Stories

Robert Gillies Abercrombie (1852 - 1932) & Jean Gracie Linn (1853 - 1930)

Robert Abercrombie was born at Kingston in the Parish of Kilsyth, Stirlingshire, on 5th February, 1852. His parents were James Abercrombie, Labourer, also born in Kilsyth on 29th June, 1810 and Janet Gillies, baptised on 11th March, 1813, in Banton.

1852 Birth Record of Robert Abercrombie1852 Birth Record of Robert AbercrombieScotland's People

Robert's birth record clearly states that his birthname was Robert Abercrombie. It was later in life that he adopted his mother's surname Gillies as his middle name.

James and Janet had been married in the Parish of New Monkland in Lanarkshire on 1st June, 1833, but moved back to Kilsyth soon after their marriage. Robert was James and Janet's tenth child. By the time Robert came along the family had moved about the area quite a bit - from Bridgend, to Foot of Town, to Twechar, but always remained in or around Kilsyth.

In those times, the Parish of Kilsyth included Kilsyth Burgh, a small town, which nestled at the foot of the Kilsyth Hills and a number of outlying villages, some very small. The economy was based initially on weaving and, around the time of our interest, mining, both coal and ironstone.

At the time of Robert's birth, the Abercrombie family was residing at Kingston in the Burgh of Kilsyth and James and Janet had already suffered the loss of three young daughters, Agnes (aged less than 1 year), Mary (aged 7) and Margaret (aged 5). Both Mary and Margaret are recorded as having died of fever.

By the time of the 1861 Census, (April 8th) the Abercrombie family was residing at Parkfoot in Kilsyth. Robert was recorded as being a Scholar, aged 9. His father James was a 50-year-old Iron Miner and his mother Janet (47) was a Housekeeper. Robert's siblings young Janet, now 22, was a Cotton Weaver and young James, 17, was a Labourer. Alexander (11) was a Scholar, while Margaret was 6 years old. Also resident was 2-year-old James Abercrombie, grandson of James and Janet.

1859 Map of Kilsyth Burgh1859 Map of Kilsyth BurghNational Library of Scotland

We believe that Parkfoot was the area to the north of the Garrell Burn at the western approach to the town. That section of road is now Parkfoot Street.

On 12th December 1862, when Robert was 10, the family would have received the news that William Abercrombie, Robert's eldest brother had been killed in a mining accident while working as a mine sinker at Gartshore No. 3 Pit, just south of Kilsyth, owned by William Baird and Co. The Mine Inspector's Report stated that William had "[fallen] off the kettle while ascending the shaft." He had been only 29 years old and had been married with five young children.

By the time of the 1871 Census, (April 3rd) the Abercrombie family, now consisting of Robert, his parents and a brother and sister, was residing at Main Street in Kilsyth. The 19-year-old Robert's occupation was given as Engine Stoker at a coal pit.

Robert's father, James Abercrombie, died on 6th September, 1873 in Kilsyth, aged 63 years, of Phthisis Pulmonalis (Tuberculosis).

Jean Gracie Linn was born on 1st July, 1853 in Kilsyth. She was the second child and eldest daughter of Collier James Linn and Mary Jarvie, and named, as was the convention, after her maternal grandmother, Jean Gracie.

1853 Birth Record of Jean Linn1853 Birth Record of Jean LinnScotland's People

At the time of the 1861 Census (8th April), the 7-year-old Jean Linn was residing with her parents, James and Mary and their family in High Banton, Parish of Kilsyth. James was 32 and working as an Iron Miner and Mary was 31. David (9) and Jean (7) were Scholars and the other children, Peter (5), William (3) and Margaret (7 months) were not yet attending school.

At the Census of 1871 (3rd April), Jean Gracie Linn was a 17-year-old Machinist 'working at a sewing machine' and still residing with her parents James and Mary and their family at Meadowhead, Storry's Land in the town of Kilsyth. James is now 42 and employed as a Coal Miner, and Mary is 41.

Robert Abercrombie, aged 22 and earning his living as an Iron Miner, and the 20-year-old Machinist Jean Linn, married on 24th April, 1874 at Parkfoot, Parish of Kilsyth. Robert's underground career had begun.

1874 Marriage Record of Robert Abercrombie and Jean Linn1874 Marriage Record of Robert Abercrombie and Jean LinnScotland's People

On 9th September, 1874, at Kirk Street, Kilsyth, Jean gave birth to their first son, James, conveniently named after both Robert's and Jean's fathers. Some 18 months later, on the 28th March, 1876, Mary Jarvie Abercrombie was born, taking her name from her maternal grandmother. Janet Gillies Abercrombie, named after her paternal grandmother, was born next on 13th July, 1877. Both girls were born at Dickson's Land, Kilsyth. Some time later, the family had moved a few miles south west down the road and into the Parish of Kirkintilloch, to Tintock, a tiny hamlet on the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal, and it was there that Jean Abercrombie was born on 31st March, 1879. Robert gave his occupation as 'Collier'.

