Janet Hamilton was born at Carshill in the moorland parish of Shotts, on the 5th October, 1795, and died on the 30th October, 1873. A descendant of John Whitelaw, the convenanter from Stand, her maiden name was Thomson and she was the daughter of James Thomson, a shoe-maker. When she was three years old she moved to Hamilton.
In the year 1802 her father, finding his health beginning to fail from over-confinement at his trade, moved to the weaving village of Langloan where he and his wife worked as land labourers on the home farm of Drumpellier estate.
Her father resumed his trade about 1804 and had his shoe-maker's shop in Bank Street opposite the Old Monkland Parish School, now the Headquarters of Coatbridge Health and Strength Club. He was a member of the village subscription library, so his daughter had access to a fairly wide range of reading material. She had taught herself to read by the age of five and, in spite of a busy domestic life, she went on to read Milton, Shakespeare, Ramsay, Rollin, Fergusson, Burns, and Macneill, as well as the Spectator, and the Rambler.
James Thomson employed a young man, John Hamilton, to assist him in his business and, on a cold February morning in 1809, John and Janet walked into Glasgow and were married in the High Street and walked back home, Janet being only thirteen years of age. Janet records that, on the morning of her wedding, John had in his breech purse a Spanish dollar worth four and saxpence or sae and she had a bawbee and a grey lintie. She commenced writing for a magazine called Cassels "Working Mans Friend" when she was about the age of 54, having recently taught herself to write.
In one of her best prose papers, entitled "Sketches of A Scottish Roadside Village, Sixty years ago", she informs us of the customs, manners, and many of the characters in Langloan, of the movements, customs and general behaviour of the inhabitants of Langloan. "Oor Location" is indeed an indication of the changes that took place in the village in the previous 60 years.
Janet Hamilton had 10 children, seven sons and three daughters, and she taught all of them to read, beginning with the alphabet and then words from the shorter catechism. Their first reading lesson was St. John, chapter one.
Janet Hamilton House
John White Collection
The hallmarks of her poetry are simplicity and sincerity. She emerges as a person of independent spirit and highly developed moral sense. While condemning the evils of drink, she extols the virtues of the poor people among whom she lives. The harsh realities of her life bred in her an ironwilled contempt for sentimentality and humbug alongside a genuine sympathy for real misfortune. Self taught as she was, her work lacks the breadth of perspective and the polish afforded by a formal education and betrays some of the dogmatism of strong inner vision, but marks her out as a woman of powerful intellect, imagination, and character.
Throughout her long life she had never been more than ten miles from her own home and never had seen the sea. Amongst those who came to Langloan to visit her were the son of the Italian patriot, Garibaldi. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the writer of Uncle Tom's Cabin, was another admirer. Her eyesight began to fail and she became blind in 1866.
Courtesy of CultureNL Museums & Heritage
She died on 30th October, 1873, aged 78 years. A service was held in the Free Church, Langloan, prior to burial in the Old Monkland Churchyard. On her tombstone are the words "she being dead yet speaketh" indicates that, through her writing, we can still appreciate the good works of this fine old Christian Woman, who expressed the wish that the line "A sinner saved by grace" should be engraved on her tombstone.
A Wheen Aul' Memorie
By Janet Hamilton
Wi' my haun on my haffit I sit by the fire,
An' think that for nocht I hae sic a desire
As to gang my auld gates, and see my auld places,
To hear the auld voices, and see the auld faces.
Whan a gilpy o' nine I was set doon to wark
At the auld spinnin' wheel, an' frae morning till dark
I spun, for my mither was thrifty an' snell,
An' wadna alloo me to jauk or rebel.
O licht was my heart, an' licht were my heels,
Whan, dune wi' the birrin' an' bummin' o' wheels,
I skelpit aff, barefit, the hie road alang,
Wi' a hap, stap, an' loup, an' a lilt o' a sing.
There was Willie the wabster, an' Tammy the douce,
At Merryston Brig they ilk ane had a hoose;
An' there wasna anither 'twixt that an' Coatbrig
But twa theekit dwallins, laigh, cozy, an' trig.
And syne ower the brig to auld Jamie's we cam,
At the sign o' twa Hielanders takin' a dram;
Then auld cadger Johnnie's, (we ca'd him Saut Jock),
Four mae bits o' dwallins, an' no mony folk.
Noo, min' what I tell ye, its sixty years lang
Since Coatbrig was juist what I said in my sang;
On the south o' the road wasna biggit a stane,
An' the hooses I speak o' they stood a' alane.
Then up the auld road I gaed scamperin' awa,
Weel kent I the gate to John Jamieson's raw,
Whaur in at the winnock the roses war keekin',
An' four bonnie lassies war needlin' an' steekin'.
An' the looms they were rattlin' an' blatterin' awa,
For in that wee shoppie the wabsters war twa-
Jock Tamson an' Jamie, a son o' the house,
An' wow but thae callans war cantie an' crouse.
It was there my young fancy first took to the wing;
It was there I first tasted the Helicon spring;
It was there wi' the poets I wad revel and dream,
For Milton an' Ramsay lay on the breast beam.
At auld auntie's winnock, whaur the hour-glass aye stood,
I aft keekit in e'er I dared to intrude,
For a woman baith gracious an' godly was she,
An' the Bible ye seldom wad miss aff her knee.
