Tales and Incidents of Family History; heard round the fireside when a boy by James Cuthbertson

Note: According to the 1891 Census of Stonehouse, James (5) lived at 38 Townhead Street with his father James (37), mother Elizabeth (31), brother John (8), sister Isabella (3) and grandfather John (84).

Commonplace as those tales are, they are true, and I hope they give pleasure to some of the family and relations who have never heard them.

I will start on my mother’s side. My mother’s grandfather, John Brown, came from Lesmahagow way and lived with my great grandmother, Isabelle Patterson, in Townhead Street where Kirkland’s joiner shop now stands. Isabelle Patterson, his wife, had a pet name, usual to a lot of Scotch names, she was widely known as Tibbie Patterson. She came from farmer stock, or maybe I should say crofter’s stock. The Patterson’s stayed at Dykehead. This must have been a croft near Dykehead Farm before the farm was built. One day I was talking to Mr William Gilfillan, the owner of Dykehead Farm. I asked him if he knew anyone by the name of Patterson who had ever tenanted this farm. He told me there were no Patterson’s named on his title deeds, but there used to be a small croft near here and they may have lived there. So I think the croft was near what is called the Blaeberry plantin’.

There were thick woods around here at that time. One day the Pattersons saw a strange man who seemed to be living in the woods. He wore grey clothes and he was very shy, but eventually they got talking to him and he proved to be a deserter from the soldiers. They took pity on him and took him in for a time and gave him food and other clothes.

The Pattersons were related to George Hamilton, the man who built Glenburn, his wife’s name was Marion Patterson. The Hamilton’s of Greenburn at the present time are related to George Hamilton.

How long the Pattersons stayed at Dykehead I do not know, but next we find them at Cander Mains and from Cander Mains Tibbie Patterson gets married and comes to Townhead Street to live. Her husband, John Brown, is a miner and there seems to be not many pits in this district at the time, for he works away from here and stays in lodgings. He works at a pit in Jerviston near Lanark and every fortnight or so she goes on foot to meet him, to get his dirty clothes and his pay. The miners are paid every month at this pit.

One night as she was coming home alone in the dark, she took off her shoes, her feet being sore with walking, and went in her stocking feet, and well for her that she did so. Walking past Jellows Bits field, that is the field below the Farrel o’ Cake plantin’ on the same side, she heard men’s voices and they were quarrelling among themselves. She was very frightened for she had her husband’s months pay, but she walked in her stocking soles on the grass and so escaped detection. When she came into Stonehouse, it was in an uproar, as old pedlar with a lot of money had been waylaid and robbed.

As far as I know, they had two of a family, Isabella and Betsy. Isabella, my grandmother, got married to James Carruthers and Betsy got married to William Hughes and lived across the street to where No.11 is now.

James Carruthers was also a miner and often worked far from home. In fact, I have read a letter of his to his wife, which my mother had and he says he is working at a pit in England. But James Carruthers had a failing, he had a passion for poaching and would go away for long spells with dogs and gun without caring much for his wife and then young family of four, three girls and a boy, their names being Bella, Jeanie, Elizabeth, my mother and John. This caused great hardship for them all. He went far and wide with his poaching, sometimes away to England and France. It is thought that he was one of a poaching gang. Well one day he went away and never returned. There were several theories of what must have happened and one was that he had been shot or killed in a fight with a gamekeeper.

This caused greater hardship on Tibbie Patterson, now herself a widow. John Brown died with miner’s trouble, commonly called ‘ a feed o’ damp’. He tried to eke out a living with buying a horse and fruit cart, but he was not fit and passed away after being nine years in trouble. My mother was eight years old when her mother died, the result of hardship and malnutrition.

At the schools at this time, the scholars had to pay fees. Of course my mother couldn’t pay them and she told me the time she dreaded was ‘ the paying of the fees’. The Dominie or Schoolmaster Mr Wotherspoon, would shout out in a loud and sneering voice – “Come out you paupers” and she and the rest who were poor had to go out to the floor and stand and face the class and her comment to me was “Wotherspoon was not a nice man”.

