I’ve discovered two world-leading physicists in or near my family tree (so far). They were both total surprises. Neither is an ancestor: they are modern contemporaries: F. Duncan Haldane and Stephen Hawking.Continue reading “My two best physicists: Haldane and Hawking”
Woodburn House, Canaan Lane
Woodburn House is a grand house in douce Morningside, in Edinburgh. Long ago it was a spectacular family home. After providing varied healthcare-related functions, including as a residence, it is now an office. It is one of Edinburgh’s many buildings listed and protected due to its architectural merit and interesting history. Surprisingly little information is readily available, however, and I’m collating what I have found in my relatively informal searching, and am happy to update. So feel free to comment if you know more, and I’ll add the details. I meant to post this about a year ago, but thought I’d do more work on it. Despite COVID, I didn’t.Continue reading “Woodburn House, Canaan Lane”
Donald R. MacGregor, MP of Leith
When researching the history of our much-loved flat (built 1880-1881) in Woodburn Terrace in Morningside, it was easy to confirm some facts. The land had been sold by its previous owners in 1878. They were a brother and sister from England called Charles William Anderson and Mary Anderson… and Mary was married to someone called Donald Robert MacGregor (or Macgregor, or McGregor), a merchant in Leith. Our deeds referred to the grand villa and its grounds adjacent to Woodburn Terrace (an area the same size to our entire street of 100 flats), and it was also listed as their property. That is, in 1878 and 1881 it was referred to as being owned by the Andersons:
So, (I wondered), why was the land for the building of Woodburn Terrace off Canaan Lane (and Woodburn House on Canaan Lane) not in the name of Mr MacGregor? Why was it his wife who was in partnership with Mr. Anderson? It was, after all, a man’s world. But it took a long time to realise I actually had to focus on local man Donald Robert MacGregor, the non-owner of the land. I’d acquired yet another unexpected research topic. So, nearly a year later (and after lots of confusion on my part, some of it conveyed below) I know the basic facts and gaps. His life story could inspire one hell of a novel or film, if you ask me.Continue reading “Donald R. MacGregor, MP of Leith”
The plasterer’s flat
When we moved into a traditional tenement flat in Morningside (Edinburgh) in the mid 1990s, we felt very lucky. It was just what we wanted: spacious, in a great area of town (quiet, leafy, central and with varied local facilities). As a bonus it had relatively dramatic period features that gave our home extra character. Especially the ceilings.
But after nearly quarter of a century, the time came to move on. To flit. So, to partner a blog which sings the praises of one whole street of Morningside tenements, now here’s a specific eulogy to the history of our flat. Our much loved flat: the home our children grew up in. But we are not the focus… this is part of a “house history” of the place itself (Flat 1, 9 Woodburn Terrace), and of course it was a home for other people too. Here I’ll attempt to tell the story of the person who was responsible for creating its unusual charm, 140 years ago, its first owner, David Wight (~1838-1910), a plasterer who may or may not have been the intended first resident.Continue reading “The plasterer’s flat”
A Morningside tenement
Many people with even quite recent Scottish roots are unfamiliar with the variety of Victorian tenements in Scotland. And in family history research people read and see photos and reports that equate all tenements with slums. Old maps can show street after street of densely packed housing, clustered around heavy industry in the inner city. This high density housing for working people, like the people who lived there and their way of life, were not cared for or valued by wider society, so they went into decline and were, in large areas, swept away.
