Tag Archives: history

Ministers’ Wives, a doitering rumination

In the shower this morning I found myself contemplating my obsession with the wives of ministers. This continued a line of thought which I had been exploring, aided by my iPad, before deciding to toss back the covers and broach the day. The ministers’ wives I had been thinking about became published writers in the early years of the 19th century: Anne Grant of Laggan, Mary Brunton (both well known in their life times and making a modest comeback today), and, Beatrice Grant, little known then, almost forgotten now but into whose life I have been poking for some years.

However my sensitivity towards ministers’ wives goes way back beyond my acquaintance with these ladies. At one point I even aspired to be a minister’s wife. I was not an especially religious child despite having a fine collection of those bible-related scraps which were awarded for attendance at Sunday school. And despite having spent a year at Esdaile, an Edinburgh school established to provide education for the daughters of ministers and missionaries. My father was not a minister but the small local rural school had a teacher deemed unsatisfactory by my parents. Schooling in Edinburgh meant that I could be close to my mother’s father and sisters. And the school curriculum included cookery…

I wanted to be a minister’s wife so that I could run sales of work…

43ba73b2adebacbd1b8aa9b2eb80dbb2     My mother, ignoring my greater preference for reading and history, unfortunately latched on to my ability to knit, crochet and embroider lazy daisy petals onto dressing-table mats (alternative pass-times for a nine-year-old were few up a highland glen). She later suggested I consider the domestic science college in Edinburgh as an appropriate future destination. I suspect it was at this point, as I entered my teenage years, that I abandoned the ‘managing sales of work’ notion. Or it may have been that I realised that being a minister’s wife carried with it the drawback of a minister. A baby-sitting engagement had revealed that our local one forbad his wife to take in women’s magazines, so no Woman’s Own romances or problem pages to lighten the evening in the pre-television era. I suspected also that there might be a requirement To Set an Example, a burden of which I was all too aware as an eldest daughter.

However, sensitivity to the plight of such women, socially constrained even more than most females, by the bonds of matrimony has remained with me. I notice them when they come to my attention. I am haunted by them as well as by how lives were lived in the past. In the 18th and 19th centuries they existed in the fluid middle ground between, when those things mattered, the gentry and trade, with the lower orders beneath. In my mental landscape stands sensible Charlotte Lucas who opted for a home of her own to run; and the sad figures of Mrs Bates and Mrs Norris, cast into limbo, neither fish nor fowl, following the deaths of their husbands.

The family connection

One of my ancestors was a minister (from you surmise correctly that one was a minister’s wife). On the evidence of a small diary this man cannot have been a joy to live with. At the time of the diary he was a minister in Dalkeith, and a worrier. He agonised about money, about how badly his brother-in-law treated him, about his spiritual health and about his physical health to the extent that he stayed home rather than go visiting the sick lest he catch an infection (would Marmee and Beth Marsh had done). What would then happen to his wife and children? The ministerial strand in that branch of my family tree ceased with his death in April 1779, all but one of his children turning to trade as an occupation for themselves or for a spouse.

One other Scottish minister, or rather his wife, played a key part in my genesis. The Reverend Colin Bogle married in 1831 Ann Wyse, a young lady from just outside Glasgow, and took her north to his very rural parish in Shetland. Just after Christmas 1832 she gave birth to twin daughters in the manse at Walls. Two weeks into January her husband died. How on earth did she manage travelling back south with two infants? Not easy even today. But she did. And a year later both babies died. And some years after that Ann Wyse, then Bogle, married Robert Chisholm, goldsmith and jeweler in Edinburgh, and they begat… who begat… etc.

But back to those early 19th century writing wives

Anne Grant, nee MacVicar, Beatrice Grant, nee Campbell and Mary Brunton, nee Balfour. The university system in Scotland was geared to the production of ministers to such an extent that there were at times gluts of them. Stickit ministers, they were called, men who might fill in the waiting time as a tutor or a parochial schoolmaster. Mary Balfour eloped from Orkney, it is said, choosing, despite maternal disapproval, the man who had been her brother’s tutor. Marrying a minister in the late 18th/ early 19th century might well have appealed to clever, not especially well-off Scottish women who did not fancy becoming merely a childbearing social adjunct. As educated men, minister husbands might provide congenial companionship. The Reverend Brunton, who encouraged his wife in her studies and writing, seems to have lived up to that ideal.

