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.

cradle-18821

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

To Kiev and beyond – more of Mum’s Travels

Last time, we left Ellen just about to pack to travel from Moscow to Kiev. Let’s pick up the thread from there.

44b52692b9202c9a2098bac4f06c00a7--traditional-toys-russian-folk-art

18th May Wed. 

Bykovo Airport, then a lovely flight 1 hr 10 min to Kiev. Lovely, gorgeous place, full of nice flowering horse chestnut and poplars. Fantastic drive in from airport up in the 80’s. Every street is lined with seats. Thousands of Tourists. The Hotel – Rus – is the one built for the foreign athletes for the Olympic trials. The Stadium is next door.  Went for walk after lunch, different from Moscow. People very friendly, talked to old lady. Built on River Dneiper which is very wide. Had ice cream. 

Went to see the Ukraine Ballet Co in the evening –  very dramatic, I loved it. Theatre beautiful Venetian style. Walked home.

19th May Thur.

Went to the Beryoska shop but did not buy anything apart from book about Kiev. I could spend a lot on books but they are so heavy. 

IMG_1584
These are just a few of the books Mum collected over the years! She also brought back souvenirs, but it was always books that first caught her attention.

19 to 23 May – Five days packed with yet more cultural delights. Here’s just a taste of them – click on the pictures to read the captions.

Let’s go back to Ellen’s diary for a description of what she regarded as the highlight of the Kiev visit. First, an anecdote…

We also went into a Hospital grounds and a shabby-looking man came and talked in English to us. His phrases were very flowery. He said he was a Doctor, but if so I’m the KGB – or perhaps it was a mental hospital!

After lunch the Highlight. We went to the Monastery of St Anthony, and went into the Catacombs. A monk, Anthony – and Theodacious – lived in caves near the River Dneiper in 1051. In 1070 they started to build the Monastery. The Catacombs are a series of caves which were burial places as well as for the Monks – I bought a book about them. The soil is such that it preserved the bodies and many of them are housed in caskets with glass tops. The bodies are quite short, in vestments with embroidered cloths over the faces, but the little brown hands are on view. St Anthony’s cell is there and what looks like little alcoves where they lived. Full of Grottos and treasures but an unbelievable place. They are still venerated as saints – I have never heard so much about Saints and Religious matters. Lovely weather, in 90s.

On Monday 23 May, the group headed off to Leningrad (now St Petersburg) for the final leg of the tour. Again, here is a montage of just some of the wonderful places they visited.

Our bus – the Leningrad Driver is so polite, he gets out first and helps each of us off! The others in Kiev and Moscow just looked out the window – though I always made a point of chatting them up! And thanking them for being so kind – you can do these things when you are a granny!!! We have a Leningrad guide, Katerina, a lovely girl – vivacious, lovely English. She has a great sense of humour! Like, Peter the Great’s hobby was dentistry – he used to take out teeth for free!

Katerina took us into the Winter Palace and showed us right through the Czar’s private quarters. Such rooms of gold, porcelain dinner services – the one presented by the English with the “green frog” lovely and the Clock under the mushroom. Fabulous wealth – I am not surprised the serfs rose and swept them away! Such opulence I never saw, furniture from France inlaid with gold and ivory, beautiful rooms and each room had its own theme and colour. The dining rooms and gold legged chairs and – oh I could not describe it all, you’d have to see it.

Tonight we went to the circus. Very good. Quick acts and some great acrobats. Beautiful horses and Cossack-type riding. Dogs, monkeys, 8 tigers, 7 lions. High wire walkers, 2 porcupines, rats, a cockerel and a young clown who was best of all. The tigers and lions were naughty all over the floor and the smell!!!

circus dolls

After breakfast went with Guide to the House of Friendship – once a palace which Catherine II presented to one of her Courtiers, a most beautiful place of marble and gold, We went into a big panelled room and were met by 8 or 9 Russians who introduced themselves. There was a girl who translated, two engineers, a science and maths lecturer (a grandmother by the way), some teachers and an old boy who seemed to be from the Politburo. They invited us to form groups and ask them questions.

