Peter MacFarlane, later years

I’ve been telling the story of my great grandfather, Peter MacFarlane, and today we’ll explore his twilight years, though if you were to think that this involved him slowing down and perhaps writing his memoirs, well, think again – he was just as active in retirement as throughout his working life!  I suppose I’ve been feeling a little in awe of this rather remarkable man, and have been keen to try and form an idea of what he was really like as a person.

First of all, he seems to have been constitutionally unable to be associated with anything without becoming involved in organising it! Actually, I can understand this as I tend to be a bit that way myself, though in recent years, I have increasingly learned to say no!

Anyway, at the same time (the early 1880’s) as Peter was becoming involved in local politics, we have this newspaper report detailing yet another enterprise he was associated with – the Lochaber highland games.

 “Enjoying as it now does repute outwith Lochaber this popular Highland fixture came into being quite modestly. In the early eighties Mr William T. Brown along with Mr Peter MacFarlane conceived the idea. The original arena had its location on ground upon which is now occupied by part of the public school building. This was roped off and a good number of spectators put in an appearance.  When the sports were ready to commence, but none would pay the sixpence asked for admission. Mr MacFarlane, after himself giving an exhibition throw with the hammer, commanded that the ropes be cut. The order was promptly carried out, whereupon sightseers and competitors flocked into the enclosure free. ………… Following the inauguration of the sports, an influential committee was nominated, and the Lochaber Gathering, as such, has never looked back(Newspaper report from 1923)

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I think that nowadays, the Lochaber Gathering is a Festival of Piping, and the original sports event is now known as The Lochaber Games. Perhaps they both stemmed from the same origin, because it seems that although he didn’t play the pipes himself, Peter would judge the pibroch competitions (a form of bagpipe playing). Quite a slight man, he was also a neat Highland dancer and wore the kilt. I’m told that his kilt was eventually passed on and worn by his son George – you’d think, wouldn’t you, that there would be at least one photo of one or other of them wearing it, but if there is, I haven’t yet come across it.

It is recorded that Peter had a keen sense of humour and that his great friend was one Dr Miller, a county councillor – the two attended meetings together, which reminds me of his friendship with Dr Abernethy in London. I think this might be the same Dr AC Miller who is noted as the attending physician on the death certificates of Peter’s two wives and little daughter and I’d like to think that this might be one of the things which may have bonded them together in the first place, apart from the chemist/doctor connection.

In 1911, I presume after his term as Provost was over, Peter, at age 62, became one of the first scout masters in Fort William. Here he is at a scout camp in 1912. I have no idea who the young lady is – I suppose it could be one of his daughters.

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Peter was a Justice of the Peace for the County of Inverness, sat as one of the Licensing Justices for the Lochaber District, appointed a parents representative on the local School Management Committee and president of the Merchants Association.  He worked to promote the interests of An Comunn Abrach (Gaelic Association) and was one of a group of eight men and one woman who met at the Palace Hotel on 23 May 1922 to found the West Highland Museum, which is still going strong to this day and is still located just round the corner from the original family business at 50 High Street. For leisure (leisure!!!) Peter enjoyed bowling and curling.

He was a devout catholic – we have already heard two stories of him getting down on his knees to beg for divine intervention when things were looking dire. Once in London when his business wasn’t getting off the ground, and once when his daughter Winnie was facing amputation of her leg. And then there was the praying for the Boers to win the Boer war. I think that shows us all we need to know…

What sort of a father was he? It can’t have been easy to bring up seven children without a mother, though I’m sure he’d always have had help in the house. I certainly don’t think he was as strict as Captain Von Trapp in the Sound of Music…

captain and seven

Trouble is, we don’t seem to have any group family photos after the very sad one taken on the day of his wife Louisa’s funeral in 1893. I expect he was too busy just getting on with life, and perhaps expecting his children to do the same. But I do think he was a fond father, and as much as he could kept his children close – Lulie and Ettie were brought back from school in Elgin when their mother died and I believe all thought of boarding school was abandoned after that.

The children all went on to gain qualifications in various fields – in order, Mary Louisa (Lulie) trained as a nurse in London, Ethel Sara (Ettie) joined the Sisters of Mercy in Dundee, where her Uncle Angus, as Bishop in Dundee, had set up the convent with the Sisters. Next in line, Peter John (Father Jack) took holy orders in 1908, having received his initial training from Bishop Angus in Glasgow. I’ve already told you something about Winnifred Grace (Winnie), who’d had such a traumatic time with her tubercular leg (see “Reconciliation”, June 22), but she was a strong person who eventually overcame this setback to train as a teacher. As did the next daughter, Muriel Davenport (Moolie), leaving it to the youngest son George to train as a chemist in order to take on the mantle of the family business.

I have here a letter written by Peter to his daughter Ettie – Sister Mary Evangeline – for what would have been her 39th birthday in 1922 (you can click on the pages to see them better).

The tone seems warm and intimate, don’t you think? With fond memories from nearly 40 years before of Ettie’s birth and the excitement of her big sister at her arrival. I wonder what he means by being “still to the fore”. I suspect that someone like him would find it difficult not to be in charge, even in his seventies, as he was then. Not always easy to live with perhaps, but well intentioned nonetheless. I love the references to the wider family and their comings and goings, with his nephew Peter driving George with a contingent of cousins to Inverness; not to mention bringing Ettie up to date with news of her siblings and the goings on in Fort William. It’s such a marvellous snapshot of their life and times.

