History | Culture | Ancestry
One of the things I enjoy most about genealogy is being able to visit places associated with my family and to know that I am standing on the very spot that they once stood. I’m aware that some people don’t understand the appeal of this, but we family historians often afford ourselves these moments of sentimentality and reflection. Genealogy is ultimately a humbling process and the curiosity of the family historian is such that deep down they feel that if they go to the right location and listen hard enough, they might just hear a faint echo of the past.
Yet we aren’t always given the luxury of being able to see important locations connected to our family history. This is particularly the case in Glasgow or other urban areas where buildings are demolished, parks built over and whole streets rearranged in the ever evolving urban sprawl.
Scotland certainly has a rich architectural heritage but we have not always done all that we could to preserve it. Time and time again we have simply bulldozed entire neighbourhoods rather than find a workable solution to preserving our built heritage. Sometimes this has been justified and necessary, but more often than not you can look at the local history of any Scottish town or city and see buildings that have fallen victim to short-sighted planning decisions.
The extent to which we have destroyed our built heritage became quite apparent when I looked at the birth places of my own family, even when I only took into consideration the generations back to my great-grandparents. To illustrate the point I wanted to put together a post showing some of their birthplaces and what they look like today.
John MacDonald – 67 Northcroft Road, Springburn, Glasgow.
My Grandfather’s birthplace of Northcroft Road has had various incarnations over the years. The 1858 Ordnance Survey Map shows the road as simply a track linking Wellfield Cottage and other rural properties with the small but emerging village of Springburn. By 1893, Glasgow’s industrial sprawl was starting to overtake Springburn and the track was widened and named Avenue Road. Avenue Road was re-named Northcroft Road in the 1920s and my Grandfather was born there in 1935. Local residents however, continued to know the road as ‘The Avenue’ despite the name change. My Grandfather lived on Northcroft Road until he got married in 1956. He then joined the army and lived in various locations in Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire before emigrating to New York in the late 1960s. John MacDonald’s father (another John) died at 64 Northcroft Road in 1970. The family tenements at number 64 and 67 were demolished shortly afterwards. Over the next few decades Springburn’s industrial decline, coupled with atrocious town planning, subsequently led to the destruction of the majority of the town’s architectural heritage.
Elizabeth Bradley Berrie – 170 Camden Street, Gorbals, Glasgow.
Until industrialisation, the Gorbals was a rural area just south of Glasgow and the River Clyde. As the city began to industrialise, the population grew significantly and in the 1840s tenement buildings were constructed quickly and cheaply to cater for the new residents. Densely populated areas such as the Gorbals came to be notorious for overcrowding, high infant mortality, concentrated poverty and violent crime. It was not unusual for up to 8 families to share a single room, while 30 residents shared a single toilet. By 1920, 850 unsafe tenements had been demolished. My Grandmother, Elizabeth Bradley Berrie was born at 170 Camden Street in the Gorbals in 1936 and the Berrie family had also previously lived at 84 Camden Street between 1914 and 1932. Camden Street was one of the last streets to be laid out when the Gorbals was initially developed. It does not appear on the Ordnance Survey of 1858 but is listed on a postal directory shortly afterwards in 1861. In 1895 it ran from Kidston Street to Cumberland Street, where it was connected to South Shamrock Street. By the time of my Grandmother’s birth however, South Shamrock Street had been incorporated into Camden Street, meaning Camden now ran from Kidston Street in the south to Rutherglen Road in the North.
The Gorbals underwent a ruthless programme of redevelopment in the 1950s and 1960s, but even much of the housing built at that time has subsequently been demolished and rebuilt. The vast majority of the area’s original buildings are now gone forever and even the road layout in particular locations has been significantly altered. It’s difficult to tell with certainly, but from checking old postal records my guess would be that my Grandmother was born somewhere around what is today known as Camden Terrace.
Neil Hardie (Snr) and Neil Hardie (Jnr) – 1 & 3 William Street, Greenock.
Like many Scottish harbour towns, Greenock’s waterfront area has undegone a number of major changes throughout the 20th century. William Street was once at the very centre of Greenock’s old town, and it connected Cathcart Square to the old West Harbour. William Street was originally laid out in 1751 and named after William Alexander, who had owned the land in that area. It wasn’t until 1775 that William Street was officially given its name by the town council, who had decided that Greenock had become sufficiently large that the streets required names. The great inventor and engineer James Watt was born in 1736 at what was to become the corner of William Street and Dalrymple Street.
