At a time when there was no local newspaper for the district of Carluke, and few people were able to read and write, the town crier performed a valuable role in the community announcing important news and local events using either a drum or bell to attract people’s attention. Who were these men?
Several years ago, a small photograph taken in 1859 was discovered at the back of a drawer in the town registrar’s office. The copperplate handwriting on the back stated that the man in the image was Gavin Cunningham, Town Drummer.
An item in ‘The Carluke Gazette’ of 11th October 1935 mentions this man. Remembering the High Street of seventy years previously, ‘A Native’ states that ‘old Guy Cunningham’ lived there with his sister on the site occupied by Mrs Train in 1935. He went on to say that Guy ‘went with the post and did orra jobs’. One of these jobs was that of town crier. Looking dignified in a coat of green, he used a drum to call the townspeople to hear his announcements.
Born in Carluke about 1792, Gavin was the son of Andrew Cunningham and his wife Martha Somerville. He and his sisters, Martha and Isobel, appear to have lived at 16, High Street for most of their lives. Before becoming the town’s drummer at some point between 1851 and 1859, Gavin, who never married, made his living as a cotton handloom weaver. He departed the world in 1872 at 80 years of age.
By 1871, the post of town crier had been taken over by William Ewing, better known as ‘Punkie Wullie’, who lived with his wife Sarah Law and their four surviving children – William, Robert, Sarah and Margaret – at Old Bridgend. Like Gavin, he had previously been a cotton handloom weaver. Alongside his role as town crier, Wullie also worked as a pedlar.
Another item from ‘The Carluke Gazette’, this time from 27th June 1952, provides a good description of this well-known character. ‘He went his rounds with a little box covered with brown American cloth in one hand and a stout staff in the other. From the box he sold such things as blacklead, boot blacking (which in those days was a long soft roll of stuff enclosed in a blueish green paper). Pins and thread were part of his stock in trade, and he had a good business in leather “whangs”. He wore a cap with side flaps which were tied down over his ears in stormy weather. He had a long nose and chin, and a sort of grey, grim look.’
Wullie passed away in Carluke in November 1896 and lies at rest in the Old Cemetery.