A generation earlier, Anne MacVicar and Beatrice Campbell had also married ministers. They owed their husbands to the aftermath of the 1745 Jacobite rising. Each, blessed with military fathers, had had unsettled early years. They met each other, and their husbands to be, at Fort Augustus, one of a trio of forts established to provide a base for government forces should there be another rising. Beatrice Campbell’s aunt, to whom she was close, married the governor of Fort Augustus. Beatrice and her husband, formerly a missionary at Fort William, were married in Fort Augustus in 1784. Anne MacVicar’s father was barrack-master at Fort Augustus. Her husband was the chaplain there.

  Did these marriages prove meetings of minds? Who knows – but Anne Grant, at least, provided her husband with a fulsome headstone.

Anne and Beatrice were clever, feisty young women, Anne probably the better educated and was certainly the more stylish writer. Throughout her childhood wandering years (Glasgow – America – Glasgow again) Anne had acquired friends whom she entertained with letters and poems. These, and her early experiences in ‘exotic’ America and the only slightly less exotic Highlands of Scotland, stood her in good stead when she needed income after her husband’s death. She took to publication with relish and success, at first anonymously.

Beatrice’s confidence probably came from a strong personality backed by the experience and status of being the eldest of four sisters, orphaned at age 8. At 11 she found herself with a stepmother barely ten years older who immediately started having babies. Ten years or so into marriage, according to her own account, she regarded herself as well equipped to provide advice to inexperienced mothers and submitted articles to a magazine. Rejected at the time, she revised them to form the basis of her first book, published three years after her husband’s death. No anonymity for her, on the title-page she proclaimed herself to be ‘Mrs Grant, late of Duthel’.

Both were successful ministers’ wives, or rather widows… Neither lady was so lacking in proper behaviour as to write directly about her marriage but Anne Grant did address being a minister’s wife. She wrote, addressing herself to the other Mrs Grant, and her voice ripples…

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 11.10.25

Beatrice Grant’s many, and rather more sober, publications in newspapers, magazines and books are providing me with a fascinating paper trail, new places to explore and new contacts. Who could have guessed that a childhood fancy would develop into something so rewarding.


1 Comment

Filed under family, family history, History, long 18th century, Scottish Highlands

The first reason I am going to Shetland


IMG_3762 - Version 2

In a couple of months I will be making a long-anticipated trip to Shetland. I have three main reasons for wanting to go, none of them immediately relating to DI Jimmy Perez as portrayed in the recent television dramas based on Ann Cleves’ novels.

Shetland seems such a long way when you look at an atlas, exactly how far is left rather vague since mapmakers have tended to tuck it into a box which they float somewhere in the Moray Firth. Now I find that it is only just over an hour by plane, or will be, but my mind is back in the first decades of the 1800s, before steam ships, before planes, before phones, before the internet. Almost back in the days of here be dragons, or at least sea monsters, and certainly of the likelihood of rather rough water… However I decided to skip any attempt at replication. I will fly.

My first reason is curiosity about the life of one of my maternal ancestors who spent a brief and ultimately  unhappy time there. Ann Wyse went as a bride and returned about eighteen months later as a widow with infant twin daughters. These infants do not appear in the family tree copied out on shelf paper by my grandfather:

  • What happened to the twins? (early death I imagined, aware of infant mortality at the time).
  • What can it have been like for a young woman raised in 1820s Glasgow to find herself living so far from family in a part of Scotland so remote?
  • How did she get there?
  • and how might she have got back to central Scotland where some ten years later she married my Edinburgh-based ancestor and produced the further progeny from one of whom I am derived?

Nothing like a quest!

I have prowled through family documents, summoned up information from the internet and visited archives. Now I am now booked up to go. And what better time to find my jottings and begin pulling the past together.

Find a marriage

Nineteenth century novels often end with a marriage. Ancestral quests can start from one. Ann Wyse’s marriages took place before registration began in 1855 so off to the newspapers, or at least to British Newspapers Online. There she is, her second marriage reported in the Caledonian Mercury, Edinburgh, Thursday June 23rd 1842.

