We’ll take a wee break from the house saga this week and instead have a story for Halloween…
Isabella filled the kettle and started putting her messages away while she waited for it to boil. She wasn’t sure about the oranges and peanuts she’d bought for the guisers, remembering the way the kids had looked down their noses at her basket of fruit and nuts last year. Those modern kids expected big bags of sweets. And pound coins – some even them even expected pound coins! She was getting a bit sick of it if she was honest. Maybe tomorrow she’d turn out the lights and just not answer the door if anyone came calling. Yes, that’s what she’d do.
She’d no sooner poured her tea than the doorbell rang and she called out “Coming!” as she hobbled down the hall to answer the door. She hated it when visitors rang again and again when she took too long to answer. People were so impatient.
It was that Mrs McCusker from the flat in the close next door. “Oh Mrs Steele, I’m so sorry to bother you, but you did say if I was ever stuck…?”
“Yes?” It came out rather more sharply than she intended.
Mrs McCusker stepped aside, revealing the skinny, wretched-looking child who was standing behind her. “It’s Beccy here, she’s sick and she’s been sent home from school. I really shouldn’t have taken her in this morning, but I thought she’d be okay once she got there – you know how they exaggerate sometimes – and I simply have to get back to work, we’re so short staffed at the moment. I’m sorry to ask but my mum’s got a hospital appointment today and I have no-one else. You couldn’t…? I mean would you mind…? She won’t be any trouble and I’ll come and get her just as soon as I’ve picked up the boys from after-school club at five o’clock.”
Isabella felt her heart melting as she looked at the two anxious faces. “Well of course she can stop with me, Mrs McCusker, what are neighbours for? Come away in Beccy, I’m sure we’ll get along just fine while your mum goes to work won’t we? Have you time for a cuppa, Mrs McCusker, before you go?
There was no time for a cuppa. She gave Beccy a peck on the cheek. “You be a good girl now Rebecca.” Her words trailed after her as she hurried down the street.
Beccy watched her mother disappear round the corner then stepped nervously into the hallway. Isabella realised that although the family had come to live next door three, no four, years ago, this was the first time any of them had ever stepped over her threshold. Isabella took pride in keeping herself to herself, but now it struck her that it seemed plain unfriendly never to have invited her neighbour in for a cup of tea even though they often passed the time of day when they encountered each other on the way in or out.
She could feel the child shaking as she directed her into the lounge, so she spoke gently, “Why don’t you just settle yourself here on the settee, Beccy, I can see you’re feeling quite poorly, you look so pale and miserable. I’ve got this nice fluffy blanket so let’s tuck you in nice and cosy. I’m just going to fetch my cup of tea from the kitchen and then I usually watch Homes Under the Hammer round about now, is that alright with you?” Beccy smiled and nodded, “My Nan watches Homes Under the Hammer”… and she has a blanket just like this one, she thought sleepily.
Beccy was fast asleep by the time Isabella returned and she found herself just sitting watching the sleeping child; the programme and the now cold tea forgotten. It had been quite a while since a child had slept in the house, and the memories of her own young ones and her dear Jimmy came flooding back to her as she too nodded off.
She woke with a start. Why do the adverts always play so much louder than the programme, she thought crossly as she quickly turned off the trailer for Strictly Come Dancing. Good, the child was still sleeping, she’d just let her be and go and listen to the news in the kitchen. “Sleep is the best medicine” was what she always used to say whenever any of her girls fell ill. And she had heard them say that to their own children, just as her mother had said it to her…
I’m in a funny mood, she thought, and I feel like baking a cake! She hummed as she bustled about, just as she did in the days when often as not she’d be taking a cake or some scones out of the oven just as the girls got home from school. They’d crash in the front door and head straight for the delicious smell coming from the kitchen, leaving a trail of bags and coats and musical instruments in their wake. She wished now she’d spent less time telling them off and wanting them to be quieter, tidier, more helpful, less … what? How could she have known how much she’d come to miss the noisy chaos, the sheer life of them around the place. Oh, they brought the grandchildren to visit occasionally, but it wasn’t the same, was it?
A soft knock on the kitchen door interrupted her reverie and she turned to find Beccy peeping shyly into the room. “I hope you don’t mind, I woke up and …” “Of course not, dear, come and sit by me. Look I’ve made a cake! Do you think you could manage a slice, you’re looking so much better than you did earlier, your cheeks are quite pink now.”
“I’m starving, I puked up all my breakfast!”
Isabella laughed and cut into the cake. “I should really let it cool for longer, but if you’re starving…”
Beccy seemed like a different child as she tucked in to the cake and looked curiously around the room. She spotted the fruit which Isabella had emptied into her Halloween basket. “Mrs Steele? Your basket’s got spiders on it, is that for Halloween? For trick or treat?”