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And of course, he mentions Beatrice, my grandmother, and John, my father, and the very trip to Market Harborough I’ve written about before. From his letter I can now determine a date for this trip – “next Wednesday” would have been the 23rd of August, which would make John, the “bonny boy”, just coming up for one year old. I wonder if they spent his first birthday (30 August) with Beatrice’s Bentley relatives.

I rather like this story about Peter.  When he used to visit his grandchildren he never took sweets or anything, he wanted them to like him for himself, not what he brought, and indeed it’s said he used to make his children and grandchildren laugh.

Peter died at Achintee, Glen Nevis on the 7th of June 1925, age 75. In fact, he dropped dead there, perhaps of a heart attack? I can’t help feeling that’s the way he would have wanted to go, in the shadow of Ben Nevis, without any long drawn-out illness and surrounded by the countryside he loved and which so shaped him and his family. Our family.

achintee

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Peter MacFarlane, Lord Provost

It is often said that Peter MacFarlane was a remarkable man, and had many achievements in his lifetime – we’ll hear more about them shortly. But for me one of his greatest achievements was surviving and overcoming the tragedy that befell the family in 1893 when his wife Louisa died, leaving him as sole parent to their seven surviving children, as I reported in last week’s post.

Anise Jane

Further misfortune would strike the family only a couple of years later when the youngest daughter, Anise Jane, died on the 5th of February 1985, three months short of her third birthday. The cause of death is given as cerebral effusions and convulsions. Poor Peter must have thought that history was repeating itself.

But this man was nothing if not resilient, because the following year we find a wedding recorded – Peter MacFarlane, Chemist, widower marrying Catherine Cameron, Housekeeper, spinster on the 15th of April 1896, which would, ironically, have been Peter and Louisa’s 19th wedding anniversary. One can only imagine the mixture of hope and sadness he would have been feeling on that day. Peter and Catherine were married at Bunroy, Roybridge, by Peter’s brother Angus, by then a Canon and Parish Priest in Partick, Glasgow.

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Peter was still a relatively young man of 46 when he married the 29 year old Catherine. I think it likely that she had initially been employed to run the household and care for the children after Louisa had passed away. And perhaps the two were drawn even closer together by the death of little Anise – I know this is speculation on my part, but it seems very likely to me. But their happiness would be short-lived for by January of 1898, Peter found himself yet again having to perform the sad duty of burying his wife. Some say Catherine died in childbirth, though her death certificate records the cause of death as tubercular pyelitis. This is sometimes a complication of pregnancy, so it’s possible…

I’ve heard that there may have been a third wife, but haven’t seen any evidence for that and the 1901 census records only Peter plus four of his children and a young servant girl, no mention of a wife. So, as far as I know, he lived out his days as a widower and perhaps focused his considerable energy in other directions, though I suspect he was the type of man who would always have been striving in one direction or another regardless of whether or not he had a wife by his side. In any case that decade of loss, the 1890s, also seems to be one of the most productive times in his full and busy life.

Take his commercial activities, for example. Not only did he build the fine new premises  at 50 High Street but along with his druggist business, Peter manufactured aerated water and in fact mentions this enterprise in a document written in 1896 or 7. The additional property he mentions became known to the family as ‘The Barn’. I think its position just round the corner from 50 High Street meant that both buildings overlooked the same bit of ground/garden at the back. “I purchased additional property behind the burgh hall and am now in course of rebuilding a part of it in order to meet the requirements of the aerated water branch of my business, which has very largely expanded of late.”

Peter also had a photographic enterprise.  On the back of his photographic images he printed P MACFARLANE / Photographer to the Queen / FORT WILLIAM.

photographer

At the same time, Peter was very active in civic life and had already been elected to a seat on the Council Board by 1880, ultimately succeeding to a Bailieship and finally attaining the office of Provost, I think in about 1887. He was the first Catholic elected to this position in Scotland since the Reformation in the 16th century. The day after he was elected Provost he found a bag of oranges on his doorstep – quite an understated tribute one would have thought, after all those centuries!

At this time, Fort William was enjoying a period of considerable expansion, largely due to the coming of the railway in 1894. We can get a sense of this mood of development in a document in which Peter laid out his arguments for extending the railway line south through Ballachulish and on to Glencoe. I’ve used snippets from his document as captions for the following photographs…

New-ImVERY-EARLY-PIC-OF-FW-STATION-Copy-copy
“Since the opening of the West Highland Railway in August 1894, the burgh of Fort-William has made rapid strides in advance /  I am satisfied that the formation of the railway to Fort-William has been of enormous benefit to the burgh; in fact before it was opened the burgh was in a somewhat stagnant condition. “
view
“…the houses built along each of these roads are not, owing to the lie of the ground, shut out from a view of the sea by those immediately in front, there is no reason why many new roads should not be formed and feuing go on to an almost unlimited extent.”
highland hotel
“Among the other new buildings on this sloping ground, a large hotel is on the eve of completion. It contains about sixty bedrooms and has been specially designed for the accommodation of tourists and summer visitors.”