I went and sat beside a girl who turned out to be a post-graduate student of English, which she spoke quite well. Her mother had been in England and Scotland 8 years ago. She asked me about what kind of house I had, if I owned it, about my family, if we were diet-conscious, and what we ate – she was very hefty and had trouble dieting. She worked hard at English and played the piano. I told her all about our government, our orchestras, and film making, our election! The Loch Ness Monster (she had heard about it). I told her I believed in Nessie! I told her all about Dad. She gave me a carved spoon as a gift and we exchanged addresses. I must send her something from Scotland. Her name is Vera.

My chat turned out to be the most successful – they all talked about education and said afterwards they did not get any satisfaction of the visit. But I disagreed. Privately I think they all tried too hard to impress the Russians, who are not easily impressed. Vera told me about her mother, her holidays – she has been to Rumania and Bulgaria – but would like to come to Scotland.

After lunch we went to the Hermitage. After a while the crowds and noise got too much so five of us went for a sail on the River Neva, 2 hours out on the open deck. I enjoyed it so much. Only 70 Kopecs. I saw the Cruiser Aurora. Then back to the Hotel, dinner and dress. We went to hear the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra. Wonderful music. 

Sat 28th May.

Breakfast and a bit of shopping. I went across to the Monument of the Leningrad Freedom Fighters. As memorials go it is superb. There is an underground way in. Full of flowers, an eternal flame. There are groups of sculptures, dark bronze, and an underground museum. Most dramatic place. Rows of lights flickering – one for everybody who is buried there. Showcases where there are mementos of the siege. A continuous film at which teachers give a commentary to groups of school children. There were older people there who had lost loved ones – the siege lasted for 900 days and nights and thousands of people starved and were killed by the German shells. There is a violin in one of the cases presented by Shostakovich. An old Russian woman who was crying told me whose violin it was. Makes you think – these people really suffered.

004 (3)

At 12.15 we got on the bus to go to the Airport. A lovely drive, sun shining. Had good look back at Leningrad and took last picture.

3.30 pm. I am sitting on the plane next to the window.  My five medals are placed as follows: 1 in the Kremlin, 1 just outside the wall in the Convent of the New Maidens duck pond! 1 in Kiev near the Hotel, and 2 in Leningrad in the River Neva. Our Lady will do the rest. Now I am just longing to see my loved ones – funny, I’ll be home by teatime.

013 (3)

Ellen loved her family dearly. At the same time, she remained a self contained person whose instinct was always to rely on her own inner strengths. And not always easy or comfortable to get close to, at least not perhaps until later years. That’s why it has been such a delight to catch a glimpse, in the pages of this diary, of another Ellen, a more relaxed, mischievous, unencumbered Ellen, free to be truly herself with like minded people who shared her passions.

It was lovely to see our first glimpse of Scotland, dear old Scotland, so green and small! And do you know all our roads are curvy and the walls around our fields, and our houses and farms and hills. Lovely but so small! Even our blocks of flats look small, great to see individual houses. The lack of officialese at Glasgow Airport was just lovely – just a couple of guys standing there as if they would rather go for their tea! And best of all a little man on the tarmac waving two red flags – we all laughed at that, after the headphones and walkie-talkie things in the Russian Airports! Mary Chapman, Dinah McKay and I took a taxi from the Airport home and I was so excited to see my Grace and Catriona – who gave me a lovely welcome. I am glad to be back. I have had a fabulous trip – the most amazing holiday anyone could have. I shall never forget Russia in the warm sun. I hope they can come over here to sample our ‘Scotch Mist’.