“Hmm, well maybe . And we never used to call it trick or treat when I was a girl”
“Did they not have Halloween in the olden days then?”
“Oh bless you, yes of course we did! It’s just we used to call it guising and we had turnips for lanterns, not pumpkins, and the wee boys used to say ‘Gonnie gie’s ma Halloween!'”
As the afternoon wore on, the old lady and the little girl sat at the kitchen table and chatted away like old friends. Isabella learned all about Beccy and her two little brothers, James and Ronnie, and how the three of them were all excited about getting dressed up in their skeleton costumes and going out trick or treating with their Mum the following evening.
Isabella found herself telling Beccy what Halloween used to be like ‘in the olden days’ when the shops weren’t full of pumpkins and bags of Halloween sweets and ready-made costumes. She unearthed her old photograph album and found the picture of Lizzie, Kate and Maisie all dressed up in old clothes and home made masks. “All the children in the street used to go up and down the closes together, and be made to sing a song or say a poem to get a sweetie or an orange, or even sometimes a sixpence.”
And Jimmy, she remembered, would shadow the band of excited children like an unseen guardian angel making sure that nothing untoward happened to his girls until they fetched up safely home again with their Halloween bags full to the brim. The family always had bangers and mash for their special Halloween tea, and Jimmy would scare the girls witless with his tales of witches and spirits and how the ancient Celts believed that on the night of the 31st of October the ghosts of the dead would walk again amongst them, and large bonfires were lit in each village in order to ward off the evil spirits. She could hear his voice now, “And that” he’d declare “was how Halloween began.”
“Mrs Steele? Are you alright Mrs Steele? Did I upset you?” Beccy’s face was full of concern and Isabella patted her hand as she wiped away a tear. “Oh no dear, not at all, I’m just remembering how things were… how I was…
“Oh, there’s the bell, that’ll be your mum and your brothers, let’s go and let them in, maybe they’d like a piece of cake.”
Beccy’s brothers didn’t need to be asked twice and their mother followed them into the kitchen for the long-overdue cup of tea, just a quick one! The two little boys were beside themselves with excitement – mum had bought a pumpkin and they were going home now to carve their very own lantern. Mrs McCusker – “call me Sophie” – gave a tired smile. Isabella thought how very weary she looked and on impulse said “Why don’t you all come back here for your tea once the pumpkin carving is done? I make a mean macaroni cheese!”
“Oh no, we couldn’t, we’ve imposed upon you enough already today…”
“Nonsense, I’ve had a lovely day, having Beccy here has made the house come to life again, you’d be doing me a favour. And anyway, when are you going to find time to cook if you’re busy carving a pumpkin?”
The children looked hopefully at their mother; they all loved macaroni cheese. Sophie knew when she was beaten and smiled gratefully at Isabella.
As she grated the cheese, Isabella’s brain was busy. I wonder if I could persuade them to come for bangers and mash tomorrow? I can go to the supermarket in the morning and get potatoes and sausages, and some of those bags of gruesome sweets the children love so much. And maybe a small pumpkin to make a lantern for the window, I’m sure it must be a lot easier to hollow out a pumpkin than a turnip….
I think I should be calling this a Saga rather than a Story as we’ve reached part 3 and are still only at 1906! Trouble is, there are just so many interesting facts to be discovered, so many assumptions to shatter, unknown lives to celebrate. Let’s see how far the story takes us today, you’re not in any hurry are you…?
1906-1917. With the Macgregors gone, a new tenant took up residence at number 8. Mrs Isabella Millar was a lady in her sixties, a widow whose husband David had died, age 70, in March of 1900. The pair had been married for 36 years and had lived at St George’s Cross where David Millar worked as a hatter. Isabella now came to live in Kersland Street with her maid Mary Brown, a 20 year old girl from Leadhills.
Mrs Millar had private means, her husband having left behind an estate of about £360, which would be worth around £11,555 in today’s money. So she didn’t need, and wouldn’t have qualified for, the new Old Age Pension which came into being in January 1909 – “Pensions Day” – and paid a weekly pension of 5s (7s 6d for couples) to eligible people aged 70 or more. The Old Age Pensions Act, passed in 1908, was just one of the reforms brought in by the Liberal Government led by Herbert Asquith, then David Lloyd-George. Probably as much because they were afraid of the promises being made by the newly formed Labour Party as an overwhelming desire to improve the lot of the poor working classes. I’m sure they did mean well too, but politics is all about winning votes, right?