For me as his great grand-daughter, I feel quite a personal connection with some of the further declarations in Peter’s submission, remembering as I do our family holidays by Loch Leven in the sixties (see ‘End of an Era’ from August 2017).  Of course, the main thrust of the document concerns the financial benefits to be gained from further investment in the area, but despite the references to ‘feuing’ (taxation), I find myself drawn to the parts where he mentions Onich and North Ballachulish…

“This Feuing has already commenced at Onich and North Ballachulish and as it is well suited for residential purposes, being perfectly protected from the north and east winds, with a southern exposure and having in many places a sea-shore well adapted for boating and bathing, there cannot fail to be a considerable extension of feuing in that quarter if the railway is extended to it. I think it not unlikely, however, that the feuing at this point will take the form of villas and other residences for summer visitors; and if I am right in this they will naturally come to Fort-William to make their purchases and transact their business.” He turned out to be quite right of course, and it didn’t end there:

“Fort-William being much nearer and otherwise, is pre-eminently a better point for tourists to visit Glencoe than Oban, and if the railway be extended from Fort-William to Ballachulish, I feel confident that a large proportion of the tourists would visit that famous glen from Fort-William. The distance from Fort-William to Bridge of Coe, which is at the entrance to the glen, is about 16 miles, while it is distant from Oban about 32 miles, or double the distance.”

Peter didn’t succeed in getting the railway line extended from Fort William to Ballachulish – in fact it was the Oban line that won this argument, though Ballachulish station didn’t survive the Beeching cuts of the sixties, and the ground was eventually built upon. However, the Fort William line WAS extended to Mallaig which is now one of the most scenic sections of the West Highland Line, taking in as it does the spectacular Glenfinnan Viaduct.

During his term as Chief Magistrate he had the satisfaction of seeing the Burgh illuminated by electricity – in fact Fort William was the first town in Britain to be entirely lit by electric light – the erection of a slaughterhouse, the acquisition of an ambulance and fire engine, but the crowning glory of his provostship was an inexhaustible supply of pure water to the town (hence, one suspects, the aerated water project).

My great grandfather was by all accounts a very patriotic Scotsman, which I feel is no surprise considering that his father may have been descended from someone who fought with Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden (1746). He retained his knowledge of the Gaelic language and taught it to one Father Willie Gillies who used to preach in Gaelic. Remember that Gaelic had been suppressed in Scotland after Culloden, so that’s probably why the book written by Peter’s erstwhile teacher, James Munro, came to be regarded as a cultural treasure. I have no doubt that Peter would have picked up his nationalistic attitudes from an early age. One of his ambitions was to change the name ‘Fort William’ back to the original ‘Maryburgh’, and he would pray every day for the Boers to win the Anglo-Boer war (1899-1802)!

My challenge when writing about this ancestor of mine, has been to try and ascertain what he was like as a person – it can be quite hard to see beyond all the undoubted achievements; it can even feel fairly daunting! So far, I have found him rather remarkable, someone who was obviously very driven and motivated in everything he did, who withstood adversity and tragedy in his life and didn’t allow them to divert him from his purposes. He was capable of falling in love – more than once! – and like his father before him, built a fine successful business which sustained his family for many years into the future.

I suppose what I want to know on top of all that is whether he would have been the sort of person to gather his children and grandchildren into his arms when they were upset, whether he was approachable and friendly, whether, I suppose, I would have liked him!

I’ll explore all these questions in my next post, which will take us into the 20th century and chart what’s know about Peter’s later years and the period when his children would grow from childhood and start to make their own way in the world.

lloyds - Copy
Now run by Lloyd’s Pharmacy, this is the original building on the High Street which Peter built to house MacFarlane’s the Chemist’s, with the house for the family above (please ignore the red arrow). I understand that no-one lives in the house any more and that these days it comprises ‘ancillary storage’

A Hieland Laddie in Victorian London

Previously on Mums Marbles (A Family Business, 28 July) ….

Account by Theresa Otto – My grandfather was born in the house at Spean Bridge. The present sitting room was then 2 rooms and he was born in the middle room.  His father had been away for a period attending the Falkirk Tryst (market). He returned with one or two friends in the evening and his wife served them with a meal. There was a squeak from the corner.  “What’s that?” asked Peter Snr. “That’s your latest son” replied his wife!!!  And that’s how my great grandfather heard of the birth. The baby who had popped into the world with so little inconvenience to his busy mother, and even less to his father, was my great grandfather, Peter MacFarlane, the youngest child of Peter Snr and Mary Drochaid MacDonald. He was born on the 20th of June 1849.

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We’re now going to follow the adventures of this youngest child.

Peter was educated at Kilmonivaig School, where the Schoolmaster was one James Munro, who lived with his sister Jean at Blarour Farm and was known as the Blarour Dominie (Teacher). James was a Gaelic scholar and a poet, and in his younger day had written “A Practical Grammar of the Scottish Gaelic”, published in 1843. This book is still, I am tickled to note, available in facsimile form on Amazon, where the description runs thus: This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it, and his poetry is also still well regarded by scholars.

I’m willing to guess that Peter and his classmates would have had no idea that they were being taught by such an illustrious master, someone who had a part in maintaining the knowledge base of civilization as we know it! Once his schooldays were over, Peter, age 16, became apprenticed to a chemist in Fort William, a four year apprenticeship that commenced in November 1865:

“It is Contracted, Agreed, and Ended between Allan Ritchie Affleck Chemist and Druggist Fort William of the first part and Peter MacFarlane junior residing in Fort William with the advice and consent of his father Peter MacFarlane senior carpenter Unachan. Allan Ritchie Affleck binds and obliges himself to furnish the said Peter MacFarlane junior with sufficient bedding, food and washing during the whole space of his apprenticeship and to pay him the sum of ten pounds sterling annually in name of salary for the last two years of his apprenticeship over and above his lodging, bedding food and washing as aforesaid”.