The Hardie family moved to William Street about 1892 and my Great-Grandfather was born at 1 William Street in 1894, while my Grandfather was born at 3 William Street in 1923. Both men were named Neil Hardie.
William Street would have been a noisy and bustling place to live in the early 1900s. One end of William Street was connected to Cathcart Square, a busy junction that linked the Mid-Kirk, Cathcart Street and the municipal buildings, while the other end of William Street was situated near the town’s fish market, mid-quay and harbour front.
Shortly after my Grandfather was born in 1923, residents were removed and the entire northern end of William Street was demolished. The West Harbour was also filled and became a container storage area, while Dalrymple Street was widened using the space that was once occupied by 3 William Street. I previously wrote about the changing face of William Street (here).
Euphemia Graham Petrie McLarty – 1 John Street, Gourock.
One of the enduring mysteries of my family is why my Grandmother was born at 1 John Street in Gourock. Our family has no known links to Gourock or this particular address and at the time of my Grandmother’s birth in 1923, my Great-Grandparents stayed in Laird Street and Hill Street in Greenock. The Ordinance Survey maps from 1857 until 1939 show a building located at 1 John Street. The 1925 Valuation Roll shows that this was simply a building containing a number of flats being leased by Laurence Billimore, John Hamilton, William MacEwing and James Tarbet – names that don’t have any known connection to the family. It is possible that one of these people was a friend or had some sort of family connection to my Great-Grandparents. However it still isn’t clear why my Great-Grandmother decided on having the birth at this location. Unfortunately we will probably never know for sure.
The building in question actually had two addresses linked to it before it was demolished. Although the building itself faced Shore Street, only two of the six flats contained within were given the address of 87 Shore Street. The other four flats were given the address of 1 John Street, presumably because the stairs to these flats were located behind the building, and they were entered via the John Street side.
John MacDonald – 7 Springvale Place, Springburn, Glasgow.
I have previously written about Springburn and the destruction of much of historic buildings. Ask anyone from the area and they will tell you the same thing, that the changes have not been for the better. Although much of this change happened from the 1960s and beyond, it has also been a gradual and continual process long pre-dating the Second World War. One such example is the birthplace of my Great-Grandfather, John MacDonald, who was born at 7 Springvale Place in Springburn in 1892.
Trying to find the location of Springvale Place caused me quite a headache, but I eventually found it on a map dated 1913. Springvale Place is listed on the Ordnance Survey of 1858 as an unnamed lane attached to Springburn Road. This makes it one of the earliest planned streets in the newly industrialised Springburn. It was named after Springvale, a small cotton weaving village near Springburn that once existed on either side of what is now Cowlairs Road. Ironically, the MacDonald’s had lived there for a period of time around 1841.
By 1893, Springvale Place had two rows of tenement buildings with two other buildings blocking direct access to Springburn Road. Rather than a road connection, it appears that a small lane provided access. The MacDonald family didn’t live there for very long – if at all, neither the 1891 census nor 1895 valuation rolls show the family as living at Springvale Place. In 1909 the two front-facing buildings on Springburn Road were demolished, giving Springvale Place a more open connection to Springburn Road. In 1912 the rest of Springvale Place was demolished and replaced by Balgray Pleasure Ground and swing park. An article in the Herald of the 28th of October, 1912 described the buildings that formally stood on the site as “slums”.
The site remained a park until it was cleared in the 1970s. It is now covered by an off-ramp from the A803 and the Springburn Leisure Centre.
Isabella Smith Petrie – 1 Hill Street, Greenock.
Hill Street in Greenock is a place that has a long association with various branches of my family tree. My family has a connection to Hill Street as far back as 1872 and relatives lived there until my Great-Grandparents migrated to Canada in 1956. Another of my Great-Grandparents, Isabella Smith Petrie, was born at 1 Hill Street in 1902.
The creation of Hill Street can be dated to some time around 1850. Hill Street is not listed on a town map of 1842, and the land it was to be built on was located on the outskirts of the expanding town of Greenock. A property and cottage named Hayfield is listed there in 1842 as being owned by a Mr McNeil, it’s possible that this property was originally built as a rural property encompassing the surrounding fields before industrialisation. By 1857, the Ordnance Survey map shows that Hill Street now existed and had two rows of tenement buildings. Records also show that the street continued to be in close proximity to many local industries from the 1850s right up until the 1970s. At one time the street was surrounded by a rope works, chemical factory, a baker’s mill and a railways good station. It was also located close to the Victoria Harbour, East India Harbour, a dry dock and the large area of warehouses that serviced these maritime facilities.