I found out something quite remarkable as I was searching for Mrs Millar in the records. We all know that women weren’t given the vote until 1918, don’t we? But did you know that women could actually vote in non-parliamentary elections as early as the 1830’s? No, neither did I! But there are some dusty old ledgers sitting on a shelf in the Mitchell Library listing ‘Female Voters’ and dating back to at least 1831. So when it came to Town Councils, Parish Councils, School Boards, women were there voting with the men. And I don’t think it was only women with property either, as you’re just as likely to see ‘tenant’ and ‘charwoman’ as ‘proprietor’ and ‘private means’
And Isabella B Millar is right up there, listed with the best of them, so it would be great to think of her jamming her platter hat firmly on her head and marching round to the Burgh Hall to exercise her vote in the latest municipal elections. Oh alright, walking round in a dignified way if you prefer…
I don’t know how many children Isabella and David had, but there was one daughter, Agnes, known as Ada, who lived quite near her mother in a house called Ashcraig, just a little further up Great Western Road at Kirklee. Ada had married a chap called Frederick Lansdown Morrison, MA, LLB. Fred had had a distinguished academic career (he’d gone up to Glasgow University at the age of 16) and the 1901 census lists him as being a writer.
Ashcraig was the Morrison family home and Ada and Fred lived there with their three sons Ronald, James and Leslie, so I guess Isabella would have been able to visit her daughter, grandsons and son-in-law quite often. And they must surely have come to number 8 to visit granny. I wonder if they’d be shown in to the parlour upstairs, or gone down to the cosy kitchen in the basement where Mary Brown might have been baking cakes in the cast iron range.
When war broke out in 1914, Fred Morrison was among the first to sign up, even though he was already 50 years old. He served with the Highland Light Infantry, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Fred served in Gallipoli, Egypt and Palestine and was much decorated, though he felt he had done nothing to deserve it other than to survive, and paid warm tribute to the bravery of his officers and men who had died in battle. Colonel Morrison’s battalion had suffered very heavy losses at Gallipoli – only 5 out of 29 officers survived the campaign and 321 out of 1033 other ranks.
Two of Ada’s sons, Ronald and Leslie, also joined the Highland Light Infantry and I have an idea that James, the middle son, went to Canada and joined up there.
With all her men away at war, I think that Ada brought her mother to live at Ashcraig, where no doubt the two women could console and support each other, and Ada could look after Isabella, whose health was failing. I’m sure that worry about her grandsons and son-in-law did her heart condition no good at all and on the 7th July 1917 Isabella passed away at age 78 with Ada by her side. The cause of death was myocarditis and dilatation of the heart. Poor Ada’s woes weren’t over, for on the 22nd December that year, Fred died at 54 in Alexandria Egypt, the strains and hardships of war finally taking their toll. He was buried at the Alexandria War Memorial Cemetery.
This one family’s story mirrors what was happening to families up and down the land, indeed throughout the world. Among the many memorials which were raised to commemorate this lost generation, locally a peal of 8 bells were gifted to Kelvinside Parish Church by Mr Nicol Paton Brown, whose only son, Captain Kenneth Ashby Brown lost his life in battle, shortly after the bells were installed.The peal forms a memorial to the men of Glasgow Academy, Kelvinside Academy and the church congregation who died in the Great War. The bells were rung for the first time on Christmas Day, 1917. I don’t suppose Ada would have felt much like celebrating Christmas as she listened to them ring out and remembered all she had lost that year, and might yet lose, with her boys so far away. But I believe she was spared further sorrow for by all accounts all three young men survived the war and came home.
In December, 1918, the bells were formally dedicated in a special service at which both West End schools were represented. To this day they can still be heard ringing out at 11 am each year on the 11th of November.
1918-1926. With the passing of Mrs Millar, number 8 saw the arrival of new tenants, the MacCulloch sisters, Jessie, Nellie and Rebecca, and their occupation is recorded as ‘Governess’ – all three of them. Now I don’t quite know what to make of this – I would have thought that a governess was someone in Victorian times who lived in the household, not quite a servant, but not part of the family either. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here as the sisters were all living in Kersland Street, so perhaps they were kind of ‘day governesses’, going off each day to teach their charges and coming back home at night, or… could their pupils have come to them? But if that’s the case, why not call yourself a tutor, or a teacher? I’m afraid I can offer no answer to these questions.
What I do know is that the MacCulloch sisters came from a large family of seven girls and one boy. We can follow the family’s progress through the years by catching up with the census every decade. It makes interesting reading…
In 1861, David and Mary MacCulloch already had two daughters, Jane (7) and Jessie (5 months), and a son, Andrew (6). They lived at 22 St Vincent Street (near George Square in the centre of Glasgow) and David worked as an Emigration and Insurance Agent, probably at one of the nearby firms in the city.