In our post-industrial age, and once refurbished, most of the so-called surviving “slums” have become desirable properties. Modernised, they can command a premium price over most 20th C. flats in the same area, if they survived in a sympathetic context. “Bought by a wide range of social types, [they] are favoured for their large rooms, high ceilings and original period features”, says Wikipedia. Spot on. But also, the largest or fanciest tended not to become dilapidated or be demolished in the first place.Continue reading “A Morningside tenement”
A missionary pamphlet
A 27 page pamphlet of nearly 10,000 words was written by my great grandfather William Henderson Stevenson and “published” in 1887. He wrote: “having had the privilege of labouring among this interesting people [The Santals in India] for over nine years, we have been asked to tell something of their habits and customs…”
Stevenson’s booklet is titled (or was Number 21 in a series titled) Woman’s Work in Heathen Lands, and I have scanned my copy, then used (free) optical character recognition to create a text-searchable version, some extracts from which appear here. The whole text will appear online soon.Continue reading “A missionary pamphlet”
Ythan, Methlick & Tough
Marianne Milne Simpson was my great-aunt, a woman whose first name enjoyed many spellings. Why was she in India in 1907 when she met my great uncle Jack Stevenson? How did they meet? And where was she from?Continue reading “Ythan, Methlick & Tough”
Jack Black (Stevenson)
There are a couple of well-kent Jack Blacks out there: the American actor; the Scottish motivational millionaire. And then, there’s my father’s uncle. A few months ago I knew very little about Jack and his brother Willie, except that they were both medical doctors. I didn’t know for sure that Black was Jack’s middle name, or even that his birth name was John. Mainly I knew that the brothers and their sister my grandmother had been born in India, that their missionary father had died when they were very young, and that they returned to Scotland. I’d found them a dozen and more years ago in the 1901 census aged around 20 in Glasgow, then I’d got stuck. As described here, just a few months ago I chanced across the brothers’ university records, posted by the University of Glasgow, and everything opened up.
This was intended to be a short post about my Jack Black (Dr John Black Stevenson). But a rummage through a bourach of a shoe-box turned up things I didn’t know I had. One was the photograph labelled “Uncle Jack and Aunt Marianne Stevenson”, and another was a photo of a girl labelled in my father’s handwriting as “Marjory Russell (nee Stevenson)”. I’d no idea who Marjory or Marianne were, so as usually seems to happen, a short post of a few facts has turned into a substantial treasure hunt.Continue reading “Jack Black (Stevenson)”
Not only did I know nothing about my family’s brick-making business, it turns out that I knew nothing about bricks, and how brick-making, ironstone-mining, shale-oil and coal-mining were connected to those awful
blaize / blaze / blaes school hockey and football pitches. Scottish kids like me who fell face-first onto this brutal surface will never forget it. You might have experienced the same thing on something you knew as a “cinder” track. But for me it will always be “blaes” (this spelling is new to me), though the word now conjours up more than just skint knees.
A Toffee Triumph
On his wedding certificate (17th April 1913) my father’s uncle David (David Laughland Scobbie of Beechworth, Newarthill), was described as a brickwork salesman. But Elizabeth Mitchell, our family genealogy guru, noted that he was “owner of Triumph Confectionery, Wishaw”. And I vaguely recall that my father said his uncle and aunt “ran a sweetie shop”. Occasionally I’ve searched google half-heartedly to find out what he really was, but with no results. Time to find out more.
Spoiler alert: num-num-num!
Jolly Hockey Sticks!
My father’s four sisters went to fee-paying Laurel Bank School in Glasgow, one of a triumvirate of girls’ schools along with Westbourne and Park. All have now merged in one way or another. Point is… I’ve got a bunch of hockey team photos from the later 1920s, some of them with names on; so I thought I’d put them online. Do you recognise a relative? Can you name someone? Do leave a comment!Continue reading “Jolly Hockey Sticks!”
Two (well, three) men called Archibald Taylor – for Armistice Day
My aunt’s family history is convoluted, complex and interesting, the complexity providing a good training in genealogy. Some elements are stark and simple. The death of her mother’s first husband in WW1, the “Great War”, and of their son, her (half) brother in WW2… they were both killed in action. That’s pretty straightforward. You’d think.
It took a while, but now I know who’s who. I still know nothing personal about these men. Nor their lives before or during the wars that killed them. I am not really related to them (my mother’s sister-in-law’s mother’s first husband & son) in any clear way. But the centenary of the armistice in 1918 is a good time for a minding, and for me to mind them in particular. And some others. We are all connected. Me the writer; you the reader; and the dead. I know these soldiers’ bare details, a little general context, and something about what happened to those they left behind, but apart from that… their personalities, hopes and dreams? They are unknown to me. But here they are.
Continue reading “Two (well, three) men called Archibald Taylor – for Armistice Day”