Tuesday, 24 January 2012

James Stark ….from humble beginnings

James was born 24th December 1858 at Heatherinch in Collessie, Fife ... to Jessie/Janet Crombie …my great grandmothers’ older sister …well one of them …there were seven daughters of whom Isabella was the youngest… and one son …the oldest of the siblings.

Although illegitimate, his father, Thomas Stark, was there at the time he was registered and thus he was given his surname but in 1861 James was living with his mother and grandfather, Alexander, at Cupar Muir, on the family small holding. Alexander died three years later but had acknowledged him as his grandson on the census.

His mother Janet married an Alexander Lumsden in 1867 and had more children. In 1871 James was down as ‘Stepson’…. but by 1881, still living with them, he was entered as a boarder on the census,maybe because he was over twenty- one, with the trade of Mason.
Three years later he was married to Janet Millar and soon after, his first son James, was born. Sadly his son James died in the Great War having joined the London Scottish. This was a Territorial Regiment …a battalion of this regiment was the first TA regiment into action in 1914 …and another battalion went to Palestine, taking part in the capture of Jerusalem …it was here that he lost his life and was buried. His younger brother George also lost his life, in an accident, leaving only their little sister Jessie Crombie Stark … she married in 1922.
James Stark’s marriage to Janet lasted over 50 years and their Golden Wedding was recorded in the local papers but his death in 1937 was also recorded in The Glasgow Herald.

All of the above sounds like a pretty normal family of the times but this man of humble beginnings rose to great heights. He created a prosperous building concern, then in 1911 became a Provost, followed by a Justice of the Peace and finally was made an Honorary Sheriff in 1926. By the time his obituary was published in 1937, he had also gained an OBE from the King.

During the war he sat on many committees, he received the Belgian Medal for his war efforts in particular, establishing a home in Glasgow, for Belgian refugees and worked hard to raise funds for the Cupar War memorial…his personal efforts raised over £5000….this would be over £150,000 in today’s terms.
In 1922, Earl Haig and Provost Stark unveiled the memorial seen on the lay out above…now known as 'The Angel' by the locals.
This is the same Earl Haig who was Commander in Chief of the forces, in WWI and who gave his name to the fund that runs the Poppy Day Appeal today. It is said that they were friends … probably due to their work on committees.

(BTW ….In Scotland a Provost is a little like a Mayor and a Sheriff is between a Magistrate and a High Court Judge but the latter being an honorary position, he would not have had actual duties …The Angel has pillars now, by the steps,as seen in the photo I took. They were added to commemorate the Cupar dead of WWII.).

Take Care xx

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Alexander Ritchie …1868-1914.

I was so excited to find another photo of him when he was 20/21years old, the little boy in the picture below whose image I thought had only been captured there. I worked out his age by the three year window that the photographer had had a studio in Edinburgh for.

Sadly I have no stories or anecdotes, past down through my Nana, about her brother, my Great Uncle Alexander, except that he was ‘fond of his appearance’ which I assume meant he liked to look smart … and that he was called Sandy by the family. I believe he had light read hair, which may have given rise to the nickname.

By the time my Nana was nine (1891) it can be seen that Alexander was no longer living in the family home but was a lodger in Carnock .. a village a few miles west of Dunfermline….how long he had lived away from home is unknown.

I have tried to gather as much colour from certificates and censuses I have read…. hopefully giving him a ‘real’ feel …some one who is not just a face staring back from a photograph.

Alexander Ritchie was born 12th September1868, the third child but second son of David and Isabella. He was named after his mother’s father, as tradition dictated, and was brought up in Cupar Muir, in Fife … which is just outside Cupar. I have noted that none of the sons were given middle names at birth although William adopted one in later life, yet all three of the daughters were.

Like his elder brother he followed his fathers trade, that of being a Stonemason, and after finishing his apprenticeship, of about 7 years, he was then a journeyman …acquiring work where he could and often paid by the day. The only thing he was not allowed to do was to teach …for that you had to be a Master Mason

By 1897 he was living in Edinburgh, at 36 Caledonian Crescent, and on the 23rd December that year, he married Barbara Low Anderson who lived in Glasgow and was a sales lady in a jewellers. Alexander was now termed a Mason, (Operative) as also was his father who still lived in Cupar Muir. I have read up on this but there does not seem to be a definitive answer as to what ‘operative’ actually meant. In some cases it seems that it was connected to being a member of a Lodge of Masons but then I read it was something to do with the early unions …even ‘journeyman’ seems to have many definitions…does any one out there know more ???

!901 brought the next census and the couple are found to be one of three families, living at 12 Castle Street. Edinburgh. … Alexander is a working Mason and Barbara is a caretaker of an office …they have no children.

Another 10 years pass and they are now living at Quarry Brae in Polmont, in a house or cottage, called ‘Kenmore’, that has 6 rooms with windows. This seems quite large for a couple still with no children after 13 years of marriage but reading the census I see that he works on his ‘own account’ now, from home and he is now a Fruiterer. This says to me that this building is in fact a shop, a Greengrocers maybe or a general store.. There is no record of Barbara’s job but I imagine she served in the shop or helped in other ways. They appear never to have been blessed with children but I did wonder why he rejected his trade to start a new one during the first decade of the 20th century.