By 1871, the family had grown considerably and Jane, Andrew and Jessie were joined by another five sisters: Mary (8), Ellen (7), Rebecca (5), Isabella (2) and Robertina (4 months). The family had moved south of the river to what looks like a large workman’s cottage on Shields Road – St Andrews Cottage. Also in the household were a servant and a nurse – I should think so too! David was now working as an Iron Merchant.
Over the next ten years, all the older children would leave home, I’m not quite sure where to, except that I think that Jane got married to one William Keighley, and went to live in Yorkshire.
In 1881, the household comprised David and Mary, with Jessie (20), Rebecca (15), Robertina (10) and a servant girl. The family fortunes seem to have flourished because there has been another move which now sees them at a ‘good’ address in the West End, 27 Hayburn Crescent, Hyndland. David’s occupation is described as ‘Commission Agent, Metal Trade’ – so still an Iron Merchant then!
Young Isabella, who would have been 12, would appear to be missing, but we mustn’t jump to conclusions – David and Mary might have suffered the loss of their child, but she might equally just have been absent on census night, perhaps staying over with a friend or one of her older siblings. At 51 and 46, you would have thought that David and Mary could have been looking forward to seeing their remaining children settled, and for their own lives to become a little less hectic.
However!!! 1891 sees the family now living at 3 Elgin Terrace (now Havelock Street) in Partick, which is definitely a move downmarket. David, at 61, is described as an Oil Merchant’s Clerk, and the household now consists of Jessie, Mary, Ellen, Rebecca and Robertina plus Jane Keighley with her two daughters, Lena (7) and Gladys (2), both born in England, plus another grand daughter, Margaret MacCulloch, age 4, born in Giffnock, Glasgow.
There must surely have been a series of catastrophes to have brought the family to this state of affairs, but the census really only leaves us with more questions than answers. Did William Keighley die, leaving Jane alone with two small children? Why did Mary and Ellen come back home? Was one of them Margaret’s mother? Who was the father? How did it come about that all five of those unmarried daughters are described as ‘Governess’, with skills, variously, in English, French, Music and Latin.
I am very intrigued by this singular family, and I feel sad that I haven’t found out any more about them other than these bare facts. If I was a more skilled researcher, with more time, perhaps I would know where to look to see how they fared in the years between this census of 1891 and 1918 when Jessie, Nellie and Becca landed in Kersland Street in the wake of the Great War. By this time, these women were in their 50’s, marriage had passed them by, and employment opportunities for women in those days were sparse.
But I imagine that they stuck together, as their family had always done, and did what they needed in order to survive, getting what teaching work they could to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. There were probably periods when they took in lodgers, as some years the electoral register throws up some additional names – Christina Yuill, Mary Alexander, John Dewar, Stanley Wylie, all perhaps finding a home for a year or two before moving on. I imagine hardworking, enterprising people, and I admire their resilience.
And I’d also like to imagine Jessie, Nellie, Becca and their lodgers occasionally finding time to visit a new phenomenon in the neighbourhood, the Salon Cinema which was quite literally round the corner in Vinicombe Street. The Salon was one of the first suburban cinemas in Glasgow (1913), and was also notable for housing a full orchestra, and for serving tea and biscuits to its patrons during the afternoon! Sounds ideal for the sisters, doesn’t it?
Handy hint – if you haven’t already, it would probably be better to read the first part of this story before proceeding to part 2!
Madame Stewart lived at 8 Kersland Street for a few years from 1877, and then the tenancy was taken up by a Mrs Addie who lived there until 1891, when a certain James Macgregor moved in. I’ve not been able to discover anything at all about Mrs Addie, other than that her rental was £30 per annum. However, it’s a different story when it comes to James Henderson Macgregor as – finally! – we have some actual facts to go on, thanks to census returns of 1891 and 2001.
When James moved into Kersland Street with his wife Isabella in 1891, they were newlyweds, having been married on the 17th June only the year before, at the Alexandra Hotel in Bath Street, Glasgow. Like my own parents, neither were native Glaswegians: 29 year old Isabella Oliver came from quite a large family in Tullibody, Clackmannanshire. Her father was a master baker and the 1881 census records that she, at age 20, was a pupil teacher. James (27) came from Stirling and his father had been a timber merchant. Stirling and Tullibody belong to the same part of the world, so it seems likely that James and Isabella became sweethearts when they were still living at home with their families.
James seems to have been the first of the pair to move to Glasgow – his address on the marriage certificate is given as Hill Street, Garnethill (yes, more hills!), and he had a job as a commercial traveller. I get the feeling that James hadn’t been there for very long when he arranged the wedding in a hotel quite near to his lodgings in the city centre. It was the sort of place where business meetings were also carried out, so perhaps familiar to him through his work. As you can see it was quite a grand place (no longer there), so seemed to fit the bill quite nicely.