However, by the mid-20th century Greenock underwent an economic decline that led to the closure of many of it’s historic industries. The vast majority of the industrial buildings near Hill Street did not survive this decline and while these buildings disappeared the tenements of Hill Street also deteriorated. By the 1950s many of the tenement buildings of Greenock were over 100 years old and were of questionable quality. Families began to move out of the old tenements in these older areas of Greenock and into the new housing schemes in areas such as Larkfield.
Like the neighbouring industrial buildings, the tenements in the streets adjacent to Hill Street were progressively demolished and replaced with ghastly flats thrown up in the 1960s and 1970s. Interestingly, a single row of tenements on Hill Street survived until relatively recent times. These buildings were supposedly the first tenements in Scotland to be refurbished, rather than demolished in the 1960s. Inevitably, the area became an undesirable and unattractive place to live and by 2012 River Clyde Homes took the decision to demolish 1,200 low quality properties, including Hill Street’s last remaining tenements. A flock of stubborn nesting birds were the last residents of the buildings, and their presence delayed the final deconstruction. They were finally demolished in October 2012 with 1 Hill Street being the last ever building on the street, ending over 160 years of history.
Donald McLarty – Gallanachmore Cottage, near Oban, Argyll.
Well, it couldn’t all be bad and I am pleased to report that there is at least one birthplace of my Great-Grandparents that has survived to the present day. Gallanachmore Cottage, a small building south of Oban in Argyll was where my Great-Grandfather Donald McLarty was born in 1902.
It’s difficult to ascertain the exact year in which Gallanachmore Cottage was built. The valuation roll of 1895 doesn’t include any property under that name, while the Ordnance Survey map of 1897 shows an empty piece of land where the cottage now stands.
In 1901 the McLarty family is listed as living at ‘Gallanach Cottage’ next to Gallanachmore farmhouse. Despite the name, this is almost certainly the same building later known as Gallanachmore Cottage. The listing of ‘Gallanach Cottage’ was either a transcription error, or an earlier alternative name for the property.
The first listing of the name ‘Gallanachmore Cottage’ appears both on the valuation roll of 1905 in addition to the Ordnance Survey map of that same year. So while we don’t know the exact year of construction, we know with reasonable certainty that Gallanachmore Cottage was built between 1897 and 1901.
Less than 100 metres away from Gallanachmore Cottage, is the Gallanachmore farm, where my Great-Great Grandfather worked. The farmhouse was originally little more than a single building on the large estate owned by the MacDougalls of Gallanach. The farm is not listed on Roy’s Military Map of 1747-1752, a map that is usually a reliable and accurate source in plotting the locations of small rural settlements. Either Gallanachmore was too small to warrant inclusion, or it simply didn’t exist until a later period.
There are a number of possible origins as to what Gallanach means in English but the most likely explanation is that it is simply a direct translation of the Gaelic word meaning ‘full of branches’. The Gallanach estate itself is listed on the 1654 map of the area produced by Blaeu, although it is listed as ‘Gardannoch’.
In 1870 the Gallanachmore farmhouse appears for the first time on the Ordnance Survey map, but the name attached to it is ‘Baile Meadhonach’ or in English, the ‘Middle Village’. Gaelic place names generally describe the geographic features around it. In the case of Baile Meadhonach, the name alludes to the fact that the cottage existed between Gallanach Beg (‘Lower Gallanach’) and the main estate house at Gallanach – hence why it was known as the middle village. Eventually Baile Meadhonach came to be known as Gallanachmore (‘Higher Gallanach’) and this is how it appears on maps from at least the year 1897.
My family only lived at the Gallanach estate for a relatively short period of time. The McLarty family moved there between 1897 and 1899 from the nearby Parish of Craignish, where the McLartys had lived for hundreds of years as tenant crofters and farmers. When my family moved to Gallanachmore Cottage, the land was owned by Sir James Patten MacDougall, who would later become the Registrar General for Scotland. Between 1902 and 1905 the McLarty family moved again, this time to Greenock where many branches of the family still live to the present day. In total, this means that the McLarty family lived on the Gallanach estate for as little as 3 years, but possibly as long as 8 years.
Gallanachmore Cottage still exists today and has changed little in over 100 years. It was put up for sale in 2010 for £185,000 (view here). As for the nearby Gallanachmore farmhouse, it is now the site of a caravan and camping park. The original farmhouse building has also survived, albeit with some modern extensions.
I wrote a little about the eventful history of the surrounding area in a previous post that can be viewed (here).