Finito. God bless. Mum

In the next decade or so, most years saw Ellen – and Mary Chapman! – intrepidly signing up for one cultural tour after another. In 1986 it was to the Baltic, when she fulfilled her desire to revisit Moscow and Leningrad (where she and Mary were as likely to branch out on their own as to follow the official itinerary) as well as Tallin and Riga. Over the years, the passions that they shared for history, art, architecture, everything, took them on tours in Italy, France, Estonia, West Germany, as well as numerous interesting historical locations around Britain.

By this time, Ellen, with her inexhaustible thirst for knowledge, was a member of the archaeological society and various history study groups; she took art courses ranging in style from the Italian renaissance to Cubism, two classical music courses and she obtained diplomas in French and German. A true journey of the mind and a chance, at last, to indulge in the learning she always felt had been denied her as a child.

Visits to the family also took Ellen to Holland, the Cotswolds, Tyndrum, Switzerland, London. She also visited her family in Ireland and had them come and visit her in Glasgow. Ellen’s final long-distance trip came in 2001, when my sister Grace surprised her with a ticket to New York and the pair of them took off together for the Big Apple for a few days of sightseeing. Here she is, aged 78, still eager for new experiences.

010 (2)

 

 

Childhood in Govan

 

1200px-Blaeu.Atlas.of.Scotland.1654.Renfrew.Govan
1654 map showing Mekle (“Big”) Govan, Litle Govan, and the small town of Glafgow.

Let me introduce you to Govan, a historic area of Glasgow on the south side of the River Clyde. According to medieval legend,  a monastery was founded here in the seventh century and during the Middle Ages, Govan was the site of a ferry which linked the area with Partick for seasonal cattle drovers. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, textile mills and coal mining were important; in the nineteenth century, shipbuilding emerged as Govan’s principal industry and brought prosperity. In 1864, Govan gained burgh status, and was the fifth-largest burgh in Scotland. It was incorporated into the City of Glasgow in 1912.

So what’s all this got to do with my family ramblings you may ask? Well, Govan is an important character in this blog because it became home to John and Ellen MacFarlane, John and Nellie, when they bought a room and kitchen here at 31 Rathlin Street in around 1956. It was to be our family home until 1963, when our parents sold the little flat to a certain R McCaig for the princely sum of £275. This was a private arrangement and my Dad would cross the river once a month to go and collect the instalments in cash. We even still have the receipts…

rathlin street

The last time I was in Govan, quite a few years ago, I went to have a look at Rathlin Street and was not surprised to find that the old tenement had been demolished and the space occupied by a playpark. I found this picture from the 80’s on the web, obviously before the playpark was built. Our home would have been just where the empty space is.

new-housing3 (2)

There are some rather smart looking modern flats on that site now (some of which seem to be selling at upwards of £100,000 nowadays!) and some nice little houses along the street where I used to walk to school, past what was still Fairfields Shipyard, on to McKechnie Street where there was a cinema on the corner and across Govan Road with the lollipop lady. St Anthony’s Primary was right there at the corner of Harmony Row; we were so near it would only take me about 5 minutes to walk to school, which I seem to remember I was trusted to do on my own from a fairly early age. If you were a wee bit late leaving the house and the school bell rang, all you had to do was run and you’d still be on time. I still have my two class photographs from that time, 1960 and 1962. I’m third from the left, age 6, in the middle row in the top one and third from the right, age 8, in the second row of the bottom one.

001 (2)002 (2)

I can remember a few names – Gemma Corr, Paul Mellon, Anthony, Susan, Gerard, Rita, Annemarie, Sarah… and Alec, I will always remember Alec. He’s in the back row of both photos, third from the left in the top one and second left in the other. One time in class the teacher was filling in some information for the register – mother’s and father’s names, date of birth and so on. He was going round the class and we were telling him our dates of birth. He got to Alec, who just looked blank. Teacher got a bit impatient and said “Come on boy, your date of birth – when is your birthday?” Poor Alec looked even blanker and said “What’s that? I don’t have one.” That was the first time in my life I realised that there were children in the world who didn’t get presents or blow out the candles on their birthday cake every year, as I did. Alec was one of the “rough” boys, usually in trouble for fighting, and normally someone to be avoided. But ever after that – and to this day – I had a little soft spot in my heart for him, and looked at him less disapprovingly.