Isabella’s address was Stirling Road, Tullibody, so I imagine she travelled to Glasgow to marry James, and presumably lived with him at Hill Street until they took up their new residence in the West End. It’s possible that Isabella was pregnant when they moved in, for their first child, Lilian, was born in 1892, probably at home. A brother, James, followed in 1895 and a sister, Isabella, in 1898. The 1901 census also notes a servant, Susan Campbell, 30.
8 Kersland Street was (and is) a traditional tenement building, not distinguished by any great architectural features or notable inhabitants, and certainly not as well appointed as some of the grander terraces and villas in the neighbourhood. But neither was it a cramped little single end or two bedroom flat with a shared outside toilet such as the one where we lived in Govan when I was a child, and which were very prevalent throughout the poorer parts of Glasgow. Even the most ordinary tenements in this corner of Hillhead provided more than adequate accommodation for their residents, with sizeable rooms, bay windows and high ceilings. Not to mention proper plumbing and gas, then electric, lighting.
So all in all, I think that number 8 would have suited the Macgregor family very well. James would only have had to step out to Great Western Road to join the bustling commuters taking trams or trains into town, where his firm, J Hartley & Co, Glassmakers, had an office at 130 Bath Street. Or further afield if he was visiting clients. And he could also have taken the Subway, which opened in 1891, the third oldest metro in the world.
With Papa safely off to work in the morning, it would be time for the children to go to school. I’ve searched through the admission records of the two nearest primary schools, Dowanhill and Church Street Primaries, but I’m afraid I drew a blank and I don’t think Lilian, James or little Bella would have attended the Catholic St Peter’s Primary, as their parents had married according to Church of Scotland rites. And then I remembered – Isabella had been a teacher, could she possibly have taught the children herself at home? However, I feel this is not the likeliest solution – the 1872 Education (Scotland) Act had made primary education universal and mandatory, and it seems that the School Boards were pretty assiduous at chasing up non-attendees. Whatever the truth of it, I imagine that they would have been in a class looking something like this, girls in pinafores, boys in collars.
I’m always quite impressed when I learn that a family had a servant or two – what a luxury! But then, I’m looking at it from the point of view of someone who takes for granted all our modern electrical ‘servants’ – washing machine, vacuum cleaner, refrigerator, central heating…. In 1900, they had none of those advantages, so of course everything would have to be done by hand in a laborious and time consuming way. When you think of all the daily tasks that had to be done in this fashion, one servant doesn’t seem enough, and seems more like a necessary expense than a great extravagance, especially when there are young children to be looked after.
Militant suffragist (after long and futile efforts to light a fire for her tea-kettle). “And to think that only yesterday I burnt two pavilions and a church!”
Take the laundry, for example. There was a communal wash house in the basement, shared by all the households in the building. Each house would have its own laundry day, when you would light a fire under the big copper boiler, wait for the water to heat and then boil your clothes and linens in it, popping in your Recketts Blue Bag which would make the whites look whiter by disguising any yellowness. Then boil up more water for rinsing and hang it all out to dry in the back green. And then of course there would be all the ironing (and starching) and putting away to do afterwards. If you were little better off you could send your washing to the laundry, so perhaps the Macgregors could do that at least some of the time.
But it would also be nice to think that life wasn’t ALL about the daily slog. I’ve mentioned before that the Botanic Gardens was no more than a hop, skip and a jump away, and I feel sure that the children would have been able to play in the street after school with their friends, or in the back garden if they could dodge the washing flapping on the line. They might have found a little time in the evenings to gather round the piano and sing, or maybe they liked to play card games or enjoyed reading or sewing, though the latter was maybe more of a necessity than a leisure activity. Perhaps James and Isabella would take their family to church on a Sunday morning and then a stroll in the park in the afternoon.
The nineteenth century became the 20th, and the new Edwardian age began with the passing of the old Queen on the 22nd January 1901. That same year Glasgow played host to a great International Exhibition which ran from May until November at Kelvingrove Park, just beyond the University. The event was hugely popular, and clocked up over 11 million visits by the time it closed its doors to the public on the 9th of November. You can get an idea of the scale of it from this picture showing the halls, pavilions, cafes and other attractions spread out on the 73 acre site on both sides of the River Kelvin with the University looking down from Gilmorehill to the right.