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 12.10.35

“At 25 Gayfield Square, on the 21st current, Robert Chisholm, Esq. jeweller, Edinburgh, to Ann Wyse, relict of the late Rev. Colin Bogle, Walls.”

I am rather intrigued by the Georgette Heyerish union which appears below of ‘the Hon and Reverend Edward Harbottle Grimstone, second son of the Earl and Countess of Verulam, to Frances Horatia, eldest daughter of John Morier, Esq’ – was she born in 1805? but I must not be distracted.


25 Gayfield Square: a staging post in my family history

25 Gayfield Square is not as grand as its neighbours, no fanlight above the doorway which appears to lead to a stair. It is on the east side of Gayfield Square, standing 4 stories at the front and six at the rear (owing to Edinburgh’s rolling hillsides).

She was married at No 25, so who lived at there?

Nine names are given in the 1842/43 Edinburgh Post Office Directory, including Mrs Browning who kept lodgings, and a hatter and: Edwin Millidge, jeweller. A connection there. It turns out that Edwin had married Sarah, Ann’s elder sister, in Edinburgh in 1820.

The description of the bride as “relict of the late Rev Colin Bogle, Walls” took me straight to the Fasti.

Ah, the groom was a Minister of the Kirk

Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae: the succession of ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation is an invaluable tool for those, such as I, who are fortunate to have been blessed with a minister ancestor. There, in volume seven, they and the twins were.

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 13.11.00

Not quite accurate, Ann and Robert were married on 21st June 1842 (once again she had an older groom, tho probably not as old as the Rev Colin, Robert being born in 1799). I haven’t established Colin’s date of birth but if he was licenced in 1810, almost a year before Ann was born on 14 May 1811, he must have been at least twenty years older than she was. There is a long gap before he obtained his church. A stickit minister.


Walls is on the west coast of the mainland of Shetland. I am looking forward to seeing how it looks today. It is not my impression that the parish of Walls was a well-doing place during the time Ann Wyse lived there. I hope at least that the Rev Colin Bogle managed to get his manse fixed up before he brought his bride home. On the 17th of November 1830, that is less than a year before he married, he ‘represented [to the Lerwick Presbytery] that the repairs which the Presbytery had ordered on his Manse in April last had not been executed with the diligence which the Presbytery had enjoined – that in consequence of there not being even one habitable room in the house, he had been obliged to remove to lodgings at a distance from the manse…’ [CH2/1071/8/10]

By the time of the events of December 1832 and January 1833 the family were living in the manse. Birth and death reported in the same issue of the Aberdeen Journal on Wednesday 6th February 1833:

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 19.41.26

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 19.42.08

There appears to be neither note of burial nor gravestone for the Rev Colin Bogle. Nor is there any record of a baptism for the twins Colina and Jessie. Surely it would have been possible for some colleague to have travelled the twenty odd miles from Lerwick and officiated?

Ann was married (in Glasgow) on 18th August 1831, age 20

She gave birth to twins (in Shetland) on 29 December 1832

Her husband died (in Shetland) on 16 January 1833.

She returned south for she appeared in Edinburgh in relation to her husband’s will  in September 1833.

There is a sad postscript…

Colina and Jessie were  buried together in Edinburgh on 30 December 1833, their interments shown in St Cuthbert’s Parish Register, the head of family given as the late Rev Colin Bogle of Walls, Shetland. Both died of Hooping Cough, Colina on 24th December and Jessie on the 29th, one just before and one after her first birthday.

So now I know what happened to the twins. My lost great-great-aunts if I have counted aright. Perhaps the archives in Lerwick will enable me to get some feeling for conditions in Shetland in the 1830s and some idea of the roads and packet boats which carried my great-great-grandmother to and from the islands.

I hope Ann had some sunny days before all these terrible events. I’m glad she at least survived to settle in more comfortable surroundings. I found a bit more detail of that second wedding in the OPRs:

Untitled copy-1 (dragged)

More of what happened next anon (though some of the outcomes can be found in my ‘Walking back into the past’ posting last year).

And I hope for sunshine, fair winds and no demons for myself when I survey Ultima Thule.


I should like to put on record my gratitude to all those  who transcribe and organise and share records, whether as part of the job, for the benefit of family and friends, or just for the fun of it. Doing history now is a great collaborative enterprise, thank you all.






