Peter McLeish 1938 - 2021
Peter was a remarkable man and achieved much in his life. He was adored by his family, friends and colleagues, who remember him as hard-working, kind, humble, quick witted and extremely funny. But overall, Peter was a gentleman. He was a talented singer, storyteller, writer, poet and historian. Peter was highly regarded for the work he did for the community, and in 2013 he received a Community Service Award from South Lanarkshire Council.
Peter's family life and employment
Peter McLeish was born in Carnock, in Fife, first son to Jimmy McLeish and Margaret MacFarlane McLeish (née Shaw). His paternal grandparents lived in the adjoining cottage on the farm, and his maternal grandparents lived in Coalburn, at Helena Cottage, now 45 Coalburn Road.
Before moving to Coalburn, aged 16, Peter lived on various farms where his father worked: Aberdour, Ferniegair, Hareshaw, Wiston, Covington and Holytown. Peter's brother Robert was born when they lived at Ferniegair.
Peter helping his dad on the farm at Holytown in 1954
Peter often helped his dad on the farm, so he was driving tractors before he could drive a car. When he left school, he started work as an office boy at Colvilles Ltd in Mossend. In January 1955, the McLeish family moved to 7 Coalburn Road (known then as Station Terrace). Peter found that his wages did not cover his bus fare to work, so he had to find work locally. He joined the butchery department of the Abbeygreen Co-operative Society in Lesmahagow, initially as a flesher. Two months after returning to Coalburn, Peter's mother tragically died, aged only 37. Peter was 16 and Robert was 12.
The McLeish family taken in 1954 at Helena Cottage, 45 Coalburn Road (Peter's maternal grandparents' home)
In 1955, Peter and Robert were invited to join the Coalburn Drama Group by John Sorbie, the producer. Jimmy McLeish also helped behind the scenes. Soon, they were taking part in competitions, and the brothers moved up to the adult group. A few years later, Peter and Robert were producing plays for the local drama groups and Young Farmers groups.
Peter as a young man
In 1958, Peter's dad married Isobel Mochrie and they had two children, Margaret and Jim. In 1961 the family moved from Station Terrace to Midfield Road in Timbertown.
Peter was still working as a butcher but was now driving the van and delivering meat to the surrounding area. It was during this time that Peter first met Jean Smart. Jean and her brother Ian had a milk delivery business, and Peter said he used to look forward to catching a glimpse of Jean every Friday at Manse View as their vans' paths crossed.
Abbeygreen Co-operative Society's Fleshing Department (Butchers) in the late 1950s. Left to right: Alec Johnstone, Tom "Tucker" Kelly, Bobby Williamson and Peter McLeish.
In 1965, Peter and Jean married in Coalburn Church and set up home at the Smart family home at Bellfield. The cottage had been built by Jean's grandfather and uncle back in 1892, and members of the Smart family have lived there ever since. While still living at Bellfield, Jean and Peter had two daughters, Barbara and Fiona. Peter was a devoted family man.
Peter and Jean on their wedding day at Coalburn Church
Peter with his daughters, Barbara (right) and Fiona (left)
In 1964, Peter left the Co-operative and joined the South of Scotland Electricity Board (SSEB). In 1966, he joined the Prudential Insurance Company and worked with the Pru until he retired. Like his father before him, Peter moved often with his new family through his work with the Pru: from Coalburn to Blackwood, Hardgate and then Stonehouse. In 1993 he took early retirement, aged 55, and he and Jean moved back to the family home at Bellfield in 1994
Peter and Jean at Bellfield
Once retired, Peter was never one to sit around: from watching the Accies and writing articles for their programmes to gardening, and from travel adventures with Jean to spending time with family - in particular he enjoyed his new role as Grandpa to Lucas.
Peter taking his grandson, Lucas, to see the Accies
Peter the local historian
Peter was also involved in local community projects. In 2004, he set up the Jim Hamilton Heritage Society of Coalburn, together with John Zawadzki.