I do hope that the Macgregors took full advantage of the historic exhibition during the six months when it was happening more or less on their doorstep. Perhaps they even went along to to watch Princess Louise, the King’s daughter, perform the opening ceremony, or were there on the day the King of Siam paid a visit, or the French Empress Eugenie. They could have bought a programme and discussed over dinner which attractions they would explore on their next visit.
The years rolled by and in 1906 we lose sight of James and Isabella and their little family for it is at that point, after 15 years, that they leave Kersland Street, the home where they started their married life and where their children were born. I can find no clue to tell me where they went after that. I note with a heavy heart that only 8 short years later the world would be in turmoil and that young James at 19 would be of an age to find himself in the awful trenches of the Great War, while his sisters, at 22 and 16 might have known what it was to lose a sweetheart. There is always an element of sadness when you’re delving into the past and know that the lives you become involved with – and come to care about – ended before you were even born. And of course it’s especially poignant when hindsight tells you that those lives are inexorably heading towards a dark cloud which may shatter their hopes and dreams forever.
I can only hope that the Macgregor family of Kersland Street came through the First World War relatively unscathed and that perhaps some stray descendant of theirs might come across this blog and be moved to share with us some of the answers to the question, “what then?”
As I’ve been exploring the history of my kinsfolk in this blog, a prominent feature of each tale has always been the family home – Spean Cottage, 50 High Street, 56 Logan Street, dwellings in Blackpool, Inverness, Cleckheaton…
And of course there’s also the house at 8 Kersland Street in Hillhead, Glasgow, the ‘front door’ (i.e. ground floor) tenement flat, which played such an important part in my childhood and was our family’s address for 50 years. So for this, my 50th post, I thought I’d have a go at tracing the history and character of this house of ours, right from the latter part of the 19th century when it first appeared on a map, until the present day.
At the beginning of the 19th century the area of Hillhead, to the west of Glasgow City, was still an undeveloped rural district nestling in the curve of the River Kelvin. If you look at the above map you can see that the most prominent feature was a house in wooded grounds on the brow of the hill leading down to the river. This was Hillhead House, a long, pavilion style villa which dated back at least to 1680. Here is a picture of the house as it was in 1875.
Hillhead House came into the possession of one Andrew Gibson in 1707, and a few generations of the Gibson family seem to have lived there in prosperity and tranquility for the next 100 years and more. To the east, throughout the 1700’s, Glasgow itself grew and prospered at an unprecedented rate, largely due to the enormous fortunes being made at the time out of the tobacco trade with the colonies of America. By the beginning of the 1800’s the industrial revolution was taking hold and over the years the city became increasingly overcrowded and subject to poor air quality due to the factories which were springing up within its bounds.
Enter one James Gibson, last of the Gibson dynasty to live at Hillhead House and inheritor of the house and of the “twenty shilling land of old extent of Byres of Partick and Hillhead” which his forebear Andrew had acquired. James must have recognised that the time was ripe for development of the land, for the following notice appeared in the Glasgow Herald on the 31st of August 1827, with, you’ll notice, instructions to apply to Mr Gibson at Hillhead…
There was a plan! And as part of that plan, James Gibson had instigated works which would result in Hillhead becoming much more accessible from the city; namely a turnpike road (Great Western Road) and a bridge over the river Kelvin at the bottom end of what is now Gibson Street.
Gibson’s plots proved popular and were soon snapped up by eager developers who paid top dollar for some of the best architects of the day, including Alexander ‘Greek’ Thompson, to design handsome villas, terraces and tenements, in order to attract those wealthy Glaswegians who were keen to move upwind of the increasingly unwholesome city to more salubrious surroundings. Although Byres Road is today the hub of the West End, tenements and shops didn’t start appearing there until 1870. The original development centred on Hillhead Street, which was built to connect Hillhead House with Great Western Road, and it spread out from there.
Development continued apace and the West End grew rapidly; by the late 1860’s Hillhead’s population had increased from a few hundred to over 3,000 and burgh status was awarded in 1869. Having set the whole enterprise in motion, James Gibson JP retired to Dunoon in 1861 and died there the following year. I wish I knew more about the man who was so instrumental in the creation of Hillhead, whether he was a great visionary or just an entrepreneur with family land who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Probably a bit of both. Hillhead House had a few more tenants, including a period of four years when it became Hillhead House School, before it was finally demolished in 1878.
So where, I hear you asking, does Kersland Street come into all this? Follow me to the Mitchell Library, repository of Glasgow’s municipal records, and many hours spent trawling through old maps, Post Office Directories, Valuation and Electoral Rolls. If it sounds long and tedious, let me assure you it is! It’s easy enough to find information about the fine red and blond sandstone villas and terraces of Hillhead; about notable churches and halls; new roads and bridges; famous inhabitants and institutions such as the University of Glasgow or Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
But the more modest Kersland Street does not feature in any of those accounts. The origin of Kersland Street is to be found by a process of elimination! The 1979-80 Post Office Directory gives us the first clue, where we find one ‘Madame Stewart’ living at our address. This is the first mention of 8 Kersland Street in the directory, but it doesn’t mean that no-one lived there before that – you had to pay to be included! But each edition comes with an associated map – great big laminated sheets stored in an old map chest.