So, off he went to Fort William where he worked for Affleck and did his studying by correspondence. I notice that he didn’t actually get paid anything until he was a full two years into the agreement! Once qualified, Affleck wrote Peter the following letter of recommendation: “I can confidently recommend him to fill a situation as assistant to anyone requiring his services (signed) A R Affleck Apoth Hall Fort Wm.” Whereupon the young man packed his bags and headed off to seek his fortune in London, or in fact to gain experience working for an established chemist there.  It is reputed that when it was time to leave Fort William, Peter left £10 in the till in case he might be responsible for any bad debts.

On arriving in the Metropolis, he asked directions to “Holburn” and asked for “Holburrin”. “Oh” replied a Londoner, “you must mean “Owbun”! “No, I don’t mean Oban, I mean Holburrin!” The accounts of his early days in London are somewhat sketchy so I don’t know who he worked for there, or where he lived (Holborn maybe. It could be that his brother John lived there, or that was where Affleck had a contact.) The one story that we do have is that he arrived in London wearing a tweed suit from his father’s tailor, which somehow got completely ruined when he was tasked with tramping something wet and squashy to extract a dye, or perhaps it was just that the dye ran out of the suit in the rain. Anyway, he was told that the suit wasn’t suitable for London.

holbornMy heart goes out to the rather naive sounding 20-year-old arriving all the way from Lochaber seemingly unequipped for life in the big English city. But make his way he did because the next report we have of him is that he has met one Louisa Priest and married her at the Brompton Oratory on 15th of April 1877, a Sunday. He was 28, she 29. The Oratory was in the process of being re-built at the time and wouldn’t open until 1884, so the wedding must have taken place in the existing temporary church.

Other than the fact that she married my great grandfather and originally came from Honiton in Devon, I know next to nothing about Louisa Priest, my great grandmother. There is the odd snippet, the most tantalising being that she had a beautiful singing voice and once performed in front of Queen Victoria! As to what brought her to London and how she met Peter – well, that’s a story yet to be discovered. However, I DO have this picture of her…

Louisa Priest
This framed photograph is a family heirloom and was left to my father in his father’s will. It hung in our hallway in Kersland Street for many years and when my Mum passed away in 2015, my sisters decided it should go to me, the eldest daughter. It now hangs proudly in my living room, alongside pictures of Mum and my grandmother Beatrice.

I’m not sure at what point Louisa came into his life, but I do know that Peter eventually started off his own business with a shop and a room, somewhere near Brompton Oratory, which would have been Knightbridge – rather a good address, though at that point still well and truly in the suburbs. Story goes that on his first day he had no customers, on the second day he had one customer. In despair, on the third day he went down on his knees and prayed – he took in 2/6 that day. One of Peter’s best customers asked him where he went to Church. “Just round the corner!” Some time later, the same lady came in very cross “Mr MacFarlane! You deceived me! I didn’t know you were a Catholic!” “I beg your pardon, Madam, but my pills are purely Protestant!” He didn’t lose his customer.

Another story is that Peter was great friends was a Dr Abernethy, a fellow Scot.  Dr A asked Peter to fashion a portable medicine case with small quantities of necessary portions. Peter did so and thus was born the first BLACK BAG!  Dr A is commemorated to this day in the Abernethian Hall at Barts, London. Now, I am a little little doubtful about this story, much though I would like it to be true. Research tells me that it was a different Dr Abernethy who was associated with Barts – Dr John Abernethy (1764-1831), founder of the Abernethian Society and inventor (or at least his sister was) of the biscuit which bears his name to this day (he was looking for a plain nutritious food which would aid digestion).

‘Our’ Dr A was very taciturn and hard working. One day he took a day off and was relaxing somewhere upon the upper reaches of the Thames. He spotted a dairymaid with her kirtle (petticoat) tucked up, wading through the water and balancing a tub of butter on her head. He called out to her “How deep is the water and how much is your butter” and quick as a flash she replied. “Up to the knee and nine-pence.” Dr A eventually married that girl. He admired her economy of words!

As to the black bag… Well we can tie this up to the invention of the Gladstone bag (patented in 1854 and named after the Liberal politician, later Prime Minister). It was an instant success as a travel bag, and soon caught on as a doctor’s bag. I’m sure that Peter and Dr A would have been among the first to use it as such, but I hope I’m not being disloyal if I rather doubt that they actually invented it…

doctor's bag

I believe that Peter and Louisa knew each other while Peter was building his business, but if his premises were a shop and a room, there wouldn’t have been the space for them to set up home together and start a family. However opportunity came in the shape of the old master Affleck, who wanted to retire. Peter was able to buy out his business – perhaps this was always the plan – and he and Louisa moved to Fort William as man and wife probably in the same year as they got married. (I’ve seen an old document in which Peter states that he started his chemist business in 1877).

