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.
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?”