All was explained when reading of his death on 18th October 1914, just three years later, at the age of only 46. He died of pneumoconiosis and heart disease ….the former being a ‘Dust disease’ related to being a stonemason. I can only imagine that he had been ill for several years and this had caused him to change his direction.

I hope Sandy came alive for you …he did for me while researching him …but then he is my Great Uncle.

Now I know where he lived in his latter years, I am going to send my son out with a camera, as he lives surprisingly close to Quarry Brae.

Take care xx

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Ritchie Family circa 1875

This is the earliest photo I have of David and Isabella.
I have dated this at 1875 but it might have been as early as 1874, as their 5th child, James, was brought into the world in 1875. As William is in his mother’s arms, it is hard to see if she is ‘with child’.
Their oldest son was also a David and followed into his fathers trade becoming a mason and then a respected builder, living in Cupar for the whole of his life. This was barely two miles away from where he was brought up. The family home, in Cupar Muir, had four rooms that contained windows and was big enough to bring up their seven children. Although their eldest son stayed close, their eldest daughter Janet emigrated to Canada and their youngest, not born for nearly another decade …my Nana…lived for several years in London. This is the only photo I have yet to find of Janet and their second son Alexander.
Sadly I have no image of James who died before his time….I am sure I have not recounted his story before so maybe this is the place to record it.
James was born in 1875 and like William, who worked in the print, did not follow in his father’s footsteps but became a Cabinet maker. He met and fell in love with Jane Brunton and they married in 1903. Soon Jane was carrying their first child and eleven months after their marriage Elizabeth was born. They were so happy but Jane was very unwell after the birth. James had gone out to visit friends and returned to find that she had died and could not forgive himself for not being there by her side. His death from poison was recorded 12 hours after hers.
Elizabeth was now an orphan but James’s siblings tried to care for her. A few months later Jane’s parents came and took her to live with them…. changed her surname and appear to have brought her up as their own child …maybe to shield her from knowing about her real parents deaths.
James' family never saw her again but I found that she lived until 1986 … not all that far from where I live now …. unmarried and on her own …how I wish that I had started Family History 10 or so years earlier …but then maybe it would have been wrong to rake up the past.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

My Mum ...in the 1940's

Marjory Isobel Bullock/Watt ...1917 - 2000

This decade was filled with mixed emotions for Mum It started with such promise …she was due to be married to her one true love but sadly John was taken from her before it could happen … she managed to survive this terrible time and took her mind off what had happened by concentrating on her singing and joining the world of work for the first time in her life …something that a middle class only daughter, in Scotland, was not expected to do unless it was volunteering to do a few hours for charity or in a hospital, or at this time, maybe War Work.

She lost close friends as many did …sang for the Polish soldiers who were stationed near by …finally left home for a spell so she could continue working and have some independence …this time on a military base in England … then discovered that her mother had sold up the family home and followed her to England. She met and was captivated by my father, a Canadian parachutist at the base … learnt that he was returning home to a wife and child so never told him that she was probably pregnant. In March 1947, she gave birth to me, which shocked the whole family, as she had told no one, only put on a few pounds and cycled everywhere up to eight months. Finally she let her mum find a flat, change Mum's surname, move in with us and then organize her life so that she could keep me and give me a home, forsaking old friends, in case they ever learnt the truth that she had never married. …. but then, to test her strength once more, she nearly lost me to Polio as the decade was nearing its end. (Written about in the post below )

This beautiful woman never looked at another man for the rest of her life and dedicated herself to making sure I was happy and had all that I needed. …it is now that I really appreciate what she did for me.

Thank you Mum.


This is not exactly family history because it’s me in the photos but it is recording a time that was important in my life …and it is over 60 years ago.!!

The first photo must have been when I was nearly one, early 1948, and the other, two years later. For the first three years of my life I lived with Mum and Nana, in the down stairs flat of a house that had seen better days, This was before my Nana purchased a Victorian terraced property, opposite a park, which was to be my home for the following 18 years.

I remember discovering a hole in the kitchen floor and peering in … and then a wooden chair being placed over it to stop me coming to harm. I remember Mum looking after the Lipmann’s cat and she and I having to go up to their flat, only to discover a pile, or as it seemed to me, a mountain, of stale and mouldy bread in a corner of their hall. I remember lowered voices when it was ever discussed..

It is only with retrospect, and age, that I now suspect why the ‘mountain’ existed. The Lipmann’s were always nice to Mum and talked to me too but generally kept themselves to themselves. It was the late 1940’s, their surname suggested that they were Jewish but although their clothes were showing much wear and tear, they seemed have a pride in their appearance. Putting all things together in my mind, I now wonder whether they had managed to survive a camp or similar hardship, where any food was rare and prized, no matter the freshness. The habit to treasure any crumb of food would have been hard to break and to throw anything away would have been almost impossible. … it really is the only explanation, as I remember Nana remarking on how clean and tidy the rest of their home was..

