Kilmacolm: a family history

Kilmacolm War Memorial

In August, John and I had a day out to Kilmacolm, a village in Renfrewshire not far from Glasgow, to photograph some sites of family history. When we visited Islay last year, I wrote about my great-grandfather, John Joss Sinclair, who was born there in 1866. (See Islay: call to place). At 16 he moved to the mainland, becoming a noted ploughman and marrying a farmer’s daughter.

She was Janet Carson, of The Green Farm in Kilmacolm, who was born in 1864. She had two brothers, Tom and Bob, and at least three sisters, Susan, Bella and Maggie. The latter emigrated to Philadelphia and married Sam Bell. The pictures below show, on the left, Janet’s parents, my great-great-grandparents, with Jenny, one of the Bell children, and on the right, John and Janet with their first two children, John (born 1886) and Margaret (Meg). By 1901 another six daughters had been added to the family, so Janet’s life must have been a hard slog.

In his fifties, John gave up farm work and he and Janet, along with their three youngest daughters, moved into the Bridgend Toll House, which came with his new job as road foreman. The older children had married and moved out of the family home. Young John married Mary and had several children. Below left is Meg, with her husband Donald McPhail, around 1910. On the right, is the McClure family, Catherine (Kate), Stewart and Janet (Nettie or Netta) pictured around the end of the First World War. Netta settled in London and I think I met her only once, but I have clear memories of her much younger sister Isabella (Isa) who remained in the West of Scotland.

Three of the children emigrated, Meg and Donald McPhail sailing for Australia in 1924 – the photograph below, recently found by my aunt, shows them in later life. Two sisters went to Canada with their husbands – Isabella (Belle) and Tom Gibson, and Janet (Jen) and Bob Andrew. Both couples obtained sections of land in Saskatchewan, built houses there, and farmed successfully. Only Jen came back to visit – that’s her holding me as a baby (1957) with my grandmother looking on.

My grandmother was Christina (Teenie, later Chris), the oldest of the three girls who moved to the Toll with their parents. Eventually, they all married: Chris to Percy Stroud in 1925, Mary to Tom Stevenson in 1927, and Annabella (Annie) to Bob Maskell in 1931. In the wedding photos below, I’m fairly sure that Mary (centre) is wearing the same dress as my grandmother on the left.

Mum, also Christina, was born in 1926 and is shown here as a baby and toddler, “Wee Chrissie”, with her grandparents. For reference, Janet must be about the same age as I am now. How times have changed!

The Toll figures largely in Mum’s many happy memories of her childhood, surrounded by loving grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. In the gallery below Mum is carried by her dad in two of the photos, and is also the small girl in a wash tub.

Bridgend Toll House, shown in the gallery below in an old postcard, is long gone. The site is about a mile from the village, opposite the War Memorial from which you can see two houses which were built in its place.

Mum herself grew up in the centre of the village in a house called Low Shells, also long gone, but the empty space where it stood still retains the name. The picture of Mum sitting on one of the benches is from a previous visit in 2016.

At Kilmacolm Cross, the Cross Café and Parish Church sit opposite each other. Compare to the two old postcards underneath – completely recognisable, though no cows in the middle of the road these days.

The café has been run by several generations of Pignatellis, currently sisters Alda and Johanna, whom Mum has known since they were born. Because she was not with us on this latest trip, they sent her a box of Cross Café sweeties which we were happy to deliver!

On the other side of Kilmacolm from the War Memorial is the cemetery where we paid a visit to my great-grandparents’ grave.

As well as being the last resting place of John and Janet Sinclair, the cemetery is notable for having one of the few headstones designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Art Nouveau and unmistakably Mackintosh in style, it dates from 1898 and commemorates James Reid, who was a Telegraphic Superintendent of the Glasgow and South West Railway, and his wife Margaret. They were the parents-in-law of William Davidson, who was Mackintosh’s client at the house Windyhill, also in Kilmacolm.

We ended our day with a walk at Glen Moss Wildlife Reserve before returning home with a slightly closer acquaintance with some of my family history.

77 thoughts on “Kilmacolm: a family history

  1. ThingsHelenLoves October 21, 2020 / 12:10

    What a fabulous day out, walking through family history. Those wedding pictures are beautiful.


  2. Maria Holm October 18, 2020 / 17:52

    Thank you for your post on your family photos and the war memorial. Imagine that so many of them immigrated to different places in the world? Many of our my husband’s family members did the same and were never heard of again. Recently, he has found traces of them via internet searches. We are Danish.


    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter October 18, 2020 / 20:35

      It’s interesting, isn’t it? I obviously don’t remember the visit of my great aunt when I was a baby and I don’t have any idea what happened to that part of the family later. A shame!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. rosemaylily2014 October 15, 2020 / 06:15

    I’m an avid family historian myself Anabel so I loved reading about your family. It’s also good to visit places that have special significance for one’s family too. It must have been hard work for your great grandparents bringing up all those children! I love looking at old photos too 🙂


    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter October 15, 2020 / 07:47

      They are fascinating, aren’t they? I haven’t done any research myself, but I think it’s important to record what the older members of the family remember.

      Liked by 1 person

      • rosemaylily2014 October 16, 2020 / 08:22

        Yes definitely as it’s hard trying to research many years later! Family stories are fascinating 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. hilarymb October 13, 2020 / 14:00

    Hi Anabel – how interesting to read … and fascinating to see you found the grave and were able to get so many pictures to tie in over the years … yes times have really changed … just glad I have a washing machine and hoover! and warm house. Wonderful recollections historical and living … fun -thank you – all the best Hilary


  5. ms6282 October 13, 2020 / 11:04

    What a great set of photos. Memories to keep and treasure.
    Family history is fascinating and can be very absorbing – as I’ve discovered when I find it’s the early hours of the morning when I’m doing some research on the Internet. Wish I had as many photos of previous generations as you have.
    And your mum doesn’t look so bad for a lady in her 90’s


      • ms6282 October 13, 2020 / 12:25

        believ me it is VERY addictive 🙂
        But you already know quite a lot. Most of us aren’t so lucky to have a surviving older relative to share their memories. I wish I had started before my grandfather passed away as I’ve been unable to trace back beyond his father who is something of a mystery man, to say the least


        • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter October 13, 2020 / 12:34

          Yes, and we have more on my mum’s other grandparents’ side. In the early days of social media I put everything I knew into Genes Reunited (and made a couple of contacts) but didn’t go any further. Not even sure that exists now, I’ll have to look some time.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. restlessjo October 10, 2020 / 22:01

    Life was so very different then, Anabel. Would we swap, do you think? 🙂 🙂 Never any going back, is there?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter October 9, 2020 / 15:20

      I have my mum and granny to thank for preserving the family photographs. I think Smiles featured in my school history lessons when we “did” the Chartists, but I had forgotten about him since.


  7. Erica/Erika October 9, 2020 / 04:07

    Hi Anabel, You remind me how it seemed as if past generations grew up much faster. They were often married with a family before age 20. The photos are priceless. And, yes, it does look like the same dress. A fascinating post and a great keepsake for the entire family.


  8. Liesbet @ Roaming About October 9, 2020 / 03:55

    How precious these photos and “recollections” are, Anabel! And, I can see where your wandering spirit comes from! 🙂


  9. TheRamblingWombat October 8, 2020 / 11:46

    It is wonderful that you can trace your family history like this and especially visit relevant sites. Whenever I hear mention of Islay I always think of Queen Victoria’s dog and the lovely statue of it in Sydney.


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