Peter and Louisa lost no time establishing themselves in Fort William and the next 15 years or so saw the birth of nine children in rapid succession. Sadly, the first and third of them, John and Donald, died in infancy. The 1891 census shows the family living at 17 High Street, Affleck’s original premises. I guess this would have brought back memories for Peter of his apprenticeship. It must surely have afforded him no small degree of satisfaction to now return as proprietor of the establishment. I wonder if he retrieved his £10 from the till!

I find it quite striking when you look back at Peter’s early days, that he seems always to have had strong role models before him, from his mother and father, then brother Archie, running the family business in Spean Bridge. Then the three brothers, John, Angus, George, and sister Jane Eliza, all successfully making their way in life; James Munro, the able first schoolmaster; Affleck, the chemist who was his guide as a young apprentice; Dr Abernethy, the taciturn, hard working friend. It’s no surprise really that Peter himself was no slouch when it came to enterprise and ambition whether for his business, his family or the community at large.

Perhaps the most notable thing Peter did in this period – apart from fathering nine children! – was to send his family to live with his sister Jane at Arisaig for a whole year while he supervised the building of new premises at number 50 High Street – a shop with a dwelling house above. Jane Eliza’s family, the Mackintoshes, a bit older than the MacFarlanes, were supposed to have enjoyed making their cousins talk, due to them having a sort of English accent. If the family were still at 17 High Street in 1891, I think this relocation must have taken place in 1892, and that perhaps Peter and Louisa’s youngest child, Anise Jane, might have been born that year at Arisaig.

But events were to take a very dark turn, and it couldn’t have been long after the family had come back and taken possession of their new home than Louisa was struck down with cerebral meningitis and died after a short illness on the 4th of April 1893, with her husband at her side. She was 45. It must have taken all of Peter’s reserves of character and resilience to get through the succeeding months and years dealing with his own loss and with seven bereaved little children relying on him. We’ll follow the years of his widower-hood in the next post.

Peter and children, 1893
With an empty chair at the back denoting the absence of Louisa, here are Peter with (back) Ethel Sarah, Mary Louisa, Winifred Grace; (centre) Peter John and Anise Jane; (front) Muriel Davenport and George Archibald.

 

 

 

 

 

A Wee Break

the end

I have to confess to a touch of post-holiday blues in the last week or two. If that’s what just four nights in Majorca does to you, maybe I’d be better staying at home!

Not that I didn’t enjoy the sun, sea and sand, of course I did (just as long as I stayed in the shade in the middle of the day). And then there were the relaxed family evenings of tapas and paella and talking philosophy (armchair variety) under the stars, with the little ones running around and the teenager making sarcastic remarks on the folly of adults. What’s not to love?

majorca map

But I suppose that’s the problem isn’t it? It’s amazing how quickly you can adapt to your new surroundings and imagine a completely different lifestyle from the one you have. One involving taking your morning tea and a notebook out on to the terrace for some creative scribbling while the mediterranean sun slowly rises above the mountains. Eventually your big sunhat isn’t enough to protect you from the heat, so you retreat and cool off in the pool before a bite of lunch and siesta time. Evenings comprising more of the same…

It’s a bit of a let-down to come back to a chilly, rain-sodden Glasgow. Why do I want to live here? Can anyone remind me?

reality

However, that was a couple of weeks ago. Today, for once, I’m looking out on a lovely sunny day – albeit 15 degrees cooler than Alcudia – and I’ve just had a wee sit in the garden where there’s a nice secluded corner that protects you from the breeze while you catch a few precious rays of sunshine (post-holiday resolution – get out in the sun whenever I can).

So – however reluctantly – I suppose I’m more or less back in the swing of things again. I’ve caught up with all my emails, had daughter Sarah to stay for a few days (wall to wall box sets and late night existential conversations – “yes it’s okay to put the fire on in August mum”), realised that I WOULD rather live in a place where I’m not kept up all night by unbearably itchy insect bites.

cheers

And then there’s my blog – I have been feeling somewhat frustrated at just how disrupted my daily writing routine could become in such a short period of time, how difficult it has been to pick up the threads again. It’s not that I don’t have plenty to write about, it’s that I’ve lacked the motivation to just get on with it. This is scary because along with that comes the thought that maybe you will NEVER write another post, or anything else. So, believe me, this rambling effort represents a huge victory over inertia and it would be nice to think that you would raise a glass with me to celebrate the unblocking of the creative juices – cheers!

Let me tell you about the inspiration that finally got me going again. Sarah lent me a book; Tim Marshall’s “Prisoners of Geography – ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics”. I know, snappy title or what? Anyway, I’m reading the first chapter “Russia” and I hadn’t got too far when it struck me forcibly that my Mum, in her prime, would have loved this book. I’ve written before about her cultural visits to Russia and various Baltic republics. She was completely beguiled by all things Russian and would read everything she could get her hands on about its history and art; myths and magic. She loved telling you all about Czar Nicholas, Catherine the Great, the treasures of the Winter Palace, the siege of Leningrad … the list goes on and on. Here’s her first impression of looking down on the country:

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As we lost height to refuel at Riga in Latvia I could see out the window and the country is completely flat. Roads stretch for miles as straight as a die and there are many canals. Nothing is curved – everything has straight angles. There are forests. The country is quite remarkable. And vast. I could see small groups of houses and houses on their own and some cars on a road – but usually rivers and in the distance the sea. We flew for an hour and the landscape did not vary. Rivers, canals, roads, what looked like fields and even the forests were all squared up as straight as a ribbon – quite extraordinary and fascinating. Could hardly believe I was looking down on Russia!

