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.

Islay: call to place

MV Finlaggan at Kennacraig

Back in May, we took the ferry from Kennacraig in Kintyre to Port Askaig on beautiful Islay (pronounced Eye-la) where we spent a wonderful week tramping all over the island. We last visited on our epic Hebridean tour of 1989, parts of which we replicated last summer, so we were well overdue a visit, especially as we had only been there for a couple of days the first time and felt we hadn’t done it justice. Since then, of course, a certain amount of Islay whisky had been consumed and it was not impossible that a distillery – or two, or more – would appear on our itinerary.

John and Janet Sinclair, John and Meg

In addition to the scenery and whisky, another attraction of Islay was the pull of family lore. One of my great-grandfathers, my mother’s maternal grandfather John Joss Sinclair, was born there in 1866. John was destined to be a Church Minister, as decided by his father. However, he declared that he had no intention of going around the countryside with his collar on back to front, and at 16 years old he ran away from the island to mainland Scotland.

Over the next few years John was employed in farms around the West of Scotland and became a noted ploughman. Eventually, he arrived at Kilmacolm to work on The Green Farm where he fell in love with the farmer’s daughter, Janet Carson. John and Janet’s first child, and only son, John, was born in 1886, sometime before their marriage. By 1901 seven daughters had been added to the family, so Janet’s life must have been a hard slog.

John Sinclair ploughing, 1908

John and Janet worked on farms in Coatbridge, Cumbernauld and Amochrie, and John was eventually in charge of a Clydesdale stallion. In his fifties, he gave up farm work and returned to Kilmacolm. They moved into the Bridgend Toll House, which came with his new job in charge of the road-menders. The Toll figures largely in Mum’s many happy memories of her childhood. Here she is in the late 1920s 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!

John never went back to see his parents, only returning to Islay in later life with one of his grandchildren (not my mum) to see his sister Katie MacAffer. He and Janet are both buried in Kilmacolm – compare the gravestone below as it was after my great-grandmother died in 1949, and as it is today. (Thanks to my cousin, Tracy Rice, for the current photo.)

When we visited Islay in 1989 I either didn’t know about this family history or wasn’t especially interested, I can’t remember. However, in the last few years I’ve worked with Mum to blog about her memories – you can read her post John and Janet for a fuller version of what I’ve written here – and now I’m much more aware. I’m not about to start researching our family tree (far too much like hard work) but I love collecting the stories Mum is passing down and decided on our recent visit to Islay to look out for any references to Sinclairs or MacAffers.

So we went to Islay looking for whisky, walking and family history. The next few posts will tell you how we got on. This post, I’m linking to Cathy at ~wander.essence~ who has a monthly Call to Place strand in which she invites you to write about what enticed you to choose a recently visited or future destination. Head over there for her fabulous traveller’s tales!

2016 – the ones that nearly got away

30 years at the University of Glasgow
30 years at the University of Glasgow

A Happy New Year, everyone! I hope 2017 will be good to us all. I’m trying to polish off 2016 by clearing out old photos and ideas for blog posts. Some will get an entry to themselves; this is a catch-up for the rest – the ones that nearly got away.

John

You’ll all be familiar with John, my partner in life and photographer-in-chief. He had a big birthday this year – can you guess which one from the pictures below? Not hard! He also had a presentation to mark 30 years of service at the University of Glasgow (top image), which means we’ve lived 30 years in Glasgow as we moved up from Yorkshire when he got his lectureship. That’s over half my life – in the first half I lived in 9 different towns or cities, so I think I can now call myself settled.

Mum

The other big family milestone last year was my Mum’s 90th birthday which I’ve already written about (here). Earlier in the year, she and I paid a visit to the village she grew up in, Kilmacolm. We’ve been before, many times, but this time we took some photographs where her home used to stand. The name of the building was Low Shells – now, there is only a grassy area and some benches but the name lives on.

Dams to Darnley

Dams to Darnley is a newish country park which sits between Barrhead, Darnley and Newton Mearns to the south of Glasgow. We found it almost by accident when we were looking for somewhere else and enjoyed a pleasant Sunday afternoon stroll there. Centred on a series of reservoirs and bisected by a railway, it’s not particularly spectacular but I’ve included it because I’m impressed that two councils (it falls between Glasgow City and East Renfrewshire) have co-operated to make the most of limited green space and not build all over it.

Palacerigg

Palacerigg is another minor country park within half an hour of Glasgow. Again, the local council, North Lanarkshire this time, has made a big effort to introduce nature trails, birds and animals, particularly with children in mind. This was July, but I see I am wearing winter clothes. The joys of a Scottish summer!

Loch Leven

In December we had a couple of nights in Perth. I’ve started some posts about that, but I don’t think I’ll get round to writing about the lovely walk at Loch Leven we did on the way home. Here’s a slide-show of some of the best images. It was a stunningly crisp morning as you can see.

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2016 Stats

Finally, speaking of the ones that got away, whatever has happened to WordPress’s stats helper monkeys? You know, the ones that send you a report with fireworks that tells you how your blog did that year? Or is it just me they’ve decided not to visit? *Sulks*. Anyway, being a resourceful type, I’ve looked at the 2016 stats all by myself. They’re up by over 50% compared to 2015, which is lovely, and of the ten most read posts nine were about Scotland (one of my Yellowstone posts just scraped in at number ten). I guess you like reading about my home country! There will be much more of the same this year so I hope you will keep visiting. I’m grateful to everyone who has read, liked, commented or all three. As a TV series of my youth used to end “Thank you for coming to my little show. I love you all!” (Brownie points if you can identify which one….)