Time goes on and Tibbie Patterson falls ill, she was a thrifty soul and with her house and money she had saved several hundreds of pounds, but she made no will. Betsy going out and in told her never to bother, she would see justice done. Well that was all the justice that they got, Betsy took the lot. Possibly my mother and sisters were too young to realize what had happened, but they were not left long in doubt. As they got married, there never was an ‘outputtin’ for any of them. An ‘outputtin’ is an old custom of the parents giving a start in life to their family when they marry, buying furniture, beds, clothes, crockery, etc. When Betsy’s family got married, she had four, they all got good ‘outputtins’. Nevertheless, they remained friendly until old Betsy died, then my mother and her sisters demanded their fair share of their grandmother’s money. Getting no satisfaction, they raised a law suit and received the house at No.11 Townhead Street, valued then at forty five pounds.

At the same time as the law suit is going on, a tragedy is being enacted in Townhead Street. Betsy’s daughter, Bella, was married to Mr John Thomson. They had lived away from Stonehouse for a long time, but had come back because of ill health of Mr Thomson. With Bella working at the weaving and a pension and insurance, they managed to live and save a little money, but he wanted to be rich quick for he started gambling on the Stock Exchange and lost all their life savings. Whether they quarrelled I know not, but Bella went with a very solemn and strained face then. However, one very stormy night with wind and rain, Thomson shot his wife then shot himself.

Now I come to my fathers side. My grandfather, John Cuthbertson, built this house and came to live with his wife Rachel Ballantyne at 46 Townhead Street. He wrought to the farmers as a spadesman, he also was a weaver. The farmers in those days employed spadesmen to dig the ground that the plough couldn’t take – corners, next to fences, margins, etc. He was employed with one William Letham of East Mains Farm and about this farm there is a story.

One of the Lethams, possibly the father of William Letham, was a very notorious character and when he died there was a storm of wind so awful that it became known as Letham’s Wind. When the seasons came round to about the time of his death, the old folk of Stonehouse used to whisper to one another ‘Letham’s Wind’ if there was a severe storm. To give an idea of the storm that night, the bell of old St. Ninians Church in the graveyard was blown away. It was found by a fisher at the side of the River Avon about a quarter of a mile away. The fisherman who got the bell was Tom Brown, the father of old Tom who stayed at the milestone in Townhead Street.

Either before or after he was married, my grandfather had a job driving a brewer’s cart. His district was from Lanark and along Clydeside. At the end of each day he got a cupful of whisky and he used to say  “It was just like sweet milk, grand stuff”. Whether he was born in Stonehouse, I do not know, but his folks came from the south.

He tells of two uncles who stayed at Biggar. One of them was exceptionally strong, he could lift a laid of meal under each arm and walk away with it. A laid of meal is 2.5 cwts, so he must have been ‘pretty hefty’ to carry 5 cwts.

Over most parts of Scotland in those days there roamed bands of tinkers and vagrants, who stole and plundered from the villages and many were the fights between the villagers and the band and it is told that these uncles did great work at the fights between them at Biggar.

The time of those aforesaid happenings would be the latter part of the 18th century, somewhere about 1770-80. My grandfather was born in the year 1807 or 1808 and my grandmother in the year 1809. He was a great reader and used to sit with a candle to the small hours of the morning. When I was a boy, I used to go up to the loft where his old books were kept. There was a cart load of them, among them being Wilson’s Tales of the Borders, Scotch Worthies, Sermons and a lot of religious books. However, they were all musty by this time and they were gradually cleared out and burned.

When working at the weaving, he had to go to Glasgow for webs and material. There were no railways or buses to Stonehouse in those days, so he set off on foot to Glasgow and often carried a web on his back

– 40 miles – some walk.

At this time criminals were hanged in public. Pritchard was to be hanged in Glasgow and thousands of people thronged there, among them my grandfather. He watched the hanging and said he never saw so many people in his life.

This was also the time of the body-snatchers, Burke and Hare. The townsfolk had to organise patrols to watch the graveyard after someone was newly buried in case they got lifted. Grandfather was sometimes on these patrols. He said they walked round the graveyard with guns the whole night. The method the snatchers used was this: they had spies to visit the graveyards in the day time and report if there was any newly upturned earth. There must have been a lot more than Burke and Hare in this business, for after a certain number of days, the grave was unmolested, the body having decomposed and was unfit for medical research. There is no record of any ‘liftings’ from Stonehouse graveyard. An attempt was made one night, but they were spotted by the patrol. The snatchers scattered in the dark, but one was followed and he was caught in a drain or culvert that crosses the road near the Geordie-flight hill. Some man was looking in this drain, thinking someone might be there, when he heard a click and in the drain he was. The click was the closing of his tobacco box. He had opened his box and taken out a chew of tobacco.

