A Villager Remembers

Janet Murray

Janet Murray was born in Dalserf on 14 March 1899, and lived in the village most of her life. In 2001, her son and daughter-in-law, John and Agnes Murray, interviewed her about what life was like when she was growing up. At the time she was born, my grandfather Andrew Shaw was seven years old. Both children worshipped with their families at Dalserf church. And both attended Dalserf school at the same time—­between August 1904, when Janet Murray began school, and December 1905, when my grandfather left school to immigrate to America.—Ed.

Domestic Life in Dalserf Village, c.1900


I was one of a family of six, four boys and two girls. Each had three sets of clothes: Sunday best, school, and play. Tailors based in Larkhall visited the village and measured the boys and menfolk for suits. These were of very high quality. Sunday suits were very carefully folded and put in

the kist [chest] under the bed along with the washed shirts. These were ironed on Saturday evenings in readiness for church on Sunday; the minimum of work was done on Sundays. Young ladies wore black skirts and white blouses for church. Many of these were home-made on the sewing machine or created by a local dressmaker.

Washings were done weekly. Each family in the village had its separate washday and shared the drying green situated down towards the burn [stream]. There was a wash house with a cast-iron boiler heated by coal.

Sunlight soap was cut up and used in the boiler. There was a huge mangle [pressing machine]. The family helped to turn the handle. It was used for all items, except those with buttons. Sheets and towels were pressed when they were almost dry.

Electricity did not come to Dalserf until the 1930s.

The Heart of the Home

Everything around the village was kept so clean, including the houses—inside and out. The kitchen was the main living area. There was a scrubbed table, kitchen chairs, and a fireplace where all the cooking was done. Large iron pots were used over the open fire. They were suspended on a swee [swivel]. There was an iron kettle of hot water over the fire at all times.
The house I was brought up in had a scullery where all the dishes and pots were kept. There was a large stone shelf for keeping milk and butter cold.

Our family always said grace before meals. We would all be round one table. Eventually, with children growing, there was a separate smaller table where those round it said their own grace.

There was no running water in the village, and all water for drinking and cooking had to be carried from a spring in Smiddy Brae, about a quarter of a mile away. This spring water had its own unique taste as it was not chlorinated.

Water for personal washing was obtained from rainwater barrels. White Windsor soap, which came in a long bar, was cut into sections for personal washing. Sanitation was in the form of dry closets located outside the house. These were regularly cleaned out and waste removed.

The house was cleaned once a week and the wood floors scrubbed. Soft soap was used for scrubbing floors. This was rubbed on the scrubbing brush. The home-made rag rugs were shaken against the graveyard wall to clean them. New rag rugs were made each year in time for the New Year. Eventually, linoleum became available for covering floors.

Our Daily Bread

Fruit and vegetables were grown in people’s own gardens. We grew raspberries, strawberries and gooseberries, as well as onions, leeks, carrots and potatoes—everything we needed. There was also room in these gardens for flowers such as climbing roses and gowans [daisies], and for herbaceous [flowering] borders.

There were no shops in Dalserf. The butcher and the bread man delivered their goods in spotlessly clean horse-drawn vans from Larkhall. Scones and pancakes were made at home. We drank lots of milk from the dairy. Sour milk [buttermilk] for baking, with the fresh butter floating on top, was obtained from the farm. The farmer Mr Fleming sent fresh butter to our family for helping him to right any stooks [bundles of drying grain] which had got scattered on a blowy day.

Newspapers were delivered from Crossford, along with everyone’s favourite, Abernethy biscuits [cookies].

Once a year the bees at the village were transported to the nearest heather moors. The bumps on the road made the bees very angry, and the workers had to be extra well protected when freeing them. When brought to each house, the honey was pressed in a wooden box in a warm atmosphere. Some was kept on the comb.

Earning A Living

The main industries were coal mining, agriculture, fruit growing and some stone quarrying. Scotts of Carluke was the largest of the jam manufacturers and was supplied by local fruit growers. The Fleming family who farmed at Auldton, about a mile up Smiddy Brae, rented the haugh [flat ground] situated alongside the river beyond the church, where they grew wheat and oats.

In the springtime, open brakes [wagons] came from Glasgow bringing people to see the plum, pear and apple blossoms. [The blossoms were so prolific that one writer said the hills appeared to be covered with snow.—Ed.]­­

Coal and Coffins

Coal was used in all fires. My grandfather John Ritchie was a carter who delivered the coal. A Clydesdale horse pulled the cart. He also did flittings [house removals] and delivered beer barrels to the local pubs. In his spare time he was also the gravedigger.