Govan seems to be enjoying something of a revival of fortunes these days (hence the desirable flats), but in the 1950’s the tide of its history was at a low ebb. Govan had a reputation as a deprived area of Glasgow with high unemployment and poor housing, including the notorious “Wine Alley”, an estate which had been built in the 30’s. During the war the shipyards made the area a target for enemy bombers and there were frequent reconnaissance missions overhead, and long hours spent in Anderston shelters, for those who had them, for the inhabitants. Not as badly hit as Clydebank, a short distance further down the river, nonetheless Govan also suffered bombing raids, the worst of which completely destroyed a tenement building on Govan Road, killing 69 souls.

So this was the post-war Govan where John and Nellie, Mum and Dad, fetched up in the mid-1950’s, neither of them with any connection to or knowledge of the area or its social mores – they just bought a flat somewhere they could afford. I’m pretty sure in my Mum’s mind anyway she would have looked upon this as somewhere she was just passing through – as indeed it turned out to be. She never really saw herself as part of, or understood, the culture of this very Glaswegian lower working class area.

I don’t think Dad did either, especially as for the first few years he was away at sea for large chunks of time. He had been a radio officer in the Merchant Navy since 1952 and continued in that career right up until 1958, by which time there were three of us. I’m told that when I was little I used to call this person who would occasionally come and stay in our house “the man”.  I’m sure that must have been upsetting for someone who set such great store by the family.

It’s hard enough for any wife whose husband works away from home, but I am also very conscious that my Mum had no family in Glasgow, no network of friends. Our flat was modest to say the least. For example we had a curtained off “potty corner”, which potty had to be taken downstairs to the outside toilet on the landing below to be emptied. I remember mum bathing the babies in the big ceramic sink in the corner of the kitchen.

For us older children the big tin bath would be got out – taking up practically the whole kitchen – kettles boiled for hot water and the weekly bath undertaken with much arguing about whose turn it was to get in first and who would have to make do with someone else’s used water – or maybe we would all get in together (“she’s got more room than me!”). It’s no wonder it was only once a week, it was such a palaver boiling up all those kettles, and there was usually a lot of spillage while the damn thing was being emptied with pots and basins and other receptacles.  Once my Dad had left the sea and became a landlubber (or maybe when he was on leave) it was much easier – he could just lift the whole thing up and empty it down the sink.

BATHNIGHT

Times were tough for John and Nellie, they had to endure long separations and money was tight. Dad didn’t always appreciate that although he always left carefully calculated amounts of housekeeping money for Mum, this was too inflexible to allow for price fluctuations or emergency purchases and would sometimes leave her short.  Many lessons had to be learnt, probably painfully, as their family grew and developed. Eventually the life at sea could no longer be sustained, John found a good job as a bus driver with Glasgow Corporation and came home for good. In later years he would very occasionally talk about the sacrifices he made for his family, as he had loved his life as the onboard “Sparks”, but it didn’t take much to remind him how much he loved Mum and us. If there was a choice to be made there was no contest, even if it did take rather a few years to make it! I think it took all that time for John and Nellie to finally accept that much though he tried, Dad wasn’t going to be able to continue his radio career on land; there just weren’t any opportunities in those austere days.