Rachel Ballantyne, my grandmother was a very well living and religious woman. When she was a young girl, 10 or 11 years old, she was employed by a farmer’s wife hereabouts as a nursemaid. She told of a great snowstorm then. They awakened one morning but they were snowed up. The snow reached the eaves of the houses, so they managed to get a door open and took a blanket and pressed the snow back. When they got out, a calf-house near the farm was completely covered and everyone thought that the calves would be smothered, but they took the blanket and fell on it and pressed the snow down till a track was made to the calf-house. The calves were all alive and none the worse for their burial.

Work got scarce for the weavers in Stonehouse and many families faced starvation, among them my grandmother’s family, by this time a big one. The Authorities had a meeting and it was settled that the weavers, both men and women get 1/- per day for reclaiming Lag’s Moor. This Moor was at the far side of Dykehead Farm just opposite the Blaeberry Plantin’.

Another incident in the life of Rachel was when work being slack one day she hadn’t a bit of food or a penny in the house. She had no prospects, but something urged her to put on the kail pot with water. She went for the pot and while cleaning it out, she found a shilling in the bottom of it. She always maintained that God had put it there or caused it.

George was the oldest son, It was he who planted the plane tree at the top of the garden at No.46. He was a quiet unassuming man and after getting married he went to live in Green Street. At the side of Green Street is the Common Green, used by the people for washing, bleaching, drying, etc. how it was I do not know, but the Green had to be fenced in and a barricade made with railway sleepers placed along the side of the street. Naturally this made the people angry and, headed by Uncle George, they tore down the barricade and fence during the night which had been erected in the day time. This went on for a time and was then abandoned. The Common Green was left to the people of Stonehouse.

That George had courage there is not doubt, for although not an elected member, he walked into a Parish Council meeting and sat down. When asked what he wanted, he said he was there to hear the meeting. For this he was summoned to Hamilton by the Council. The judge who tried him gave the Council ‘over the coals’ and said “The man has a perfect right as a ratepayer to enter and hear the Council”. These things probably made him popular, for he stood as a Councillor later and topped the poll.

Now this history has mostly been of my ancient forebears and relations. Finally, I’ll make a change and go to the other extreme in the person of Doreen Thomson. She is my niece’s one year and nine months old daughter. She sits and plays on the rug at my feet and talks to me in her delightful baby’s prattle. If you ask her name she says “Dodo Toe”, but she can say hundreds of words clearly. She gets into all kinds of

mischief and when I speak to her she just laughs. Well Doreen’s mother’s grandmother’s grandmother was Tibbie Patterson……………..such is life.


I am amazed that all this information is recorded! I have read tales heard around the fireside by James Cuthbertson (b May 9, 1885). I saw the original document which was a small note book and was in the possession of my Aunt Doris Thomson who has since passed away. Doris was the daughter of Elizabeth Cuthbertson (b. August 30, 1900). Elizabeth was James Cuthbertson’s (b.1885) sister. My grandmother is Rachel Cuthbertson (b. Feb 28, 1899) and her sister Isabella (Isa) was born December 1, 1887 and died at age 100. My mother attended my Aunt Isa’s 100th birthday in New Port Richey, Florida. Doreen, who is mentioned as playing at James’ feet at the end of the story is now 60 years old and lives in England with her husband. Doreen is the daughter of my Aunt Doris. Doreen has been to my house here in Florida and my family has been to the UK to see her.

Cuthbertson family:

James Cuthbertson (bJan 13, 1854)

Elizabeth Carruthers (bApril 9, 1859)


John (b. Feb 9, 1883)

James (Jimmy) (b. May 9, 1885)

Isabella (Isa) (b. Dec 1, 1887)

Robert (b. June 29, 1892) died WWII George (b. Oct 3, 1895)

Rachel (Retta) (b. Feb 28, 1899) (My Grandmother and was named after her grandmother Rachel Ballantyne) Elizabeth (b. Aug 30, 1900) (died in Stonehouse 1996 while living on St. Ninians Street)

Thanks so much for a copy “Tales heard round the fireside’ !! It is great reading!!!! Larry Harbach

Jensen Beach, Florida