So off we go to the map chest and out they come, one by one – 1879, ’78, ’77, and so on. And there it is. 1873 shows Kersland Street; 1872 shows an open space! This was quite exciting, as you can imagine – I kept jabbing my finger at the two maps, just to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. But we’re in a library; my whoopee moment had to be internalised. All the same, all those years of doing those stupid ‘spot the difference’ puzzles with the children have finally paid off, yippee!
Armed with this information, I think we can pinpoint 1870-72 as the critical period when our tenement building came into being, round about the same time as Byres Road, just around the corner, was undergoing development (mainly shops with flats above) and Glasgow University was moving to nearby Gilmorehill from the site on the High Street which it had occupied since 1451. By the way, if you’re wondering why so many of Glasgow’s streets and districts include the word ‘hill’ it’s because the whole city is built on a series of drumlins (small hills) which were left behind by glacial action after the last ice age. So, yes, Glasgow is a very hilly place!
Here’s another map for you (our location indicated by the blue arrow), an interesting contrast to the one above for it shows the whole area between Hillhead Street down the hill to Byres Road now more or less completely developed into the configuration which it still has to this day.
So, Madame Stewart, our tenant – what do we know about her? Her entry in the PO directory is given as ‘Stewart, Madam’. Oh my goodness, I thought, the house is just built and already it’s a house of ill repute! But I will quickly apologise for this speculation as further research indicates that this Madame Stewart was the Lady Superintendent of English and French at an Institution for young ladies, an altogether more gentile and respectable occupation. I’d love to know brought this lady to Kersland Street. I think that there maybe wasn’t a Mr Stewart or surely he’d have been mentioned. Perhaps Madame was a widow, and came to live in Kersland Street along with a ladies’ maid or a cook – there’s plenty of room to accommodate both – and worked in some nearby establishment educating the daughters of the wealthy.
I’m going to take an imaginary walk around the block with this Victorian lady – let’s call her Eliza – and try to imagine what she might have been like. The year is 1886. (You can easily follow this walk on the map above.)
We cross the lane at the side of the house, and I see that number 6 is occupied by an office of some sort. I tell her how, when we first came to live in Kersland Street, this was a small newsagents, Brown’s, where we used to spend our pennies on sweets – penny caramels, blackjacks, rhubarb rock. Eliza smiles rather gravely, I can’t tell whether she disapproves or not.
We round the corner onto Great Western Road, and head towards Kelvinside Parish Church, on the corner with Byres Road. It strikes me that the church would be very convenient if Eliza wished to attend services there; she just nods politely when I make the suggestion, so I refrain from telling her that the building’s 21st century manifestion is as a popular venue and drinking establishment named Oran Mor.
A tram goes by and Eliza indicates that yes, she sometimes travels by tram. She’s not forthcoming about where she goes and I find I can’t inquire. Instead I tell her than in a few short years, a railway station would be built at Botanic Gardens and would open in 1896, as would the Glasgow Underground. I start sensing that Eliza doesn’t really want to know about things that haven’t happened in her world yet, so we turn to the Gardens themselves and the wonderful Kibble Palace glasshouse, where, she is happy to tell me, she occasionally takes her young charges when they are becoming bored with French and English lessons.
As we turn another corner and head down Byres Road, we pass Hillhead Burgh Hall, built in 1872 to provide accommodation for the Burgh Court Hall, Fiscal’s Office and Police Office, with ample cells for local miscreants. The Council Chambers housed various municipal officers. I definitely choose not to tell Eliza that this fine building was rather regrettably demolished in 1970 at a time when it wasn’t considered necessary or important to preserve Glasgow’s Victorian heritage. An also rather regrettable modern library was built on the site.
We continue strolling and turn into Cresswell Street, where Hillhead Baptist Church is a prominent feature. I look into Eliza’s face to see if there’s any hint to tell me if this might be her place of worship, but, as ever, she’s giving nothing away. So I tell her how I used to take my little ones to playgroup in this very church hall.
Another corner and we find ourselves in Cranworth Street, location of the Western Swimming Baths, a private – and rather exclusive – swimming and leisure club. I think I detect a twinkle in Eliza’s eye as we walk past, but she doesn’t say anything and I start to think I’ve imagined it.