My father, too, drove a horse and cart. In the winter, when the River Clyde froze (to a considerable depth), he drove loads of coal over the ice. Winters a century ago were much colder than they are now.

The village joiner [furniture maker] Hugh Gray, who lived in the Old Mill, made all the coffins for the area. These were carried by two men to the appropriate house. Everyone stood with bowed heads as they passed, even though the coffins were empty. On the day of the funeral, my grandfather and father brought the wreaths to the graveside—usually white flowers with greenery. I helped arrange them in order, the wife’s or husband’s at the head of the coffin and the rest according to the closeness of the relationship. The wreaths were watered daily. I had a little watering can for this.

One of my brothers was a joiner, and one was a blacksmith.



The nearest primary school, which I attended, was Dalserf school, situated about a mile from the village, up the Manse Brae. Schooling began at the age of five and continued there until age twelve. At that time the children transferred to Shawsburn school, situated on the Edinburgh–Ayr road, about a mile and a half from Dalserf. School-leaving age was at fourteen. Children walked to both schools as there was no transport. There were no uniforms, but children had separate school clothes which they changed out of when they arrived home.

Boys and girls went to school together. You were always to do your best. English was very well taught in the schools by clever young men and women. You would bow to your teacher. And it came very naturally to you. We never talked back. Sometimes the boys would do something [improper] and then they would get a strap on the palm of their hand.

At lunchtime, each child ate a piece [snack] brought from home. In the winter, when I was at Shawsburn School, my mother arranged with one of the villagers there to provide me and others of my family with hot soup at lunchtime. Drinking water was provided in a bucket with an iron cup attached. We were given homework, of course. I was always very keen to get it done in order to help my mother: I peeled the potatoes and prepared the vegetables for soup.

Slates were used for school. We had a sponge or cloth for cleaning them.


On rainy days we played in the stable. We climbed up the ladder and looked down at the horses. We would pass bundles of hay down to them. The two horses we kept were called Maggie and Kate. Then my brother Laurence bought Charley for £15 (a lot of money in those days). Charley would refuse to go to the stable until my mother gave him a piece, probably with jam. Once Charley was very poorly after an accident—he kept scraping his hoof on the ground. My mother gave him a piece, plus an apple. He gave a nichter [neigh] and only then went to the stable.

We also played down at the burn [stream], where we would choose our favourites from the lovely stones. These were used to play peevers [hopscotch]. You drew six different squares on the pavement and then kicked the flat stone from one square to another.

We gathered wildflowers from a vast variety and put them in jam jars when we got home. In the autumn, we picked brambles [blackberries] for jam-making.

During Glasgow Fair week (workers were not paid for this holiday), the pit ponies from the coal mine in Woodside were brought out to a field. The children all went to see them.

Skipping ropes was always a favourite, especially at playtime at school. Apart from the usual outdoor games such as hide-and-seek, indoors we had the still-popular board games such as ludo. The girls had dolls, of course. The boys played football [soccer]. There were not many toys. We always had pets—cats or dogs. We had a simple, happy, safe life.

Church Life

In the years between 1816 and 1937, there were only three ministers at Dalserf. At the turn of the century, the minister was the Reverend Dr William Peebles Rorison, who served from 1851 to 1907. He was followed by the Reverend Dr William Barclay, who died in 1937. The services at Dalserf church were held at twelve noon, and this practice has been continued ever since. The Sunday school was held in the Rosebank Hall, which was built by Lord Newlands. The Woman’s Guild was formed in the late nineteenth century.

There was a very good choir in the church. A harmonium provided the accompaniment. Lord Newlands later gave an organ to the church, and the harmonium was given to my grandmother, the caretaker of the church. The organist and precentor [choir director] both came from Stonehouse. They cycled each Sunday and were never late. Choir practice was held once a week.

The silver Communion cups were given to Dalserf church in 1701 by the Duchess of Hamilton [Anne]. Eventually, the Communion vessels became too thin to clean and were replaced. The old ones are still owned by Dalserf church.

My family has been involved with Dalserf church over many generations, my grandfather and father both being beadle [church officer]. The family were responsible for cleaning the church on a weekly basis. Prior to each Communion, the wooden floors were scrubbed, after which all the doors were kept open to allow them to dry out.

The Gentry

Folk always bowed when the minister, or a teacher, or one of the laird’s staff passed by. The staff were treated almost like the gentry themselves.

