Published in the Hamilton Advertiser on the 3rd June 1966.
Agnes writes about James Mackie the town Chamberlain, Edith Forbes of the library, Sweet the painter, and the famous “Black Doctor” of Regent Street who mad snowfire ointment a household word; plus a number of “Weel Kent” faces in the vicinity of the old Town Hall, now demolished to make way for the £2m shopping precinct at the New Cross.
One can see the face of Hamilton changing day by day as buildings are demolished and streets wiped out. Often, and for too long, there is an aching void into which associations disappear leaving no trace behind. But past and present are inseparable, so while the new town spreads and lifts its head to the sky, let us pause and pay a tribute to the old and to those worthy citizens of yesterday who helped create the Hamilton now passing.
Death, whether of person or place, is always sad and the sharing of poignant memories is both an outlet for emotion and a memorial to the dead.
As i watched demolition squads at work in the area around Holmes Street, the floodgates of memory open and i saw myself in the Burgh Chamberlain’s office being served by Mr James Mackie, senior. He was the epitome of efficiency and pleasantness and one sensed that the finance of the burgh was in capable hands. The office was small but showed character and solidarity. One distinctively felt that here, if anywhere, communal interests were safe, and that their custodian did not take his responsibilities lightly. His work was his life.
Outside again, I crossed the street and followed Mr Thomas Cameron, secretary of the Glasgow chamber of commerce, into his mothers comfortable little house. Mt Cameron was married but the bond of love between mother and son was a joy to behold. Over afternoon tea, I heard stories of big business on the one hand and words of praise and adoration on the other. He made a conspicuous figure as he cycled with a pole and pail from job to job. At present his son-in-law carries on business from the workshop.
The shop of Sam Pollock, another-well known name, is also no more where it was but Mr Pollock has been lucky enough to secure the premises in Chapel Street which were formerly occupied by Jean Frame.
The window of the supermarket in Regent Street shone clean and bright but I did not see the goods displayed. Instead I saw in memory twenty people surrounding the stance of the Black Doctor who was demonstrating his corn cure on the foot of a man obviously the worse of drink. The drunk was the only spectator bold enough to take off boot and sock and he kept the crowds hilarious as the doctor accidentally tickled the sole of his foot.
The doctor sold a variety of medicines, including a rub for rheumatics, pills for all ills, and a sure cure for baldness. Quite a number swore by his remedies and returned regularly to obtain further supplies.
Although the doctor made his own compounds, he introduced one man to snowfire. It proved so effective for cracked lips and chapped hands that he recommended it to his workmates. It was used unfailingly thereafter by every stonemason in Hamilton during the winter months. It was easy to apply and cost only 2.5 pence a block.
FROM FARM TO FAIR
Continuing down memory lane, I passed the corner pub outside which Jock, and Jennies from the Fair danced with joyous abandon. They led a hard tough life and a day away from the Farm was freedom indeed. It was “Feeing Day” and perhaps a new job would bring greater happiness.
Most of the lads sported a “Monkey” in their caps and their pockets bulged with bottles and coconuts. The Jennies too were laden with articles their partners had won for them. The music and noise from the showground was deafening so I turned into Allen Place and found sanctuary at the Yuills.
From their parlour window I could see Mrs Forbes and her children in the garden opposite. Mr Forbes was the local inspector for the prevention of cruelty to children. The cruelty Man, as he was called, had to deal with many pitiful cases and his work taught him to be a shrewd judge of character. His wife survived him and lived till well over ninety, being ably taken care of by her daughter Edith who was admirably suited for her job.
On fair days and at the weekends, the Regent Street of past, saw many Street Hawkers, their barrows piled with fruit. One hawker called Paddy Sinclair came out with his float from Glasgow every Friday and did a roaring trade. His bonnie red-cheeked wife could wheedle an order from any man while Paddy had a way no woman could resist.
Gazing beyond the cars parked on the derelict I pictured the shop of James Sweet, affectionately called the lightning painter and the poor man’s friend, because he was quick reliable and kept his charges moderate. He was always in a hurry…..