The family was soon to move again, and David Abercrombie was born on 20th December, 1880, at 91 Barrhill Rows, Twechar, Parish of Kirkintilloch. The Rows were on the south bank of the Forth and Clyde Canal and were in Dunbartonshire. Robert gave his occupation as 'Ironstone Miner'.

Jean Abercrombie's father, James Linn died, aged 52, on 4th January, 1881 at Assembly Close, Kilsyth. The cause of death was Asthma from which he had been suffering for 6 months. His son David Linn registered his death.

At the 1881 Census, (April 4th) Robert and Jean were at home with James and Mary, both Scholars, and Janet, young Jean and David. Robert gave his occupation as Ironminer's Oversman. An oversman was an underground manager.

Barrhill Rows, TwecharBarrhill Rows, Twechar

1896 Map showing location of Barrhill Rows at Twechar1896 Map showing location of Barrhill Rows at TwecharNational Library of Scotland

Another four children were born at Barrhill Rows in Twechar: Robert, born 9th May, 1882, Peter, born 17th September, 1883, Maggie, born 17th January, 1885 and Agnes (Nan) born 16th December, 1886. Tragically, Peter died shortly after his first birthday on 26th October, 1884 of Diarrhoea. Throughout this period, Robert continued to work as an Ironminer's Oversman.

When Helen (Nellie) Abercrombie was born on 27th April, 1888, the family had moved to Townhead, Parish of Kirkintilloch, some 3 miles westward along the Forth and Clyde Canal. Remarkably, Robert, now 36, had changed his occupation to Draper. The reason for the change in occupation is not known. Whether Robert had been injured or incapacitated and was no longer suitable for underground work, or whether he had made a conscious effort to remove his sons, and indirectly, his daughters, from an almost inevitable future as miners and miners' wives, can never be known. We certainly know that if his motive had been the latter, then it had been successful, because none of his children ever became involved with life below ground or had to suffer the hard life associated with it.

1898 Map of Townhead, Kirkintilloch1898 Map of Townhead, KirkintillochNational Library of Scotland

Townhead, Kirkintilloch (c.1900)Townhead, Kirkintilloch (c.1900)

Jean's mother, Mary Linn (maiden surname Jarvie) died on 25th October, 1889 at Burnside in Kilsyth. The cause of death was Apoplexy.

John Connacher Abercrombie was born on 2nd January, 1890, at Eastside in the town of Kirkintilloch. At this time, Robert gave his occupation as a Commercial Traveller, presumably, still in the drapery trade.

1898 Map showing location of Eastside, Kirkintilloch1898 Map showing location of Eastside, KirkintillochNational Library of Scotland

Eastside, Kirkintilloch looking west (c.1900)Eastside, Kirkintilloch looking west (c.1900)

On 17th September of the same year, Robert's mother, Janet Gillies, died aged 78, at the Cross, Kirkintilloch. The Cause of Death was General Debility and Old Age. Robert, who registered the death, was still resident at Eastside in Kirkintilloch.

By the 1891 Census, (April 5th) the family had moved again some 3 miles north-west to Lennoxtown, Parish of Campsie, Stirlingshire. Robert (39) had changed his occupation back to Draper and he was recorded as an Employer. Jean was 37. Their children were now growing up and taking up occupations completely unrelated to their mining industry beginnings. James, now 16, was a Draper's Assistant most likely assisting his father. Mary (15) was a Sewing Machinist, also involved in the textile trade. Janet (13) was a Domestic Servant. Jean (12), David (11), Robert (9) and Maggie (6) were at school, while Nan, Nellie and John were still of pre-school age.

Lennoxtown (1898)Lennoxtown (1898)National Library of Scotland

Main Street, Lennoxtown (c.1900)Main Street, Lennoxtown (c.1900)

Lennoxtown was situated some 3 miles north of Kirkintilloch and, starting from the opening during the late 1780s of the calico printing works at Lennoxmill, had become established as a major centre for the printing of cotton cloth. It makes sense that Robert would have been attracted to move his family to this small town in order to be close to the source of supply and suppliers of cloth.

Robert and Jean's last three children were born at Main Street, Lennoxtown. George Linn Abercrombie was born on 27th April, 1891, Linda Gillies Abercrombie was born in 1893, while the fourteenth and youngest, William Alexander Abercrombie, was born on 31st March, 1896, some 21½ years after his oldest brother James. Throughout this period, Robert gave his occupation as Draper.

The Electoral Register records reveal that by 1897, Robert had moved to the Gorbals, a busy suburb of Glasgow on the south side of the River Clyde. Their new residence was 108 South Portland Street in Lauriston.

1951 Map showing the location of 108 South Portland Street in Lauriston1951 Map showing the location of 108 South Portland Street in LauristonNational Library of Scotland

At the time of the 1901 Census (March 31st), Robert, Jean and their family were still residing at 108 South Portland Street and, incredibly for the times, the entire family was still intact, with the exception of David who by that time would have been 21 years old. Robert, aged 49, was now a Draper's Traveller, while his eldest son James, aged 26, was a China Salesman. Mary (25) and Janet (23) were Machinists (as their mother had been) while young Jean (22) was a Draper's Assistant, possibly working for the same employer as her father. Young Robert (18) was a Time Keeper, Maggie (16), a Cash Girl, and Agnes (14) and Nellie (12) were Message Girls. John (11), George (9) and Linda (7) were at school, while William, who had just turned 5, had not yet started his formal education.