1 Comment

Filed under Edinburgh, family history, Shetland

Tin saucepans: a brief rumination at the bus-stop

P1060172I had an old (price 95p) copy of 1984 in my bag before meeting newspeaks (or maybe duckspeaks?) ‘mumbod’ and ‘dadbod’ made me realise that it was time to enter Orwell’s distopia again, this time with brain engaged.

Why had I been carrying it about? Simply because one day it had come to hand as a slim (therefore light in weight) alternative to those copies of Saga and Hello which accompany a wait for the attentions of doctor, dentist or hair-stylist. I am one who can’t be without a book and who curses any guest who wantonly carries off my reading matter from the lavatory.

This morning at the bus stop I found that previous sittings had taken me to page 59 of the Penguin edition which, according to the book-plate at the front, came from the library of my elder daughter. (Way back that must have been since it was before she changed the spelling of her name.)

To recap: Winston works in the Ministery of Truth (‘Minitrue’) ‘rectifying’ malreports and malquotes so that they fit in with ‘the thing which had actually happened’. He hardly dares to think for fear of the Thought Police. He wonders, as he reworks events and speeches, if he is the only one who remembers the past, a past which is being rewritten out of history. He has just begun, in great secrecy to entrust his thoughts to a diary…


If there is hope, wrote Winston, it lies in the proles

   If there was hope, it must lie in the proles, because only there in those swarming disregarded masses… could the force to destroy the Party ever be generated. The Party could not be overthrown from within. … But the proles, if only they could somehow become conscious of their own strength, would have no need to conspire. They needed only to rise up and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies. If they chose they could blow the Party to pieces tomorrow morning. Surely sooner or later it must occur to them to do it? And yet–!

He remembered how once he had been walking down a crowded street when a tremendous shout of hundreds of voices – women’s voices – had burst from a side-street a little way ahead. It was a great formidable cry of anger and despair, a deep, long ‘Oh-o-o-o-oh!’ that went humming on like the reverberation of a bell. His heart had leapt. It’s started he had thought. A riot! The proles are breaking loose at last! When he had reached the spot it was to see a mob of two or three hundred women crowding round the stalls of a street market… But at this monent the general despair broke down into a multitude of individual quarrels. It appeared that one of the stalls had been selling tin saucepans. They were wretched, flimsy things, but cooking-pots of any kind were always difficult to get. Now the supply had unexpectedly given out. The successful women, bumped and jostled by the rest, were trying to make off with their saucepans while dozens of others clamoured round the stall, accusing the stall-keeper of favouritism and of having more saucepans somewhere in reserve. There was a fresh outburst of yells. Two bloated women, one of them with her hair coming down, had got hold of the same saucepan and were trying to tear it out of one another’s hands. For a moment they were both tugging, and then the handle came off. Winston watched them disgustedly. And yet, just for a moment, what almost frightening power had sounded in that cry from only a few hundred throats! Why was it that they could never shout like that about anything that mattered?

He wrote:

   Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.


Orwell continues to elaborate on how the despised proles are managed (‘Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer, and above all, gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds’).


To keep them in control was not difficult. A few agents of the Thought Police moved always among them, spreading false rumours and marking down and eliminating the few individuals who were judged capable of becoming dangerous; but no attempt was made to indoctrinate them with the ideology of the Party. It was not desirable that the proles should have strong political feelings. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations. …..

Now I am certainly not labelling the mass of my compatriots (however defined) as proles but Orwell should not be remembered only for Big Brother (aka Facebook which persists in suggesting I make a friend of people whom I have reason to believe are no friend to me or my perceived interests). Texts, Twitter and Newspeak? The Two-Minute Hate and the election orgies we have just gone through?

Just ruminating. MaybP1060173 - Version 2e things are changing? The book was published almost 70 years ago, indeed Winston, who thought he was born in 1944 or 1945, would be 70ish today. Anyway I have moved 1984 from my bag to the pile by the bed. Timely to read on from page 61. In hope.

And perhaps put Animal Farm in my good-for-your-back bag? I suspect this thought is not unconnected by the bunnies on my daughter’s book-plate.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

And did those feet…

I don’t have a thing about shoes, either for or against.  There are lots at the bottom of the wardrobe, most differing only in wear, and, yes, most are Ecco lace-ups, nothing to get excited about. I don’t know which ancestor donated me broad feet with a high instep but I’m not grateful.