Dalserf Estate

The owners of Dalserf Estate lived in Dalserf House (now demolished, having been undermined by coal workings). The family was named Campbell Hamilton. In the late nineteenth century, following the death of the laird from pleurisy, in Ireland, the heir to the estate (the laird’s sister) married a curate of the English church in Hamilton by the name of Henderson. He was obliged to take her name, Hamilton, and the family then became Henderson-­Hamilton. The surname reverted to Campbell Hamilton after the death of the curate. There were two sons of this marriage, Charles and James. The former married the sister of the laird of Brownlee (a house situated across the Clyde on the road to Law). Charles and James were commissioned in the First World War and both were killed in action. Charles’s daughter, ­Elspeth Mary Campbell Hamilton, inherited Dalserf Estate on the death of her grandfather.

My mother and grandmother looked after the hens on the estate. There were also some turkeys. I was terrified of one in particular—it hated the colour red. I was wearing a red dress one day and it saw me. The laird’s two sons were nearby, and Master Jim ran and told my ­father that ‘Jetty’ was crying. I was duly rescued. I was about three at this time.

The Isle of Man Dub was low-lying ground between Dalserf House and the River Clyde which became flooded during winter. [Dub is a stagnant pool.] A pipe connecting this area to the Clyde could be opened and closed for flooding. When frozen hard, this area was used for skating and curling. A few women and children skated, but only men participated in curling.

Mauldslie Castle

Lord Newlands (William Wallace Hozier), after whom the suburb of Glasgow known as Newlands was named, lived in Mauldslie Castle, situated on the other side of the Clyde between Dalserf and the adjoining village of Rosebank. This was not really a castle, more a large mansion house. There were coal fires in all the rooms. There were always many guests.

Occasional guests at Mauldslie Castle were Lord Newlands’ brother Colonel Sir Henry Montague Hozier and his family. The colonel’s daughter, Clementine Hozier, later married Winston Churchill. They would attend Dalserf church, sitting in the Mauldslie gallery, which was ­located upstairs facing the pulpit. On one occasion, Churchill left his Bible on the ledge. Word was sent to my mother and we all searched. Actually, it was found in the space under the ledge, as I recall, by me. A footman was sent from Mauldslie with the great man’s sincere thanks.

Lord Newlands’ son, James Henry Cecil Hozier, was the second Lord Newlands. He and his wife, who had no children of their own, gave the prizes for school and Sunday school.

I remember seeing my first car at Mauldslie Castle before the First World War. It was a Rolls-Royce and belonged to Lord Newlands. I was about five or six and I could not ­believe it! The laird of Brownlee also owned cars. Only the families and friends of the gentry came to church in cars.

Once a year there was an ‘Open Day’ at Mauldslie. There was milk from the dairy, games, and swings on the trees. At night there was a band from Carluke. All the maids and gardeners were at the dance. Everyone watched. Lord and Lady Newlands sat waving to people passing by, and all bowed to them. On a wet day, the entertainment took place in the riding school.

There were six housemaids at Mauldslie, as well as table maids and butlers. There were also eight gardeners. The staff were very content and well looked after. Those of the staff who were far from home came often to visit my mother. A Rosebank woman ran a bothy [servants’ quarters] where the gardeners were housed. She did the cleaning, washing and cooking for them. The gardener had his own house.

One of the gardeners at Mauldslie had a serious accident and could no longer work. He had a family of five—three boys and two girls. The mother ran the post office at Rosebank. As well as stamps, they sold cheese, sugar and flour. The eldest son, who was in the Territorial Army and also a gardener at Mauldslie, wanted to find a better job as his mother worked so hard. A job was advertised for Glasgow Green, a public area in the Bridgeton area with playing fields and a bowling green. He applied and got the job. He started on the Monday. War was declared on the following Sunday. He was called up right away and was killed in action.

Mauldslie Castle was demolished between the the First and Second World Wars.

See “Janet Murray” for a biographical sketch.

July 2001

About the Author

John Murray, MA, LL B, who died 24 August 2007, was born in 1929 in Waterloo, near Wishaw, the son of Janet and John Murray, of Dalserf. After his education at Hamilton Academy and the University of Glasgow, he completed his National ­Service. In 1955, he married Agnes Armstrong at Dalserf Parish Church, where they had their first date. Before his retirement, John was secretary to the general trustees of the Church of Scotland and assistant head of personnel at S.S.E.B. (Scottish Power). Agnes was born in Larkhall in 1930. After her schooling, she trained as a secretary and was employed by Philips Electrical Ltd until her marriage. The Murrays lived in Hamilton, where Agnes still resides.