THE LOST BELL FORM THE HAMILTON TOLBOOTH.
HAMILTON’S LINK TO ITS PAST IS FOUND.
On the 2nd of January 2017, I published the story of the Hamilton Tolbooth. During my research, I found that the bell from the Tollbooth, was salvaged from the demolition of the historic building, that was first built in Hamilton in 1642. The bell was recovered and it then disappeared, with its whereabouts unknown.
That was until July this year, where after I made a few enquires, I managed to track down the link to Hamilton’s past that still survives and I am happy to say is still in Hamilton.
Firstly, let me tell you about the demolition of the Tolbooth Bell Tower, and my reason for going on the hunt for the Tolbooth Bell. The last surviving section of the Old Hamilton Jail was the bell tower wherein 1954, it was demolished for safety reasons when a man, who was looking at an inscription on the wall, suddenly fell through the red ash gravel that was beneath his feet.
The Cadzow Burn, which ran through a culvert, had started to come close to the foundations of the bell tower due to erosion and underground mine workings. After an investigation from a council official – who made a quick decision, deemed the bell tower unsafe and there was a possibility that it could subside and collapse. A decision was made at the time to demolish the old tower, but after further tests were done, it turned out that the tower was in a sound condition and it could be prevented from being demolished. There was an attempt made to have the building taken over as an ancient monument, but the cost of the repair work being prohibitive.
As you can imagine, this would have cost the Hamilton town council money, and as it was cheaper to demolish the historic building, they pushed ahead and approved the demolition and a date was set.
The Tolbooth was finally demolished on the morning of Thursday the 21st of January 1954, when a charge of 25 pounds of gelignite exploded at the base of the old Tolbooth steeple and sent it tumbling to the ground.
Its fall was witnessed by scores of people, some of them within the Palace grounds and others at vantage points in Castle Street, Muir Street and even in Cadzow Street. To set the appropriate funeral note, one of the workmen climbed to the belfry and for about half-an-hour until 11:18 a.m. tolled the Bell. As this sound, has not been heard for several years, the attention of many more people than would have watched was attracted.
The steeple came to rest exactly where expected, with the weather vane which for so long had topped the proud and once-handsome tower at the foot of a small tree. It had been feared that the rubble might block the course of the adjoining Cadzow Burn and that part of the stone culvert might collapse with vibration, but only a little of the stonework entered the water, and the culvert remained intact. Surprisingly little rubble fell in Castle Street.
When the bell tower crashed to the ground, all the locals – including the children, ran to it and they started to take little souvenirs from the 312-year-old building.
The remains were examined immediately after the demolition, the clock bell was seen nesting among the masonry, and it was still intact. The bell bore the inscription “Thomas Mears, London. 1802.”
I discovered that the bell from the Tolbooth was later earmarked to be installed at the Municipal Buildings (The Hamilton Town House & Library) as the old bell from the Townhouse was sold to a Glasgow firm. It was unknown if this did happen, or if the bell went to the Hamilton Museum. This got me wondering what has happened to the bell.
The bell was never documented where it went – I made a few enquires, firstly at the Hamilton Town House and then at the Museum, where no one knew about the story of the Old Hamilton Tolbooth Bell. I was left thinking that the bell was taken from the demolition site and its whereabouts lost forever.
I thought it would be worthwhile going back to the Hamilton Town House and asking if a trained member of staff could have a look in its bell tower to see if it was there, and a few weeks later and much to my delight, I received a message on our Facebook page telling me that it was found.
The link to Hamilton’s past has been discovered at the Hamilton Town House and to confirm it is the same Bell from the Hamilton Tolbooth, the Inscription reads “Thomas Mears London 1802”. It appears that after the demolition of the Tolbooth, someone in the Hamilton Town Council made the correct decision to house the old bell in the Townhouse.
I am really pleased that the bell has been discovered, but now I know it is here, it has got me thinking about its historical significance to Hamilton!
I am asking myself, should the old bell from the Hamilton Tolbooth, which is now 215 years old, be sitting open to the elements?
The Hamilton Tolbooth and its bell tower were another lost piece of Hamilton’s rich history, which was taken away from us and the more things that we can find to tell the story of Hamilton’s past should be preserved and looked after.
I now would like to see the bell removed from the Bell Tower of the Townhouse, restored and put on display at the Hamilton Museum. In modern-day Hamilton and to the best of my knowledge, the Townhouse building doesn’t have any need for a bell and if there was a need for bells ringing, then surely a loudspeaker could be housed in the tower.
In the meantime, perhaps an arrangement could be made with the Hamilton Townhouse to ring the bell one day and let the people of Hamilton hear a sound that all of our Ancestors regularly heard from the year 1812 onwards.
Written by Garry McCallum