But, you know, my memories of Govan are not of deprivation. I’m not one of those children in the school photographs whose wee faces stare out at you with poverty and hardship written all over them. I’m one of the ones who is well fed, well dressed, clean and shiny. Maybe Mum wasn’t always as patient as you might have wished (this is the pot calling the kettle black!) and Dad had a tendency to keep harking back to the past, but they made a home for us where we were safe and warm, where we could rely on being fed and clothed, have your hair done up in a ribbon (“ouch, that hurts!”), toys to play with, books to read, be made a fuss of on your birthday, be taken for walks in the park, be bought comics. It was everything you needed and seemed abundant. Or perhaps I just had very low expectations!  I’ll probably come back to this topic another time…

I realised when I was writing this that I have never thought of myself as coming from Govan. When asked, I say “Glasgow” or “Hillhead”, which is indeed where I feel my roots are. Thinking about it now, there ARE some deep Govan roots in there too – you just have to dig a bit deeper to find them, and I find myself happy to do so. Here are some of the things I can remember when I try:

govan ferry steps
Jumping on the ferry was an adventure, though I feared I would fall in!
back green
All the back greens were like this, with the mothers watching their children from the kitchen window. The lucky ones would get a wrapped “piece” and jam thrown down to them.
children back green (2)
We loved going out to play in the back green – never got as dirty as this though
hometime
I remember the river of men who would flow out of Fairfields Shipyard when hometime came around
fairfields loco with passengers
This vehicle would take workers and goods up and down Govan Road. It’s going past the Co-op department store where I once bought a cardigan I fell in love with in the window. I saved up all my Saturday sixpences for weeks for it.
lyceum-cinema
There were 4 or 5 cinemas in Govan in those days. The Lyceum was the one I passed every day on my way to school. I think I was taken there to see “The Parent Trap” with Hayley Mills.
coalman (2)
The coal man would hoist your bag of coal on his back and bring it up the close stairs to be emptied into your coal bunker in the hallway. Mum would scramble to lay newspapers on the floor to keep it clean.
rag and bone
I would watch the rag and bone man give out balloons in exchange for old clothes (no, we were never allowed to do that!)
pearce institute 1958
This is the Pearce Institute, a legacy of Victorian days. I think I performed in a choir here once, wearing a white dress with a blue sash
john elder statue elderpark
This is the Elder Park, scene of many perambulations.
tram govan cross
Trams ran in Glasgow until about 1963. I remember sitting on a hard wooden seat and asking for a “three ha’penny half”
st anthony's school
St Anthony’s School. You went in through the gap between the two buildings.
st anthonys
I remember my first Communion and Confirmation in St Anthony’s Church. The Parish Priest was Father Molumby and he would visit his parishioners at home. I was always a bit afraid of his big black cane.
govan fair
Everyone turned out for the Govan Fair every year. I can remember seeing the Fair Queen go by on her decorated float, and being given a pear ice lolly.

I wonder if I subliminally imbibed that feeling of not quite belonging from my parents – I would never have described them as coming from Govan, or even Glasgow. I would say that Mum was Irish, and Dad came from Fort William. They settled in a place that was essentially foreign to both of them and in many ways had to invent our family mythology from scratch. Which perhaps meant that although we were IN Govan, we weren’t OF it.

 

On the Trail of an Irish Colleen, Part 2

I’ve been using my recent visit to Ireland to try and throw some light on the enigma that was my mother, Nellie Hynes. Last time, the trail took us as far as An Clochan School. After that Nellie would have progressed to the Secondary (Intermediate?) School at the Convent of Mercy, Ballinrobe and then later to the Convent’s Commercial School where she gained, respectively, her school leaving certificate and certificates in bookkeeping and shorthand.

certificates

I remember that when Mum talked about her school days, it was always with an element of frustration, even annoyance. She would describe how the nuns had a pecking order when it came to their charges, whereby the children of professional and trades people came higher in the hierarchy than the farmer folk. I don’t think she ever really forgave those nuns for not seeing her potential and encouraging her to go further in her education, although to be fair it would have been practically unknown in those days for girls from that area to have gone to university or college. As it was, it was Nellie’s mother and her aunt as well as her own personality which drove her forward to strive for more.