POG cover final.indd

“Prisoners of Geography”, while completely factual, also feels to me like a fairytale with the storyteller spreading the map out in front of you and showing you just why and how the history and politics of this great land inevitably rolled out the way they did, constrained by the shape of its geography, from the romantic sounding Carpathian Mountains to the west, right across the vast plains of Siberia to the Pacific Ocean in the east. As I read, I could so easily imagine Mum by my side nodding eagerly and pointing out the places where she’d been and saying, “Yes, yes, that’s right, that’s the way it is”.

Geography is a marvellous branch of knowledge, don’t you think? It makes sense of everything because despite whatever advances we may make in technology and science and engineering, and however invincible we think that makes us, we are always either working with the shape of the planet, or striving to overcome its restrictions. And sometimes, sadly, we are at its mercy, vulnerable to droughts, earthquakes, tsunami’s and other natural disasters. Look at a map and it will tell you everything you need to know.

africaAnyway, next time we’ll return to the small corner of the world known as Lochaber, and the further exploits of my MacFarlane ancestors and how they contended with the constraints of their geography.

corfu
Not me, sadly, but a scene from BBC’s The Durrells, where the family really DO start a new life in Corfu…

 

The Family Shop – Onwards and Upwards

shop 1907 - Copy

And I mean that quite literally! At some point after Peter T took over from his father Archie, he was able to buy the property, and to continue with the improvements that we noted in my last post. As you can see from the postcard below, a whole new floor was added to the house and a porch between the windows of the shop, so that it assumed the final configuration we would recognise today.

Shop 4 001

I feel sure that it would have been Archie’s plan to continue to develop the business and the dwelling in this way, in fact perhaps it might originally have been his father Peter’s dream – he was a carpenter and contractor by trade after all – so Archie could have grown up with this vision implanted in his brain, all ready to put into action when the time was right. It’s just unfortunate that he passed away in 1908 before he could see the completion of the master plan.

Archie’s son Peter Thomas (I’m calling him Peter T to distinguish him from all the other Peters) would only have been 21 when he took over, along with his sister Mary Theresa, 10 years older. Mary Theresa never married and lived on at the shop for most of her days until her death in 1961. We can get a glimpse of what the shop was like in those early days of the 20th century in this extract from a piece entitled “Down Memory Lane” written by Peter’s grandson David for local Braes Magazine. (Further extracts are mostly from the same article)

In those days businesses such as ours sold all household supplies, clothing and agricultural commodities such as hay, corn, seeds and, believe it or not, shrouds. The latter were always sold after hours, in the dark, from the back of the shop. There was also a paraffin store with all fuels and barrels of salt herring and a garage for the travelling shop.

Peter T married Margaret Mary MacDonald (Daisy) in 1916. They had six of a family, the youngest of whom, Margaret, is a widow, still living in South Africa. She’s the tot in this photograph, taken round the side of the house in, I reckon, about 1933 or 34.

Pop and young family
From left to right: Archie, Peter T (known as Pop), Catherine (Cath), Mary Frances (Marac), Rosalie (Posie), little Margaret, Margaret Mary (Daisy) and Donald. Of the girls, Marac, Posie and Margaret married and had their own families. Sadly, Cath was killed, age 33, in a motor bike accident in 1953, and her mother Daisy died just a couple of years later. It would be the boys who would eventually carry on the business.

These are the cousins who were contemporaries of my Dad, of whom he had such fond memories. He wrote to his mother after Christmas 1931:  … in the afternoon we went to Speanbridge and we had a very happy time indeed, Archie and I were bursting the balloons, but it was only in fun.

Here’s another snippet from “Down Memory Lane”

Grandfather sent all the children to boarding school – the boys to St Aloysius in Glasgow and then Fort Augustus and the girls to Notre Dame in Dumbarton. Trade during the war years was difficult and as all the children had been educated privately, he was not well off.

The two boys served in the armed forces during World War II, Archie joining the RAF in 1940, and Donald the Scots Guards, though being younger this was later. When Donald came back after the war he joined his father Peter T and brother Archie in the family business. His job was the travelling shop which operated six days a week with a different route each day. The shop went as far as Letterfinlay, Kilmonivaig, Bohuntin, Fersit and Tulloch. As boys we all shared some of these trips during holidays getting to know the people and places. 

AJDPShop
Archie (L) and Donald in the shop doorway, I think in the early 1960’s
PopShop
And a picture of ‘Pop’ on what looks like the same day. Pop would have retired years before. He passed away in 1970, having been a widower for many years after Daisy died in 1955.

Donald retired from the shop in 1974 and then ran a successful bed and breakfast business in Spean Bridge for many years along with his wife Lies. He died only last year, leaving behind Lies, five children, 14 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. Donald will be fondly remembered for his good nature, wit and his service to the Lochaber community over many years. He was my hero as a youngster.

