Janet Hamilton

Other names: 
Janet Thomson
d.o.b.12th October 1795 died 27th october 1873

Janet Hamilton was a poet and author who lived in what is now Coatbridge in the 19th century.

She was born Janet Thomson in Shotts in October 1795, in a house that was a remnant of an old farm steading, named Carshill.

Her father, James Thomson was a shoemaker and was a well read man with a keen interest in politics. Her mother’s name was Mary Brownlee.

Janet was fifth in descent from John Whitelaw, who was executed at the Old Tolbooth in Edinburgh, four years after the battle of Bothwell Bridge, in which he had taken an active role as a supporter of the Covenanting principles.

By the age of five she had learned to read using the Bible, and continued the practice of reading it each morning until she left the house to be married.

By the age of eight she had begun to read the works of Milton and of Allan Ramsay, and soon moved on to the works of Shakespeare, which displeased her mother as she would have preferred the young Janet to focus solely on the Bible.

By her early teens she had exhausted the village library.

By the age of 14 she was married to John Hamilton, her father’s employee in his shoe making business. They had 10 children, only seven of which survived into adulthood. Whilst nursing her young children she often sat, child in one hand, reading with the other, and it was said that she had a special hole in the wall in which she would secrete her copy of Shakespeare, lest other villagers be offended by its heretical status.Although she had composed several pieces of work before the age of 20, mainly religious in nature, it was only in her fifties that she taught herself to write, leading to the development her strange and distinctive self-taught handwriting. At the age of 54 she started to write for the ‘Working Men’s Friend’ magazine.

In her later years she became blind, and relied on her husband, daughter and visiting friends to read to her. It was during this period that she was visited by, amongst others, the son of Garibaldi, a visit which she recollected with affection.

She died in 1873, having never been ‘more than twenty miles from her dwelling.’ A memorial fountain was placed nearly opposite where her cottage stood.

Memorial fountain in Coatbridge
Memorial fountain in Coatbridge
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Written by Tom Frew