Of course, the upshot of her school experience was that Mum would forever be encouraging us, her six daughters, to “get qualifications”. Our all-girls school, again run by nuns, was academically focused and the preferred choice for the daughters of Glasgow’s Catholic establishment. Though she tried to fight the feeling of being an outsider, I think Mum felt rather intimidated by this and I remember her telling us that we were as good as anyone else – which was a bit counterproductive as until she mentioned it I don’t think I’d given it a second thought! She would always tell us not to let on that our Dad was a bus driver.

This did have a big impact on me – I would quietly shrink into the background if there were ever a casual conversation about what girls’ fathers did for a living – it seemed to me they were all doctors or lawyers or bank managers. It was a revelation when one girl proclaimed that her dad was a taxi driver. I so admired and envied her, and wished I could have the confidence not to care whether anyone judged me because of my Dad. I knew perfectly well that he worked tremendously hard to provide for his family and I loved him and was immensely proud of him for the person he was – in no way did I see him as “just” a bus driver. I don’t know if I ever told him that when I was growing up, so I’m declaring it now – perhaps he can hear me somewhere out there in the cosmos. But for me as a teenager, “telling” would have felt like a betrayal of my parents.

It’s possible that my younger sisters felt these restriction less then me as they followed on behind, I hope so. I know that by the time the two youngest, Jane and Eleanor, were at school, they had friends who would come and spend time at our house, some of whom even found a refuge there when life was difficult for them at home. Changed days! When I was at school I was always warned not to bring anyone home as the house was not “good enough”. I like to think that in later years Mum gradually started to escape the shame instilled in her by those Irish Nuns all those decades before. And I also like to think I eventually escaped it too.

IMG_5732 (2)

I didn’t manage to visit the Convent of Mercy on my recent trip, but I did go to Roundfort, where Mum’s parents are buried. As you can imagine it was rather poignant to stand at the grave of these grandparents I never knew, and to realise that Mum had also come and visited this place as a pilgrim from afar. As far as I know, she never again met her beloved father after she left home – he died just six months after I was born in January ’54.  I think that she and my Dad came for a visit the following year, so Maggie Morris would have met her grandchild. But again, that would have been the last meeting as she died in the same month that my sister Mary was born in 1957.

After Mum left school she obtained a post as a receptionist in the Imperial Hotel in Tuam, a few miles away from Davros (there may have been other jobs too, but this is the one I know about). Mum once told Mary that there was a huge dirty mirror and dirty bottle display behind the bar and Mum cleaned it all up and made it beautiful and sparkling, much to the owner’s delight. Not surprisingly, Mum did very well in this job and advanced to Assistant Manager. I found this picture of the hotel as it would have been then displayed on the reception desk.

IMG_5699 (2)

I’m sure that Mum, with her lifelong love of history, would have been aware of the story of this place, which describes itself as “one of Tuam’s most historic buildings”. It was built in 1832 as a stage-coach depot named Daly’s Hotel and managed to prosper, surviving two raging fires in the town centre, the first one, in 1892, being an accident. The second happened in 1920 and was a deliberate act of reprisal by British soldiers during the War of Independence. Which confirms a suspicion of mine that there was probably quite a lot of gun running activity in the area at that time. Not that you’d ever know it from Mum – it was one of those things she didn’t really talk about. That and her more than passing knowledge of the presence of poteen (home made spirits) at the family ceilidhs I mentioned in my last post!

IMG_5690 (2)

Anyway, by 1920 the Hotel had already passed into other hands and had been known as Guy’s since 1891. It became the Imperial Hotel in 1932 and Mum would have worked there in the 1940’s. It’s still going strong in its current incarnation as the Corralea Court Hotel, complete with snazzy cocktail bar. I wonder what Mum would have made of it. The Tuam that she knew was, and is yet, a busy little market town and you can still get a feel for what it must have been like in Mum’s day, despite quite a lot of building and development round the outskirts. Here’s an old photo – the cross itself is no longer there, but the buildings look just the same and you can see the Imperial Hotel just behind the wee booth to the right.

