  • The Capture of Ferdie and Essex Trenches (near Bairakli Jum’a) (15 May)
  • The Capture of Bairakli and Kumli (16 May)
  • The Capture of Homonodos (14 October)
  • The battle of Tumbitza Farm (17 November – 7 December)

His army record shows that he was there, and that he ended up with the bog standard British War Medal 1914-1918 and the Victory Medal.

The War medal was given to a member of the fighting forces had to leave his native shore in any part of the British Empire while on service. It did not matter whether he/she entered a theatre of war or not.   However, the Victory medal was awarded to all those who entered a theatre of war. It follows that every recipient of the Victory Medal also qualified for the British War Medal, but not the other way round.

It doesn’t say what regiment he served in, but the Salonika campaign seems to have featured the 1/1st Lothians and Border Horse and the Seaforth Highlanders.  The former seems more likely as they recruited locally, and on 11 May 1917, A and D Squadrons formed the XII Corps Cavalry Regiment in Salonika, where they remained until the end of the war.

So he survived that, came home, became a grocer and died 2 years later from TB, aged only 21.  So no happy ending there.

Charles Moore Bell WW1 record

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 – – 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

Mr H goes to Dalserf

Mr H goes to Dalserf

I’ve been to the land o’ ma faithers! Well, my 3rd great grandfather Archibald Hamilton who was born in Dalserf in 1801.

Who begat William Hamilton (born 1821 in Dalserf – 1873) who begat John Hamilton (1852 – 1922) who begat Alexander Hamilton (1883 – 1968) who begat Alexander Walker Hamilton (1922 – 1980) who begat me!

This is Dalserf today, and you can follow the photographic journey through the wilds of Lanarkshire via 6 trains and 3 buses here..

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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.