by Tom Frew ex-Lambertons now living in OZ.
Alas a worthy 19 th century resident of a town now called Coatbridge but formerly Cottbrig. Who but a few would recognize her name albeit a poet worthy of being compared to the Bard himself? There is a Janet Hamilton Memorial Fountain adjacent to the West End Park.
A descendent of a Covenanter Janet Hamilton born in 1795 in the parish of Shotts but eventually lived with her parents in the weaving village of Langloan in 1802. Her parents were land labourers on a farm in Drumpellier estate. Most, if not women in particular would well understand the road to female suffrage in Scotland but even more so was the lack of education. So how then could a comparatively illiterate attain the status of a recognized Scottish poet?
From all accounts Janet
Hamilton was a
herself to read but not
write until her middle
years. According to some
journals she went on to
Shakespeare, Burns and
other worthy poets and
writers. Married at 13
years of age Janet
Hamilton raised a family
of 10 children of whom
from receiving her
Needless to say the fear
of God ensured that the
Bible and words from the
catechisms had high
priority in the
In a similar vein to the Burns, Janet Hamiltons poetry reflects the realities of urban hardship of her era. Again like Burns she did not have much time for humbug and pretence but compiled her poetry of life as seen through her eyes. Most would agree I think that compared with the greats, Janet Hamiltons poetry to the purist might lack sophistication and indeed like all self taught individuals the lack of a formal education probably becomes apparent in some of her writings. Nevertheless there is an intrinsic integrity in her poetry that cannot be denied.
Somewhere in the Old Monkland cemetery Janet Hamiltons last resting place could be found. According to a published article by the Monklands Library Services Department on her tombstone are the words inscribed, She being dead yet speaketh. Does she lie forgotten now?
As a footnote it should be appreciated that in Janet Hamiltons lifetime there was no such place as Coatbridge. Burgh status some 100 odd years ago created that name. The maps of 1750 reflect a place called Cottbrig a small steading where the Glasgow / Airdrie road crossed over the Gartsherrie Burn.
It has been written that famous poets and writers of her era visited Langloan to converse with Janet Hamilton. One wonders about the conversation and indeed the dialect difficulty?
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.
When 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 allo me to jauk or rebel.
O licht was my heart, an licht were my heels,
Whan, dune wi the birrin an bumming owheels,
I skelpit aff, barefit, the hie road alang,
Wi, a hap, stap, an loup, an a lilt o a sang.
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 Jamies we cam,
At the sign o twa Hielanders takin a dram;
Then auld cadger Johnies [we cad him Saut Jock],
Four mae bits o dwallins, an no money fok.
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 o John Jamiesons raw,
Whaur in at the winnock the roses were keekin
An four bonnie lassies were needlin an steekin.
An the looms they war rattlin an blatherin awa,
For in that wee shoppie the websters war twa-
Jock Thamson an Jamie, a son o the house,
An wow but thae callins 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 poets I wad revel and dream,
For Milton an Ramsay lay on the breast beam.
At auld aunties winnock, whaur the hour-glass aye stood,
I aft keekit in eer I dared to intrude,
For a woman both gracious an godly was she,
An the Bible ye seldom wad miss aff her knee,