Historic Hamilton By Garry L McCallum
Historic HamiltonBy Garry L McCallum 



In the mid-1980’s a group of travellers came to Burnbank with their horses, waggons and vans. They were the last known group of Tinkers to come to Hamilton as they were being phased out and forced to live in council houses.

For hundreds of years, Tinkers have passed through not only Hamilton but all over Scotland using old roads and forgotten by-ways. They were also known as the Summer Walkers, as they settled in an area for winter and travelled in the summer days. 
There are many different types of travellers, they are Irish, Romany, Gypsies, and Scottish Tinkers and just like the Royal family and British hierarchy, they all keep to their own kind with cousins marrying cousins and a strong family marrying into another.

This group of Tinkers however and for some reason unknown to many never moved on in the summer. They set up their Tinkers Camp at Greenfield and they stayed at Burnbank for longer than most of the residents wanted them to.

In the old years, the Scottish Tinker was welcomed every summer by many generations of housewives and Farmers alike. They were very hard-working people and when they came to town they brought their trade with them.

The men were great Tinsmiths and they made and mended pots and pans, they made spoons and forks and anything that could be used in the kitchen, the men would make these scullery objects.

They also made Baskets and worked on the Farms, so once a year they had repeat customers and the Tinkers wives were great Hawkers, who went around the doors selling their Husbands goods, the Tinker women also earned money by reading palms and selling lucky white heather.

If the Tinker family were in town, then the Farmers welcomed them and either gave them land to pitch their bow tents or in the colder days, they were offered a barn to sleep in.

However, this was in the old days and when you could now buy ladles and kitchen utensil’s cheaper than the cost to repair it, the Tinkers trades went out of fashion. The tractors on the Farms got bigger and there was less need for hard manual labour.

The family of Tinkers whowere camping at Greenfield could all have been from the same one, however, it is likely that they were different families.

Most of the Tinkers at the camp were hard-working people, but it was also known that there were thieves among them and from time to time, the travellers clashed with the residents of Burnbank and fighting among them was common.

The police were called to the Tinkers camp many times by Burnbank residents and some of the alleged offences were urinating in the street, noise making at night and many other things. The environmental health board were sent for on many occasions and each time they attended the Tinkers Camp, they were chased off by brute force and dogs.

The Hamilton burgh police were also accused in February 1985 of turning a blind eye to the goings on at the Camp and a headline in the Hamilton Advertiser read “The law has gone soft on Travelling People”. A local councillor got involved to try to have the council disperse the camp but at the time the government had a policy of non-harassment of Travellers, which prevented the Police using their full powers to move the camp on.

The site at Greenfield where the travellers camped was deemed an illegal site, but nonetheless, they were never moved away from it.

So, the residents of Burnbank thought that the Tinkers were there for a long stay! One weekend in the middle of February 1985 and without notice, a mass exodus suddenly had taken place! The Tinkers had all packed up and left the illegal Greenfield Camp Site.

Of the 18 caravans pitched there, only four remained, following what was understood to be a dispute between the Traveller families.

The police reported that at the time of their departure, there had been no reports of a disturbance or any crime connected to the dispute, which involved two families.

The future of the controversial traveller’s colony was in doubt and it was not known when the four other remaining caravans were to move. There was also a dispute between Strathclyde Regional Council and the local authority as to who actually owned the land. (I bet today, there would be no argument as to who owned a bit of land, no matter its size!)

There was a proposal put forward to allow the remaining travellers to stay at Burnbank until a new legal campsite became available at Swinhill in Larkhall that Summer.
The district council agreed on the condition that the region provides toilet facilities on the site and when the travellers eventually move off Greenfield, the site had to be fenced off to prevent any of them returning.

The management of the adjacent Lanarkshire Bolt works Ltd also made complaints about the Travellers interfering with the water main in the area and turning the main entrance to their premises into what one executive described as “an Ice Rink” with possible risk of injury to its employees.

So, the last of the travellers finally packed up and left Greenfield and moved on to their new premises at Larkhall, where I’m sure some of them still remain to this day. But they did leave us with the memories of how this old way of living was still in existence even in 1985.

We would love to know what your memories are of the Travellers who lived in Burnbank? Or even better, do you have any pictures?

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© Garry McCallum