As a local historian, Peter had known fellow historian Jim Hamilton well and had an appreciation of his many articles, chronicles and photos about the local area and its people. Prior to his death in April 2004, Jim had made it known that his wish was that his collection of photos, books, maps etc. should come to Coalburn. An application for funding was granted by Heritage Lottery, part of which was for a sessional worker to collate, file and put systems in place when the collection was available. John Zawadzki took on this role. He and Peter worked well together and did so for many years.
It was agreed that a Heritage Centre would be located within the Coalburn Miners' Welfare building. By this time Jim's widow, Maureen, had been in touch with Peter, and he and John went to her home in Hamilton to collect the items - and there were many.
Heritage Society Chairman Peter McLeish looks on as Mrs Maureen Hamilton cuts the ribbon to formally open the Heritage Centre on Saturday 24th November 2007
The Heritage Centre at Coalburn (19th January 2016). Left to right: Gilbert Dobbie, Peter McLeish, Billy Dempster, Hamish Gilchrist
Peter was keen to promote the history of Coalburn to local residents and wider afield, and was in demand as a speaker at meetings of local organisations.
An exhibition by the Jim Hamilton Heritage Society of Coalburn was a regular event at the Annual Gala Day, and Peter was the driving force in organising this.
Peter (far right) talking to visitors to the exhibition at the 2019 Coalburn Gala
He was also keen that young people should know about the history of Coalburn; therefore, he worked closely with the staff and pupils at Coalburn Primary School. An annual prize was given to the pupil who produced the best essay on local history.
At the first meeting of the Society in the 2016-2017 season, Peter presented Rachel Struthers with the Jim Hamilton Trophy. Rachel's project entitled 'World War II and its impact on Coalburn' was judged to be the best of many excellent projects by pupils in the previous session at Coalburn Primary School.
Peter wrote A History of Coalburn School, which was published by Lulu Publishing in 2017 and is available online. His book is a comprehensive history of Coalburn School spanning three centuries from the late 1800s to the present day..
A History of Coalburn School was published in 2017
Peter and previous Heritage Society Vice Chair Gilbert Dobbie (a former miner) were involved in the 'Pits, Ponies, People and Stories' project on mining in South Lanarkshire. The project was set up by South Lanarkshire Council to help educate local children - and adults - on the mining heritage of their area.
Peter showing pupils of Coalburn Primary School some of the exhibits in the Heritage Centre relating to mining
As a young man, while playing for Coalburn Juveniles, Peter had hopes of becoming a professional footballer. Although he did not achieve this, he was a lifelong fan of Hamilton Accies and acted as a historian for the club. In 1997, he wrote Hamilton Academical Who's Who.
Peter wrote Hamilton Academical Who's Who in 1997
Peter's work in the community
As well as his extensive work on behalf of the Jim Hamilton Heritage Society, Peter had retained a keen interest in supporting activities in his local community and was able to further extend his community interests after retiring from the Prudential.
At one time, Peter worked as a volunteer at Lesmahagow Resource Centre and supported his brother Robert with heritage projects in the Lesmahagow area.
He was the treasurer of the Coalburn Darby and Joan Club for many years. Along with Jean and others, he was kept busy organising their weekly meetings and regular outings.
Entertainment was also his forte. Many people enjoyed his performances with his friends Willie Gardiner and Joe Cameron as 'The Three Craws', followed by 'The Three Fivers', and 'The Three Fairies' - Fairy Snow, Fairy Liquid and Fairy Nuff.
The Three Fairies. Left to right: Joe Cameron, Willie Gardiner and Peter McLeish
Peter was a long-standing member of the Church of Scotland, and at Coalburn he was an Elder, the Clerk to the Congregational Board and the Property Convenor. He served as Coalburn's Property Elder and, until Covid times, was an active member of Lanark Presbytery's Property Committee.