We turn right into Vinicombe Street, up the hill, then left into Kersland Street where we are soon back at number 8. Eliza gives my arm a gentle squeeze before she softly fades back into the past, leaving me with many questions, and the feeling that she has found out far more about me than I did about her. But I still think it’s not impossible that she could have attended the social evening and display of ‘natation’ at the Western Baths, as depicted in this cartoon from October 1886.
Next time, we’ll explore the fate of the house and its inhabitants in the 20th century.
I’m working on something a bit special (and time consuming!) for my 50th post next week. In the meantime, for post number 49, I thought I’d share with you eight clips from the Internet that have inspired me in recent months. Mostly they have encouraged me to think a little differently about the world, given me hope or joy, or have even restored my faith in humanity – maybe they’ll do the same for you. At the very least I hope they raise a smile or two!
So, in no particular order, here are some random ideas worth spreading… (You might need to activate the sound on each one – copying seems sometimes to turn it off)
You find some lovely quotes when you type ‘thankfulness’ into Google, especially at this time of the year when our America cousins are starting to prepare for their Thanksgiving Day in November. I’m going to use just a few of those quotes to illustrate this post. The occasion? I’m having myself a mini celebration of nearly a year and a half of blogging and as I look forward to making my 50th post quite soon, I’m feeling grateful that I’ve come this far and want to pay tribute to all those who have encouraged and supported me along the way. I honestly had no idea when I started just how much of a collaborative effort it would turn out to be…
ANCESTORS. Starting with my dear mum and dad, John and Nellie, and back through grandparents, great grandparents and beyond, I am truly thankful for the lives they lived, their struggles, triumphs and tragedies. My quest to understand their lives and the influences that made them the people they were have enriched my understanding of myself and my own genetic heritage.
SISTERS. My five sisters have had to put up with MY take on our shared upbringing for the past 19 months and deserve to be thanked for their great patience and forbearance, which I do most sincerely. I also want to thank them for their interest and encouragement throughout this continuing journey of discovery and in particular the sister who has stayed with me every step of the way, unfailingly prepared to prop me up and offer new insights whenever my momentum started flagging. You know who you are!
COUSINS. I hope you all know how much I appreciate the odd word of encouragement and answers to impertinent questions, that come from my lovely first cousins, especially Michael and John and Pauline – and any others who also read the blog without putting your head above the parapet! Not to mention my couthy third cousin Catriona in Fort William, who is always keen to know where the bodies are buried, and Liz in South Africa (also a third cousin), who I never even knew existed until she wrote to me a few months ago after reading the blog. Both have shared freely their knowledge and memories of aspects of the family I was only dimly aware of. As has the lovely Steve Bentley who helped greatly in increasing my comprehension of the Bentley side of our family.
FAMILY HISTORIAN. A third cousin I WAS aware of, but had no contact with until a few months ago is Robert MacFarlane of South Africa. It is Robert I have to thank for screeds and screeds of information and pictures and documents related to our family history which it has been his mission to collect over the past 35 years or so, and which he has generously made available to me to use as I wished. Not to mention his great patience in answering my stupid questions and unreasonable demands for more pictures!
BLOGGERS and OTHER FOLLOWERS. The world of blogging was a mystery to me when I first started, but I quickly learned what a marvellous new community I had joined when I had my first ‘like’ from fellow blogger Caralyn, aka BeautyBeyondBones. Perhaps she just took pity on a newcomer, but she has been a faithful follower ever since, and I follow her, learning much about blogging in the process and also enjoying her unique perspective on the world. I don’t have a lot of followers, but let me tell you I very much appreciate the ones I have, getting the odd comment from them, joining in conversations, and learning, always learning. We hear a lot about how nasty the internet can be, but it is also full of kindness and intelligence and that’s something else to be thankful for. I’d like to mention Val (Colouring the Past), Luanne (The Family Kalamazoo), Elizabeth (My Descendant’s Ancestors), Pancho, Dr Perry, Kat, to name just a few of the blogs I now follow – and would recommend to everyone!
And of course, there are friends who express interest when I say I have a blog and are then kind enough to to follow up their curiosity by actually reading my ramblings. Perhaps you don’t realise how encouraged I am by your interest, so I’m telling you now – thank you! Not to mention those who just stumble upon it by accident – you have my thanks too!
Gratitude is of course a choice, a way of life. I’d like to think it was my default setting, but I’m just as likely as anyone to find myself moaning about the imperfections of daily life, the aches and pains, the frustrations, the times when things don’t go the way I want, the things I don’t have or can’t do. Which is why I’m taking a moment to ‘re-set’ myself and really and truly count my many blessings, not just regarding my blog, but for the beauty and abundance of life in general.