As you can see from the above pictures, it was Archie’s name which eventually appeared above the shop door. Here’s more from his son David about how it all started:

My father, Archie, joined the RAF in 1940 and was immediately sent to flight training school in the prairies at Medicine Hat in Canada; when he got his wings, he was going to return to UK for posting to a night fighter squadron but instead, was retained there as an instructor. He met my mother, Elsa, and married in Prince Edward Island in January 1945 and was demobbed in 1945. Before demob, my father remained at one of the RAF bases in the south and my mother travelled by train to Spean to meet her in-laws. Imagine the impression that post-war Britain made on a young Canadian girl who had experienced none of the shortages and dangers of the war; my grandfather lived in the Shop House with my grandmother and Mary Theresa, an unmarried aunt with whom my mother had to share a bedroom before her husband returned. She couldn’t believe that chamber pots were still in use!

The chamber pots didn’t seem to have put Elsa off and she and Archie went on to have  three sons and a daughter – here they are in a photo from the mid 1950’s. These children, now in their sixties and seventies, are my own contemporaries, though I didn’t know anything about them until recently. The little chap looking dapper in his bow tie is Cousin Robert, who I am indebted to for most of the Spean Bridge material that has appeared in recent posts. As well as the primitive plumbing, Robert can remember a time before the electricity supply was connected and the house was lit by Tilley (paraffin) lamps.

 

archie, elsa and children
Elsa, Linda (Canada), Donald (Inverness), Robert (South Africa), David (Spean Bridge), Archie.

It was David, the oldest son who would eventually take over from Archie, but not before spending 10 action packed years in the Royal Navy, a period he describes as one of the most enjoyable in his life. After his discharge in Feb 1971, he writes that he left Portsmouth with all my possessions in two suitcases. It wasn’t long before he and Archie had built the “new shop”, opened in 1975 – perhaps not so new now! These days, David is retired and lives with his wife Liz in the house that Archie built for his retirement, while David’s son Iain presides over the family business and lives in the original house, the sixth generation to do so.

AJ&DJShop
David and Archie and the new shop, 1970’s.

As I bring this account to a close, I wonder whether, if I were ever up in Spean Bridge, would I have the temerity to knock on the door and introduce myself to Iain, my third cousin once removed? I rather think I would! Who could resist? I’d love to go in and try and work out where it was that my father played the piano and burst Christmas balloons with his cousin Archie – perhaps it might have been in the same room where his own grandfather was born nearly a century before. And perhaps I might catch a glimpse of the ghost of the original Peter, nodding in satisfaction to see how the business he started in the middle of the 19th century has grown and prospered right through the 20th and well into the 21st.

aerial old shop

Nightmare!

stress-cartoon

Aaargh! My laptop’s playing up today and I just accidentally posted what was still a work in progress – it shouldn’t be that easy!!!

Please would you delete it if you just received a New Post notification? I’ll be posting the finished article later today once it’s all tidied up.  For now I need to go and take some time out to recover from the trauma…

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A Family Business

Let me introduce you to my great great grandparents, Peter MacFarlane and his wife Mary, nee MacDonald. Peter’s father was one John MacFarlane of Kingussie, reputed to have been in his 80’s when his son was born in 1808. His mother Grace was the granddaughter of the Chief of the Keppochs who died leading his clan at the battle of Culloden in 1746. There’s a family tradition, which I really hope is true, that John MacFarlane, my great great great grandfather, may have been one of two MacFarlane brothers who fought at Culloden in 1746, on the Prince’s side.  As John was probably born in 1724, he would have been in his early twenties at the time of the Jacobite rising of 1745 and at that age was unable to resist the adventure and appeal of Prince Charles Edward Stuart.

Anecdote: – “Two MacFarlane brothers fought at Culloden. (One was short and stocky and very clever and known as the ‘scholar’. The other was tall and very strong but not very bright.) They escaped the massacre by fleeing – the tall one carrying the smaller and the latter doing all the directing.” (from manuscript by Robert MacFarlane, with kind permission.)

Culloden456

Whether he was the ‘scholar’ or the dim brother, it’s not outwith the bounds of possibility that John MacFarlane might have actually met Bonnie Prince Charlie. We just don’t know, but neither do we know that he didn’t! Robert is working on finding the proof, believe me!

Peter’s father had died when he was just a boy so he was brought up by his uncle, his mother’s brother, in Killiechonate and eventually became a carpenter and contractor. It was there that he met and eventually married Mary MacDonald in 1836. It would appear that he took over the Shop at Spean Bridge in the 1840’s; by the time of the 1851 census he was described as joiner, postmaster and merchant.

Peter and Mary had five sons and one daughter, plus another little girl who died as a toddler as a result of a bonfire accident. It was the second son, Archie, who took over the shop from his father. It seems that John, the oldest, gave up his claim as his brother Archie was lame after being kicked by a horse in his youth. John went off to London and became a successful businessman, making his money in stocks and shares; he married but had no children. The third son, George, trained as a carpenter and emigrated to America, whilst the fourth, Angus, took Holy Orders and eventually became Bishop of Dunkeld. George settled in Cleveland Ohio, where he married and had two children. I don’t have a picture of George (1841-1914), but here are John (1836-1913) and Bishop Angus (1843-1912).

Next in line comes Jane Eliza, who was born in 1847, a couple of years after the sister, also named Jane, who had died in the tragic accident. Jane Eliza married Angus MacIntosh who was a gamekeeper, then land manager of the Loch Shiel Estate. They lived at Arisaig and had eight children. Here are pictures of a young Jane Eliza, and one a few years later.