It was therefore a surprise to me when on my recent visit to the Naples Museum I became obsessed with footwear. Part of this interest was pragmatic. I had already explored the upper galleries and marvelled at the mosaics brought in from Pompeii and Herculaneum. I had looked with wonder, and tried to snap through their glass cases, small figurines, silver beakers and glass portraits. I had strolled round the Secret Rooms with their dangling phalluses and faint, faintly erotic paintings. I had established that the room with the frescos I really wanted to see was closed. I had had coffee. Done the shop. There was over an hour until it was time to get back to the bus. Daunted by the thought of the marble staircase once again, the ground floor was where I decided to be.

This floor was predominately statues of Roman and Greek chaps and deities. Many sported togas, though one, the embodiment of an old head on young shoulders, wore only a cloth on his left arm and seemed to be enquiring, who, by Jove, had nicked his gear from the pool locker. Most had bare feet. I set out to look for those who did not.

Still trapped in the error that life was pretty basic in ancient times, I had assumed that shoes or sandals were a base of leather lashed together with thongs. Well yes, and no.

A statue labelled Apollo (seated with a lyre in porphory 2nd century AD) though I have my doubts (perhaps he’s in drag for a party?) ran little risk of corns, and I admired the sculpted sole.


I made a note on my handy little hotel-supplied pad to revisit Greek and Roman myths when I got home. I was particularly concerned about a statue  of goatish Pan, of whom one could believe anything, dallying with a well-set-up young man, allegedly ‘Daphne’. I had always taken Daphne to be female…

Asclepius, on the left below, (late 2nd AD of Greek original of beginning of 4th BC) had sensible sandals with plenty of room for the toes.

Dionysius (1st BC), as you might expect, was decked out in elaborate party boots.


A kneeling and abject barbarian had opted for trainers. Not at all the thing…

On the other hand, the military, as evidenced by the statues which caught my eye, knew what was needed. They hoped to take on the properties of the lion (“I am Sir Bryan, bold as a lion…”). A lion’s head topped the boots, even if on dress occasions flowers and twiddly bits were permitted.



At the entrance to a side room there’s a pair of statues which make a poignant statement of attitudes.

On the right as you enter a warrior whoops, brandishing his sword, he is a winner no doubt about it. By the opposite wall an Amazon, of the race of warrior women, is tumbling, breast exposed, from her horse. Both warriors have lion-head tops to their boots but each of hers seems decorated also with a heart.

 Admired as a warrior but perhaps just a bit girly?

But enough of footwear and so finally to my favourite of all the statues. An old woman, Agrippina (1st century, school of Phidias) sits with her ankles crossed, waiting.

PS why all these tumtumtetumtums? These are my best at present way of getting images approximately where I want them.

PPS I wish I could have sandals like these; and I salute their creators, those workers in leather, yes, but most of all those artists and craftsmen who envisaged and formed them from stone for me to wonder at.

1 Comment

Filed under History

Eyeballing the ancestors

In the course of digging into family history you find yourself examining many documents but nothing can compare with gazing into the eyes of the past. Old photographs of people are fascinating. It’s not just the clothes. Faces confront you full on since in the 19th century most commercial photographers and their clients were concerned more with likeness than with art.

The people in the photo alongside are Catherine and Zeno Sloan, one set of my Irish great-grandparents and seven of their nine children (the youngest, Annie and James, were yet to be born). My grandmother – Katie to the adults of the family, and whom I remember as a small elderly woman with grey hairy sausages trapped in a hairnet ­– is the little girl smiling and wriggling in the front row.

My father provided the key to the picture, and the date, 1880, and thus the first of my questions:

• how did he know who was who and when the picture was taken?

When I was young my father showed little interest in his family history but in his last years, inspired or perhaps driven by my mother’s researches and writings around her own family, he unearthed his teenage sketches (he had a great gift for drawing, as indeed for music) and began to frisk his remaining relatives for memories. Of course, as most of us do, he came to this too late. His grandparents and parents’ generations had gone (even his aunt who had lived to be 113 though he had, fortunately, taped a chat with her in her late 90s).

