The story below was written for Historic Hamilton by local author & Historian Wilma S Bolton. Wilma tells us of her time growing up in Mill Road, she talks about the a time in her life when she was a wee girl and she shares her childhood memories from the Cosy Corner.
The above photograph shows the bottom of Mill Road, Hamilton before it was widened by the removal of the site of the old Cadzow Colliery mineral railway line. The walls were the entrance to the avenue of large mansion house which we called Laighstonehall House. Originally known as Eddlehurst, it had been one of six large country mansions built by rich Glasgow merchants who wanted to distance themselves from the smog and dirt of the city. The house at one point became the home of the Sir John Watson second baronet of Earnock and the birthplace of his son and heir John who was killed in action aged only nineteen years in WW1.
Eddlehurst, like the other five mansions, sustained a lot of damage from subsidence due to underground workings and it was eventually divided into flats and let out to families. I used to play with a girl called Jacqueline Preece who lived in one of them. The floors were so uneven I felt seasick when walking across them. You were either walking uphill or downhill. Part of their flat was what seemed to me to be a large ballroom. It was void of furniture more than likely because it would have taken a kings ransom to furnish it. The house was built on the site of an ancient mill hence the name Mill Road. The mill lade can still be seen in the burn just up from the Cosy Corner.
Heading up the Mill Road and next door to Eddlehurst stood a large wall enclosed scary looking house which we referred to as McAffer’s. The family who lived there in the 1940/60s sold tomatoes grown in their large greenhouses. My mother used to send me to buy tomatoes and I would take my friend Wilma Alexander who lived next door the very short distance down to buy some. The doorbell of the house had a huge brass handle and we were scared to pull it in case we were hauled in by our necks and murdered. All the woodwork inside of the house was varnished dark brown and the inhabitants were Mrs McAffer, a small, genteel, pleasant woman dressed in black, her son Dr McAffer and a small exceptionally thin and scared looking daughter dressed in grey whom we all called Miss McAffer.
During one of our tomato trips Wilma dared me to pick a tulip from their garden on the way out and I was easily persuaded. Big mistake! Dr McAffer who must have been watching us from the window came charging out of the door like a man possessed and we took to our heels and ran. He grabbed me out in the street and shook me so hard that I wet myself. My mother heard me screaming and what followed was an altercation over him shaking a 5 year old untill she wet herself with terror. I don’t remember if I ever went back there. Perhaps I was banned, but somehow I don’t think so. We needed the fresh tomatoes and they needed the income from the tomatoes because as my mother said “they were poor rich”. Tammy Larkin a coal merchant who lived directly across the road from our prefab rented their garage for his coal cart and the stable for his horse.
There were another four merchant’s houses further up Mill Road, two of which are still standing. One is across from the back of St Anne’s school and is known locally as “The Majors” after a major who lived there many years ago. Its original name was Ivy Grove and at one time was the property of a lawyer named Hay. It was a lovely house inside and outside when I was in it in twenty five years ago, but it had historic subsidence damage as have many of Hamilton’s fine old buildings.
The first house on entering what is now known as Graham Avenue was called Hollandbush House and it was eventually purchased by the Church of Scotland to be the Manse for the South Church and it remained so for many years. It is now privately owned.
The next one was a twelve roomed house called Oakenshaw and was the one time home of Mr Colin Dunlop, jnr., coalmaster and iron smelters at Quarter village. It was also purchased by Sir John Watson Ltd, coalmasters and was eventually divided into flats and demolished sometime in the mid 1950’s.
Fairview was the last of these grand country houses and it again was bought by Sir John Watson Ltd, Coalmaster, to house his general managers. If only walls could talk for this house could have told many a tale as it was the site of a lot of unrest during prolonged strikes at Eddlewood Colliery.
The wealthy Glasgow merchants who built these houses to live in fresh unpolluted air could never have foreseen what was in store of them. They had quite literally gone out of the frying pan into the fire. New collieries were soon being developed almost on their doorstep and a busy mineral railway line running parallel with Mill Road was transporting coal at all hours of the day and night. The area became a mecca for thousands of people moving to Hamilton looking for jobs in the coal mines from all parts of Britain, Ireland, Germany and Eastern Europe. Conditions eventually became worse than living in Glasgow due to the smoke and pollution belching from the numerous colliery chimneys and locomotives. The stench from the raw sewage and pit waste being poured into the once beautiful Cadzow burn running behind the houses must have been quite overpowering. The peace and tranquility of their country residences vanished and all six houses were eventually sold and their original owners no doubt moved on to where the air was sweeter and there were no miners tunneling under their homes.