His involvement as Property Elder was definitely hands-on, from managing paperwork and access to carrying out building and ground maintenance. The following pictures show the church before and after refurbishment in 2001.
Coalburn Church in 1993. Photographer: Peter McLeish
During the refurbishment, the wooden pews were removed. Peter and some other parishioners got under the floorboards to free the pews, which were replaced by individual chairs, thus enabling the church to be used in different ways for other events.
Coalburn Church after refurbishment in 2001. Photographer: Peter McLeish
Peter's last years
Over the last few years, in addition to volunteering in his many community roles, Peter also continued to care for Jean, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2013.
Peter singing to Jean in 2018
During the lockdown of 2020, it was not possible to visit Jean in Beechgrove Care Home. Peter stayed with his daughter Barbara and her family in Devon during this time.
Peter in Devon in 2020
Peter visiting Jean at Beechgrove Care Home in July 2021
Surrounded by family, Peter passed away peacefully at home on the 1st of October 2021, aged 83 years, having been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
He will be so sadly missed but always remembered as the gentleman he was by all those who knew him.
Coalburn has lost one of its champions and the Heritage Society in particular is so grateful for all his work and for the enthusiasm that he put into this venture. Peter's achievements are plain to see with a dedication to his duties - all carried out with 100% commitment and a wonderful sense of humour.
The Jim Hamilton Heritage Society of Coalburn wishes to thank Peter's daughters, Barbara Wilson and Fiona McLeish, for writing the sections on Peter's family life and employment and Peter's last years, for additional photos and for help with some of the other sections; Alan Grant, formerly Interim Moderator for Coalburn and Lesmahagow Parish, who delivered the Eulogy at Peter's funeral at South Lanarkshire Crematorium; Peter McLeish whose writings on the history of the Jim Hamilton Heritage Society of Coalburn and Coalburn Church provided much of the material; Helen Brownlie for useful comments and support. Compiled by David Halls on behalf of the Jim Hamilton Heritage Society of Coalburn, December 2021.
Other Sources of Information
- Co-operative Society Branches in Coalburn and neighbouring villages, South Lanarkshire,
- John Zawadzki Obituary in Newsletter 50
- Peter McLeish, Farewell Message, in Newsletter 64
- Heritage Centre
- 2019 Coalburn Gala Exhibition
- Jim Hamilton trophy - Rachel Struthers, photo no longer on website but archived.
- A History of Coalburn School, Peter McLeish
- 'Pits, Ponies, People and Stories'
- Coalburn Church
- Hamilton Accies, Daily Record
- Hamilton Accies FC Twitter
On the 6th Oct 2021, Andy McGilvray reported :
Hamilton Accies have today paid tribute to long-time club historian Peter McLeish, who passed away last Friday, aged 83. McLeish was a contributor to the club's programme and wrote 'Hamilton Academical Who's Who' in 1997.
The club issued a tribute on social media, which said: "It is with great sadness that we learn of the death of our long standing historian and fan Peter McLeish, who passed away peacefully on Friday aged 83. He first saw us in the 1940s and always had a season ticket. Our condolences are with his family and friends. RIP Peter."
Former Accies secretary Scott Struthers said: "Peter had helped me out with the programme in the last 30-40 seasons, and Alan Dick before me as well, and he knew his Accies stuff.
He wrote a book which was a profile on all of the players that had played for us in the first 50 years after the war, and had written various other books that weren't published, but were for me and him to use, and for al the historical queries that we would get all the time.
Peter has provided a wealth of information on the club over the years, and he was a lovely man, a 'gentleman' is what you would call him.
He always had a gentlemanly opinion on every Accies player, you would never hear a curse or a swear, and he would maybe say ´he didn't have the best of games´.
I had spoken to him a couple of times during lockdown and about 10-12 days ago and I knew he wasn't keeping too well, but it's a shame. Peter would pop in during the week if he wasn't at a game and pick up the programme, or just for a blether to see what was happening."