By the time we children, living in the Highlands of Scotland, met our Irish grandparents they were living in Belfast. Very occasionally they visited us. Our equally infrequent visits to them involved a cramped car trip down across Scotland to Stranraer, luggage roped to the roof, anti-sickness chain dangling, and then a carrot-munching sea journey over to Larne. Otherwise, we knew that long-dead Great-grandfather Zeno ‘had introduced the tonic sol-fa into Ireland’ and that they all seemed to be teachers. His name intrigued.

Back to the photograph:

• how did my father know it was taken in 1880? I don’t know, perhaps he extrapolated from the apparent ages of the children. I would also very much like to know why it was taken. A family group. There is another family group taken at about the same time which marks the silver wedding of my Edinburgh-based Chisholm great-grandparents. Why was the 1880 photo taken? It does not look celebratory, was it perhaps to send to other members of the family? If so, why and to whom…. where…

What became of those solemn children laced so tightly into their boots? I am gradually learning more since their descendants are people whom I sporadically email as I try to dig back further back. Electronically, we put our heads together and share our frustrations, small triumphs and speculations. I/we need to find out more about Zeno and in particular about Catherine, the mother in the picture, but also, before, then and later, a school-teacher, head mistress of a National School in Dungannon. My father, in the memoir he put together, said nothing about her origins. When I asked one of his cousins she had a vague feeling that her grandmother came from Thurles in Tipperary (and she turned out to be right about County Tipperary at least).

Back to those children, dates as my Father entered them in a family tree in 1991:

William (b 1868) went to America, Chicago, as a young man, the only one of this generation to become part of the diaspora (why Chicago?)

Richard (b 1870) became a minister whom I remember carrying out the mass christening of my siblings when my grandmother discovered that all but one (me, the eldest) of her visiting grandchildren were unhallowed

Daisy [Margaret] (b1871) taught alongside her mother, married a shopkeeper, and died in her 40s leaving two small children

Mary (b1873) unlike her sisters, did not become a teacher but before her marriage went to keep house for her minister brother

Isaac (b1875)  died unmarried

Katie (b1877) my grandmother, who had married another teacher, taught throughout raising five sons, addict of ‘nice stories’ and narrator of improving verse (‘She did not say to the sun goodnight/ Tho she saw him there like a ball of light/ For she knew he had God’s time to keep/ All over the world and never could sleep.’)

Frances (b1879) teacher and ardent pianist, married another teacher; she suffered from anaemia and had to eat raw liver (ugh!)

As my father noted, two were as yet unborn:

Annie (b1883) trained as a teacher, was widowed for 70-odd years and lived to be the oldest person in the UK

James (b1881) father of my father’s blond musical cousin who vaguely remembered the connection with Thurles, was a county surveyor who inspired my father to become a civil engineer, and thus to make the journey from Ireland to dam-building in the Scottish Highlands, and thus to me.

More later…


Filed under History

Another Graveyard – but David Plenderleath was here!

I set out last weekend to revisit, this time with my digital camera, one of my favourite graveyards, that of the Parish Church of Pencaitland in East Lothian. I last came here over twenty years ago but with old technology and the photos lie in some poly bag in some box in some cupboard…

This is an attractive small church which shows its history. Unlike some I have visited where a well-meaning or wealthy 19th century ‘benefactor’ obliterated the old with the new, this building shows in its fabric many of the styles of the past, doors become windows, windows with differing shapes of arch, doors are added or bricked up. There is not an overall plan.

It has changed over the centuries since the perhaps 13th century, inside and out (this visit I saw only the outside) but it still sits near the centre of its village community.

Which makes it easier to stand in a corner and try and connect with the past.

Moreover, the church is set in  a well-kept churchyard sprinkled with  gravestones dating back to the 17th century at least. Some, the very oldest, include the symbols of trades, for the farmer, the taylor, the mason. Others have cherubs clutching scrolls. Most frequent of all are the skulls, the bare bones.


Others, no less reminders of memento mori, and sorrows past, rely on words


KA FORBES Anno Domine 1639

Happie in birth match comely feature

And every virtue gracing nature

In nothing cross’d but barren wombe

All that was flesh rests in this tombe


In memory of

Robina, aged 15 months/ Alexander 14 months/ Alexander, 9 months/ George 3 years/ Robert 1 year….