Jane and family
Here we have Jane and Angus and four of their eight children – Donald, Anne, servant lady also named Ann, Georgina, Peter. Both Anne and Georgina married and had families of their own, but no-one knows what happened to the young men, they seem to have emigrated to Canada and disappeared without trace. Their other children, not pictured here, were John, Mary, Clementina (Clemy) and Grace.

Angus died in 1909 age 79. Jane Eliza survived him for a further 31 years and died in 1940 at Cranachan, where she’d gone to live with her daughter Georgina. She was 93.

Peter and Mary’s seventh child was born in on the 20th June 1849. Here’s an account of his birth (told by Theresa Otto, she who went to South Africa):

My grandfather was born in the house at Spean Bridge. The present sitting room was then 2 rooms and he was born in the middle room.  His father had been away for a period attending a sale. He returned with one or two friends in the evening and his wife served them with a meal. There was a squeak from the corner.  “What’s that?” asked Peter Snr. “That’s your latest son” replied his wife!!!  And that’s how my great grandfather heard of the birth.

Peter 1922

So this – finally! – brings us to my own family’s connection to the Spean Bridge MacFarlanes . The baby who had popped into the world with so little inconvenience to his busy mother, and even less to his father, was my great grandfather, Peter (Jnr). I’ve mentioned him a few times in previous posts, but mostly in his later years when he was already well established in Fort William. However although we are certainly going to trace his story in future posts, for now let’s just note his arrival into this crowded household and turn the focus back on the family business and the brother who eventually took over the shop from their father – Archie, the second son.

archie and catherine

Archie married Catherine Redmond, who I think came from Dublin, in 1875. It is interesting to me that they were wed in Kinning Park in Glasgow, which makes me think that Catherine was perhaps living there at the time. I wonder how they met – perhaps she was working for a supplier and it was love at first sight – wouldn’t you just like to think so? They certainly make a rather handsome couple.

Shop 1 001
The original shop, mid 1870’s. The indistinct figure in front of the building is probably Archie with his oldest child, Catherine.
Shop 2 001
A somewhat clearer picture taken a few years later. Archie is standing in front of the shop – you can see the goods in the window. In front of the house we can see Archie’s wife Catherine (in the hat) and maybe some of his daughters, or children and servant(s). Note that development of the building had begun, with improved chimney pots and a new dormer window above the front porch. Peter Snr was probably out of the picture by now – he died in 1887, five years after his wife Mary.
Shop 3 001
By about 1900, further improvements had been carried out in the shape of some new windows. Here’s Archie standing in front of his newly extended shop.

Archie and Catherine had five daughters and two sons, although the youngest one, John Archibald, born 1889, died of scarlet fever when he was only two or three. Here’s a nice picture of all the family together, taken about 1905, probably capturing a fleeting moment before the grown up daughters would start leaving home. Four of the five got married and started families of their own, as did son Peter Thomas, the youngest surviving child. Mary Theresa never married and ran the shop along with Peter T, who took over the reins once his father died in 1908.

Archie & family 2 - Copy
Standing – Jane Eliza (Jeannie), Peter Thomas, Jessie Margaret (Daisy), Georgina Bride. Seated – Mary Theresa, Archie, Catherine with her first child (Catherine) on her knee and Grandma Catherine by her side.

Drawing together the threads of this narrative has been a slightly disorientating experience for me. It has caused an almost seismic shift in my focus as I’ve gone from regarding Fort William as being THE home of the MacFarlanes to really understanding how the roots of this branch of the family actually lie here in Spean Bridge. And in fact that understanding can make one feel like a bit of an outsider, not really part of the real family, which is probably a slightly ridiculous reaction and one which should be resisted!

I do wonder though if this isn’t part of that legacy of loss I inherited from my father, who if you remember, was always hankering after the past. As I’ve been setting down, step by step, the story of the shop and piecing together the parts played by the various Archies and Peters and Janes and Johns, I’ve started to get much more of a feel for the whole fabric of relationships, and a sense of the family saga which would have been passed down from generation to generation. A saga that seems strangely familiar even though I feel I come to it almost as a visitor from far away.

But not quite a stranger. As I became immersed in the elements of the tale, I was aware of tendrils of memory swirling around, pieces of the jigsaw that suddenly make sense when you see them in conjunction with everything else. I now understand, for example, that the Aunt Clemy that my Dad used to talk about must have been Jane Eliza’s daughter, born in Arisaig, married and living in Corpach. That the ‘Morag Arisaig’ we visited one year was the daughter of Jane’s oldest son John, and that her two brothers, John and Angus, perished in WW2. Robert tells me that Morag only died recently, but I’m NOT going to engage in any regrets that I didn’t have contact with her over the years! (Sigh)

I’ve no doubt that other cousins will take one look at these old photos and will know immediately, or can work out, where they fit in. Robert will see his grandfather Peter T as a young man. Cousin Catriona will see her grandmother Georgina. Others will recognise family names that they share. I expect it will be the same with your family.

We’ll explore the further history of the shop in the next post. Meantime, I’ll leave you with this final family group, Jane Eliza with five of her children. Note that the Georgina in this picture is a different person from the one above. I kind of wonder if this might have been taken during WW1, on account of what looks to me like a VAD uniform. Perhaps Mary had joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment, a unit of civilian volunteers who helped nurse injured soldiers.

Clementina family group
Back – Grace, John, Georgina. Front – Clementina, Jane, Mary