IMG_1248 (2)

Directly across the road is the Town Hall, where you can see a statue of the Virgin Mary below the clock (just to remind you you’re in Ireland!) The container with flowers is more or less where the old clock tower was.

IMG_5687 (2)

Let’s turn now to the episode that was to change the course of Mum’s life and set her destiny on a completely different course. From Mary’s wee booklet: “The story goes that around 1949 Nellie was sitting on the large stove in the kitchen at home on the farm, idly tearing up newspaper and feeding the strips of paper into the fire. Suddenly she snatched a half-charred piece out of the flames and read an advertisement for the position of housekeeper and nanny for a family in Fort William, Scotland. Without knowing anything about Fort William or having experience of being a nanny, she decided there and then to apply for the job. She was accepted and a few months later left her home in Ireland to embark on the long and momentous journey to Scotland to join the MacFarlane family in Fort William as housekeeper and nanny to six children.”

This momentous decision of Mum’s seems to have been made almost on a whim and with breathtaking speed. But Nellie was already restless, wanting more out of life than a small rural town could offer. A semi-serious boyfriend had already left Ireland to go and seek his fortune in Liverpool and she and a female friend had made plans to go and work in a big hotel in Dublin. But just before they were due to go the friend fell seriously ill and ultimately died, and it all fell through. So the fateful advert arrived just at the fortuitous moment when Nellie was ready for something to happen. As on so many occasions throughout her life, when the opportunity came she seized it without hesitation.

Thus one life ended and another began. It feels to me as if Nellie Hynes left Ireland with little more than her certificates and the clothes she stood up in. She never seemed to look back or to long for the land of her birth. When she did eventually return to visit after our Dad had died, I suspect she found it much as she had left it and was probably confirmed in her original instinct that she wanted more out of life than to stay where she was, treading a path that was circumscribed and limited. Having followed in her footsteps I can understand how someone with her drive and imagination would look for a wider destiny with more possibilities.

Mum once told me how when things were difficult she would retreat within herself to a place where she could find comfort and strength. I now think that place was her childhood home. How else could she have later recalled the stories she told Mary? If she didn’t share them with us as we were growing up, it was because, as Mary said, she was always looking forward, always focused on where her drive and vision would take her next. There was no space in that for what she might have thought of as wallowing in the past. Besides, my Dad tended to be a wallower, so maybe she thought that was enough without her doing it as well. Despite the fact that she never lost her Irish accent, Mum regarded herself as a citizen of Scotland, the country she had adopted as home over 60 years before.

But she did remember. The echoes of her Irish identity and upbringing lay just beneath the surface, subliminally colouring all her attitudes, whether in positive or negative ways. This didn’t always make for a person who was easy to get on with, but she was always true to herself and would embrace any challenge with that same grit and determination which enabled her to create a new life for herself at the end of the war. We’ll explore that new life further another time, but for now let’s end with some stories Mum told Mary. I like them because it reminds me of the Mum who loved the countryside and stone walls and drinking water from mountain streams – this was a Mum I knew. I would also have liked to have known better the one who would think nothing of cycling home from a dance in the dark. But maybe I’m getting to know her now…

horse snorting

“She told me three ‘horse’ stories – perhaps you know them? The first is when a horse stamped on her foot when she was a girl – she had a permanent semi-circular scar on her foot / The next was when she was crossing a field at home when she noticed a horse staring at her – she started to run as the horse snorted and charged at her – she ran faster than she had ever run in her life. The horse’s breath was on her neck as she flung herself over the wall, while the horse crashed into the wall / The last is when she was bicycling in the dark after a dance when too late she saw a large white stone in the middle of the road. She and her bicycle were flung over the fence. Meanwhile the ‘stone’ woke up – it was a white donkey sleeping in the middle of the road!”

white donkey