However I am here in Pencaitland because there is a family association. This was the home of the Simson connection of my family tree.

There is a plaque on the side wall of the west tower. An aunt died young in 1716, her mother and two sisters, in their 20s died ‘of a violent feaver’ in 1736

But Helen Simson survived to marry David Plenderleath

At the end of December 1755, in the manse which lies alongside the church, my ancestor David Plenderleath opened up his new leather-bound notebook and began the one volume of his diary which survives. The present manse dates from the early 19th century, some 50 years after the Reverend Mr Plenderleath picked up his quill to set down his reflections and, just a few days early, his New Year’s resolution:


22 Decr


The last book I writt any observations

I thought might be of use for composing

my mind & preserving in memory what

I might wish to ???? ended in the

close of the year 1754. During this

year I have only written on pieces of

paper which fall by & I lose one

great benefit of writing, taking a review

of what is past and therefore have

this day begun to write in this book

& after some general remarks on

occurrences thro this year that were

of some consequence I shall write

down the present state of things as

to me & mine, & then waiting for

divine counsel shall propose what

ought to be henceforth in dependance

on a superior end and be steadily followed

out by me if the Lord sees meet

to lengthen out my life–

What was the reverend gentleman doing here in the closing days of 1755? Visiting the in-laws, or, given the information on the plaque, his father-in-law Matthew Simson, then Minister at Pencaitland. David Plenderleath had been ill and was still feeling under the weather. It is not clear whether he had his wife Helen and young children with him or whether he had left them at home in Dalkeith where he had been Minister for the past ten years.

To be continued.

Leave a comment

Filed under History

What brings the past to life for you?

After West Linton along to Abingdon and up miles of windy road (a road that winds not wind-buffeted) to Wanlockhead, the highest village in Scotland, 1531 feet above sea-level in the Lowther hills (if you chance to be walking the Southern Upland Way you might pause for breath here). Wanlockhead today prides itself on the possibility of panning for gold and on its old lead mine and museum. Also on having the second-oldest subscription library in Europe (the oldest being in its near neighbour and rival Leadhills across the county border).

Lead ore and other minerals have been mined here since Roman times. The first modern smelt mill was constructed in 1682 and between 1756 and 1765 nearly 3,500 tonnes of ore were extracted. Production later increased with the introduction of new technology and in 1902 a railway was constructed to link with the main Glasgow-Carlisle line. Despite a small revival in the 1950s there has been little mining activity here since the 1930s.

This is very much an unplanned village with cottages tucked hard against the many contours, located to suit the whim of occupants. Sheep wander. The stream wanders (no gold-panners today). Insulated with lentil soup, off to explore.

First, to the museum (minerals, Covenanters, information on life and times with those human-scale models now essential in the modern visitor centre). Then a short walk to the mine and, hard-hatted, along the main passage hewn out of rock, irregular sides and roof still showing the marks made by the small groups of men who worked in near darkness chipping and setting explosive and pumping out water. The sides still glisten with water. Gone are the young boys who pulled sleds of ore out to the light.

Just where miners descended to even deeper tunnels the tour ends. We stand beside two more life-size models and try to imagine. Then back out to the light and the sheep and a row of cottages hinting at home life mid 1750s, 1850s and 1910.

And finally up to the Miners’ Library, a subscription library established in 1756 and holding over 3000 volumes, classics, journals as well as technical books. 1756 is a year that means something to me, that’s the year my Plenderleath diary begins. I can connect. More costumed figures and a tape to help us relate to the people for whom this small building, open once a month, was important.

But it is just as I am leaving, when I pick up a leaflet with the signatures of the ‘originating miners’ that they and their individual  lives become real. These men spent much of their lives in the dark. Look at the signatures, literate hands, far from the stage of leaving a mark with a shaky ‘X’. And universal education was over 100 years away. How did these men come to be here living this hard life? Books must have meant much to them. John Edmond, Schoolmaster, was a signatory, there was a school for their children.

Now we write fewer letters; with the disappearance of cheques, the entering of pins, signing your name happens less and less. I write this on a computer and the software shapes the letters… What signs, links will prevent us appearing an amorphous blur when we are the past?

More about Wanlockhead is at  http://www.leadminingmuseum.co.uk

Leave a comment

Filed under History