Puir crummie the cow had yae haf o' the smiddy,
In the ither auld John had his bellows an' studdy,
Sae the cow chow't her cud while she glower't ower the hallan
At John, who was rosy an' fresh as a callan.
Ilk mornin' an' e'enin' was heard the sweet psalm
In that laigh hamely dwallin', an' saftly an' calm
Fell the dew o' the Sabbath on labour an' strife,
An' their souls war refreshed at the fountains o' life.
Noo they're a' in the mools, an' there isna a stane
Left o' the auld biggin', son Jamie's his lane;
Wi' the tear in my e'e, an' a pow like the snaw,
I mourn for the days an' the folk that's awa.
Ye kenna, my cummers, ye never can ken
That my heid an' my he'rt, baith the but an' the ben,
Are fu' o' aul' memories. The ghaists o' the past,
Sum greetin', sum lauchin', cum thrangin' an' fast.
Whan we cam to the clachin', I min't like yestreen,
The hawthorn was white, an' the birk it was green,
An' the wild flouris war blumin' sae sweet to the e'e,
An' the bonnie May gowans war white on the lea.
An' the wuds o' Drumpeller war ringin' wi' glee,
An' the bairns thro' the plantins ran fearless an' free,
For the laird an' the leddy baith liket to see
A' things roun' them happy o' ilka degree.
An' nurses wi' bairns in white cleedin' wad glint
Thro' the trees, an' the wild, gentle laddies ahint
Wad cum, an' wi' chasin', an' racin', an' sang,
Gar the wild echoes ring the green wudlins amang.
There's nae simmer days like the simmer days then,
Sae bricht an' sae bonny they lay on the glen;
O the wannerin' Luggie, that wimplet sae clear,
Thro' hazle, an' hawthorn, an' rose-busket breer.
An' the notes o' the mavis an' blackbird wad ring,
An' the gowdspink an' lintie fu' sweetly wad sing
In the green braes o' Kirkwud; sic a walth o' wild flouris,
I never saw onie sic bird-haunted bouris.
But it's 'sixty years since,' the aul' gentles are gane,
An' o' the wild laddies few left to mak' mane.
Twa dochters, gude sain them, are yet to the fore,
But bonny Drumpeller they've left evermore.
Noo, neebors, ance mair, wi' my stick i' my haun,
I'll tak' to the road-to the northward I'm gaun,
For that was the airt I best liket to gang,
Ere the cares o' this wearifu' warl' grew thrang.
Oot-ower the auld brig, up to sweet Simmerlee,
Sweet, said ye?-hech, whaur?-for nae sweetness I see;
Big lums spewin' reek an' red lowe on the air,
Steam snorin', an' squeelin', an' whiles muckle mair?
Explodin', an' smashin', an' crashin', an' then
The wailin' o' women an' groanin' o' men,
A' scowther't, an' mangle't, sae painfu' to see-
The sweetness is gane, noo it's black Simmerlee.
It was sweet Simmerlee in the days o' langsyne,
Whan through the wa' trees the white biggin' wad shine,
An' its weel-tentit yardie was pleasant to see,
An' its bonny green hedges an' gowany lea.
I min' weel the time when a bonny young brlde,
Cam' to sweet Simmerlee mony years there to bide,
An' a flock o' fair bairnies grew up roun' her there:
The dearest was gallant young Donald, the heir.
O! wha wad hae thocht sic a fate wad betide
Young Donald, wha perish't that nicht on the Clyde,
Whan the knell o' the Comet rang far ower the wave,
An' she sank like a stane-there was nocht that could save!
There was greetin' an' sabbin' in sweet Simmerlee,
An' the dule an' the sorrow war waesome to see,
For Donald he was the a'e son o' his mither,
An' his titties lang mourn't the fate o' their brither.
Noo I'll dauner awa' up by Carlincraft Burn,
An' roun' by auld Hornock I'll tak' a bit turn,
Sae lown an' sae lanely that wee cosie neuk,
To think what they've made o't I canna weel bruck.
The auld warl' dwallin' had a muckle clay brace,
An' a lum whaur the stars glintit doun i' yer face
As ye sat by the fire; to the blue licht abune
Ye micht glower through the reek at the bonny hairst mune.
There was Carlincraft Jock an' his queer tittie Meg,
Wha caret'na the warl' nor its fashions a feg,
Jock's hoose had nae door but a stane prappit broad,
Roun' whilk wad come snokin' slee Lowrie the tod.
Noo the bodies are gane, an' their dwallin's awa,
An' the place whaur they stood I scarce ken noo ava,
For there's roarin' o' steam, an' there's reengin' o' wheels,
Men workin', an' sweatin', an' swearin' like deils.
An' the flame-tappit furnaces staun' in a raw,
A' bleezin', an' blawin', an' smeekin awa,
Their eerie licht brichtenin' the laigh hingin' cluds,
Gleamin' far ower the loch an' the mirk lanely wuds.
Noo, mark ye, the ashes, the dross, an' the slag,
Wad ye think it was they put the win' i' the bag
O' the big millionaires, that 'mang danners and cinners,
The Co. should ha'e gather't sic millions o' shiners?
Yet sic is the case, an' lang may they bruck
The gear they ha'e won, they've had mair than gude luck,
They've gi'en kirks, they've gi'en schules, an' gude pay to their men,
May Gude gi'e them gumption their wages to spen'.