I had a wonderful childhood living in our wee prefab at 133 Mill Road. With two burns almost on our doorstep we spent many hours swinging on long ropes hanging from the trees, playing at “Dokies” (jumping the burn and generally running wild) and guddling for brown trout. The sewage from Eddlewood Rows was by then channeled into sewers the collieries had closed and the burn was a lot cleaner. We frequently fell into the water and we would go to my friend Marjory Laird’s granny dripping wet. Marjory lived with her and she was a woman who loved to see children enjoying themselves. We stood in front of her fire drying our clothes and then I could go home. My mother wonderful as she was, drew the line at me falling in the burn.
In early autumn we would light fires on a piece of wasteland behind the prefabs and which we knew as the “hutchard”. We roasted potatoes dug up with our bare hands from Mr Shearer’s garden. His daughter Alice used to cry in case he would find out but poor Alice’s pleas and tears were ignored. The smell of burning wood still brings back vivid memories of these nights for not only me but for friends who shared the experience. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realised that the “hutchard” must have been part of what had been the old Fairhill colliery and would have been the site of their hutch yard where they stored hutches used for transporting coal.
Autumn was a great time for us children. We watched the chestnuts getting bigger and threw sticks at them hanging out of our reach in the trees at the entrance to Laighstonehall House. We spent hours kicking piles of leaves over hoping to find any big shiny chestnuts which had dropped from the trees. We also collected what seemed to me like countless hessian bags full of fallen leaves for my father to turn into beautiful leaf mould for the garden, an autumn ritual which I still continue to this day. When my own four children were small I would waken them about six o’clock on a weekend morning if strong winds had been blowing during the night and off we would go down to the Cosy Corner searching for chestnuts and they just loved it and they all remember the excitement of finding one. I believe the origin of the name Cosy Corner was an Italian immigrant called Cocozza who used to stand every weekend at the junction of Mill Road and Bent Road selling flowers to people walking to Wellhall and Bent Cemeteries. When asked if he was not cold standing there he replied “no it is a nice wee cosy corner.” He eventually bought a piece of land and opened a shop and cafe called it the Cosy Corner.
The Mill Road was a magical area for children because there were so many different places to play. Even on the old Cadzow Colliery mineral railway line where the trains were still running. I suspect that they were used for the dismantling of the colliery after it closed on the 29th December 1945. We used to put pieces of broken glass on the line while we were walking up it on the way to Low Waters School and they were powdered when we came home. As I did not go to school until 1949 or 50 it may well have been used for other purposes.
I inherited a love of nature from my father and I spent many hours looking for birds nests. I vividly remember lying on top of the raised mineral railway lines with my hand reaching down into a hawthorn bush where there was a blackbird’s nest, when out of the blue I felt a hard tap on my shoulder. I shot to my feet with my heart pounding out of my mouth and found it was the local beat constable. “What are you doing on the railway line?” “Looking for bird’s nests.” “Your name?” Wilma Russell, “Are you Jimmy Russell’s lassie?” My father knew everybody! I confirmed I was. “Away up the road or I’ll boot your erse, you shouldn’t be here” and I was off like the wind.
Childhood flies so quickly away and too soon it was time to earn a living. I worked in a Glasgow office for two years and then went to work in Phillips factory on the Wellhall Road after my father died. At seventeen I was really only a wee lassie and my route to work was down Mill Road to the Cosy Corner and then on to Chantinghall Road. It was a very dark road and scary at half past five in the morning. On a foggy winter’s night it was even worse. I used to take to my heels and run like a greyhound from the last house in Mill Road to the end of the houses on Chantinghall Road. On a back shift I ran the same road but from the other end. I was petrified as there was frequently the inevitable flasher hanging about in the trees. A female police officer (Laura Thorburn) who became Hamilton’s first female detective used to walk the road in an attempt to catch him. Laura was a tall slim blond and he would have spotted her a mile away and try as she did, she never did catch him; but for me somehow, that childhood haunt lost some of its magic.
The wonderful people of this area contributed so much to my happy childhood. Mr and Mrs Alexander in the next prefab were good people and Mrs Davidson in the end one taught me how to tell the time while sitting at her kitchen table and her border collie dog Sparkie went everywhere with me. Even down to Ballantyne’s pig sty which was just across the road from the entrance to the Bent Cemetery and where I always went in to see the piglets on the way down to my father’s plots; now Mary Street. Sparkie never could resist rolling in the pig manure. The Larkin’s were a lovely family as were the two Lithuanian families the Bodwick’s and the Smiths living next door to them. Mrs Bodwick used to let me help collect her hen and duck eggs from the henhouse. She was such a lovely kindly woman and she always called me Velma and would press a threepenny piece into my hand whenever she met me after we moved from Mill Road to Bridge Street when I was about eleven. Good days, good neighbours and lovely memories.
Wilma S. Bolton ©