These things I remember, even though I was so young yet a two months stay in hospital, around the age of 18 months, separated from my mother by a glass wall, leaves me with no memories at all.

Between these two photos I fell ill … according to the doctor …with a cold or influenza at worst. My ex-Theatre Sister Nana was not satisfied and had me rushed to the nearest hospital …she was a force to be reckoned with when it came to medical matters and her intuition was right. Within a few hours I was diagnosed with Polio and put into isolation. It is believed that it was only her quick action that enabled me to make a complete recovery …well almost, as I walked like a penguin for the next three years and my feet would often take up the ‘quarter to three’ position when tired …even well into my twenties. Certainly there would never have been such a cute photo of me at nearly three but for her…many children who managed to survive the terrible epidemics around that time, remained paralyzed and those that were confined to a chair or walked with the aid of ‘leg irons’ were thought lucky.

Thanks for dropping by ...Take Care xx

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Never to be forgotten

John McKelvie was my mum’s fiancĂ© and her one true love …always in her thoughts till the day she died.

He had volunteered for the Air force as soon as war broke out, much to mums annoyance and after training, was given the dangerous position of rear gunner. He was soon told of his promotion to sergeant and that he was to become an instructor, reducing the chances of flying missions. This being the case both John and Mum felt more confident of their future and they dared to think of marriage plans, maybe on his next leave.

At the end of June 1940 Mum was informed that he was missing in action …. from the 17th …she was devastated but did not give up hope over the months that followed, often walking where they walked together and praying for his safe return, imagining him being a prisoner of war.

At the end of December the grave news came that he had been killed on the 17th June and buried on the 24th, at St Nazaire. Mum told me that he had been thought to have been on the troop ship ‘Lancastria’, when it was bombed and sunk, so had actually survived some conflict in the air before hand.

This was all that she knew … and I certainly had never heard of the ship and its sinking … so when I was reading and transcribing mums notes and memories, that I had persuaded her to commit to paper a few years before her death, I did some research.

He was on the list of those lost on the ship and probably was below deck in line for a direct hit. It is a tragedy that was hidden from the British public, for fear it would damage moral at a difficult time ….a Churchill cover-up. There is a book well worth reading….The Sinking of the Lancastria by Jonathan Fenby ….. if you are interested …. but facts that should be known are that if you add the number of dead from the Lusitania and those from the Titanic, together, you still have not reached the suspected total of lives lost from the sinking of Lancastria and this occurred only two weeks after the well documented, Operation Dynamo…..which every one knows as the evacuation of the troops from Normandy beaches.

John may not hold any ties to me but I do not want him or the Lancastria, forgotten …. so this LO will proudly sit within my FH album as a reminder for any that look through, in the years to come..

My Great Grandmother Isabella Ritchie nee Crombie

Isabella Ritchie ...nee Crombie.
…know as Granny Crombie by my mum.
Born the 7th daughter/eighth and youngest child ….7/8/1841 in Collessie
Died 2/11/1920 in Cupar
This is my Mums memory of her, when she was three …. in her own words….
…..She looked so grumpy and rather frightening, sitting in the basket chair by the range, dressed head to toe in black. Her black bonnet, which was tightly tied by ribbons under her chin, remained on her head through out the whole visit. Mother tried to persuade me to come out from under the table but to no avail. After some time Granny Crombie produced some paper, which she then twisted into cones and filled with sweeties. It was mesmerizing watching her make these pokes from my place of safety, but finally I allowed her to coax me out. To my surprise she spoke to me with a soft and gentle voice and her face no longer looked grumpy ….
Her son William wrote about her, soon after her death in 1920 .... I am so lucky to have the draft of his article … these are some snippets that give some insights into her character.
…She was by nature secretive, reticent and very reserved. She enjoyed a few select intimate friends of her own choice but during the years of the war she seemed to discard her local friends, …..
…..From her long weekly letters to me- often running into four foolscap pages with several post scripts in order to use every inch of the paper, she seemed to have assumed the responsibility of a statesman. She was so serious and critical on political and military matters and would discourse also on local affairs, industrial unrest, cost of living, shop bargains and prospective Cupar marriages …..
…Her sole literature was her Bible and her newspaper. Her greatest luxury was to peruse this journal from cover to cover …
….It might surprise the citizens of the country town to know that she knew and could name nearly every man woman and child in Cupar because everyone was obliged to pass and re-pass her turret window …..
…. She loved to admire nice looking people as they strutted across her ‘stage’ and remark upon them. She was amusingly critical about the modern ladies fashions in dress, millenary and manners …
It is interesting to me to read the first three words of description of his mother as it could be describing my own mum. … and the fact of having a tiny number of select close friend is me and mum to a tee. …obviously a family trait.
Hope you feel you know her too.
Take Care