Church pic lays legend to rest

Horsing around

Hamilton Libraries Perry Rice finds there is new information to be had in old pictures.

In some of the very earliest photographs of the south end of what is now Victoria Street but was, until about 1918, Tisdall Street, we see a very steep rise from the river to the early St Peters Church. That is St Peters church obscured in the photo on the extreme left. The building wholly visible on the left is the existing St Peters church hall.

I have mentioned with previously published photos of St Peters that the hall has curiously risen up from street level since its early days in Tisdall Street. In fact the street level was lowered. The reason for the lowering was I think mainly to do with the steepness of the hill just to the south of the church down to the river.

It’s steep enough now – I know, I used to cycle up Victoria Street from the Traffic Bridge. Oh, did I say ‘Traffic Bridge’? Well naturally I did because that’s exactly what it is. At some time in the past someone made the grand error of calling it the Victoria Bridge and that has stuck. It is not, and never was the ‘Victoria’ bridge. Anyway, I digress.

This photo, as originally viewed as a darkish contact print glued on a card, showed a horse, cart and a chap chipping away at the lower courses of gravel. It was impossible to read any of the signs and it was too dark to really see what was going on. Legend has it that the entire job, thousands of cubic metres of material, was removed by one chap who had only one arm. If you’ve ever tried to wield a shovel and flick loads into a barrow let alone up onto a cart, with one hand you will know just how nigh on impossible the task would have been.

We had the negative rescanned by experts and lo, we see straight away that there were in fact three men working on this project. Now, that makes a difference but, and it’s a big but, they still worked in all the photos showing men lowering the level of Victoria Street, with picks and shovels and horse drawn carts.

Of interest in this photo is of course the church hall, still standing and well into its second century. Beside the church hall there are two cottages – both of these still stand. One is used as the Citizens Advice Bureau and had previously a colourful life as an antique shop.

To the right of the cottages is a large square with, obviously, a pictorial feature. It is an advertising hoarding for the Theatre Royal. This is a great find for photo historians – the Theatre Royal had only opened in March and this level (size?) of advertising was not unusual amongst the early entrepreneurs of Hamilton Borough. The hoarding on this site would have been aimed directly at Hamilton East residents who have ‘come to town’ and would see it on their way home.

And, it would have been an expensive piece of advertising – money in fillums even then?

The photo was taken by S.B.S. on the 23rd April 1915.

Perry RiceBy Perry Rice, Hamilton Central Libraries.

Email Perry here.

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