In fact, a year earlier, David Abercrombie had enlisted in the Army Service Corps and two days before the 1901 Census was taken, he was posted to South Africa where the Boer War was in progress and where he would serve for almost 5 years.

So, remarkably, 14 out of a family of 15 were still living together at 108 South Portland Street in the Gorbals. This move to the city of Glasgow was clearly the most significant and life changing of all the moves the family had made. From an essentially poor and rural environment with limited choice in job opportunities, to the big (and crowded) city suburb, with all its attendant range of opportunities, must have been quite a culture shock to the young Abercrombie family.

Gorbals had started out as a small village in the Parish of Govan, with thatched cottages on either side of Main Street housing brewers and maltmen and, later, weavers. At the start of the 19th century, James Laurie, a merchant, began to lay out the new suburb of Laurieston, to which he hoped to attract a class of business and professional gentleman who would have easy access to the city of Glasgow across two local bridges. First built were the impressive terraces of Carlton Place, which ran along the banks of the River Clyde. The principal street running south from here was South Portland Street and its southern extension, Abbotsford Place. In fact, the development of an industrial area in Tradeston, to the immediate west of Gorbals, conspired to ensure that Laurie's vision was never fulfilled. That, and the construction of a railway line through the neighbourhood, caused most of Laurie's 'gentlemen' to move further south to the newly expanding suburbs there. Gorbals and Laurieston were left to be inhabited by the 'less professional' classes, the artisans and traders. Nevertheless, by 1891, 40,000 people inhabited Gorbals which was by that time set in a large rectangular array of tenement houses. A contemporary (1894) account of Gorbals and Laurieston is given here.

It was possible that the attraction of such a large market, both in the Gorbals and across the Clyde in Glasgow city centre, was what caused Robert to make such a significant change in the lives of his entire family.

In 1903, on the 28th of November, Robert and Jean's eldest daughter, Sewing Machinist Mary, now 27, married widower, Thomas Sutherland Muir, a 37-year-old Drapery Traveller at the family home at 108 South Portland Street. It is quite possible that Thomas would have been a colleague or a trade acquaintance of Robert. Mary had chosen her sister, Janet, as her bridesmaid. Robert's occupation at the time of his daughter's wedding was also Drapery Traveller.

The following year, Robert and Jean's son, Robert, died aged 22 at 108 South Portland Street. The Cause of Death was Spinal Caries (Tubercular) and Phthisis Pulmonalis. Young Robert had been employed as a Shipbuilder's Timekeeper at the time of his death. Robert reported his son's death.

At the time of the 1911 Census (2nd April), the family was still residing at 108 South Portland Street. Robert (59) was recorded as a Retired Draper. For the times, Robert was quite young to be retired. Jean was 57. James (36) was a Warehouseman in a Wholesale Warehouse. Janet (32) was a Shop Machinist, also in a Wholesale Warehouse. Jean (31) was employed as a Shop Assistant in a General Saleroom and David (30), returned from South Africa and out of the Army, was a Plumber's Labourer with Clyde Trust. Margaret (26) was also a Shop Assistant in a General Saleroom. Agnes (24) was not recorded as being in employment and would most likely have been helping her mother in the family home. Helen (22) was a Sales Assistant in a Fruiterer's Shop. John (21) was a House Painter and George (19) was a Warehouseman in a Wholesale Warehouse. Linda (17) was an Assistant in a Boot Shop. Finally, the 15-year-old William was an Office Boy in a Paint Store.

All but one of Robert and Jean's family were in paid employment. The household would not have been short of money.

According to the Glasgow Electoral Register of 1912 the family had moved to the nearby 20 Apsley Place, Gorbals, Glasgow. No occupation was recorded for Robert. However his sons James and David were respectively Warehouseman and Labourer.

Apsley Place (Nicholson Street) looking north in 1970s just prior to demolitionApsley Place (Nicholson Street) looking north in 1970s just prior to demolition

On 24th January, 1913, David Abercrombie, aged 32 and by this time working as a Lamplighter, married 27-year-old Margaret Stevenson Young, a Domestic Servant, at the Kingston Labour Institute, 91 Paisley Road. David's address at the time was given as 20 Apsley Place, Gorbals, Robert and Jean's new family home. David's younger brother George was a witness. The 61-year-old Robert appeared to have come out of retirement and had taken a job as a Drapery Warehouseman.

David and Margaret would go on to have 2 sons, Robert Gillies Abercrombie born 28 December, 1913 and William Young Abercrombie born 23 December, 1916.

Maggie Abercrombie had emigrated to Canada in around 1912 and on 29th June, 1914, she married Englishman William James Beeston in Victoria, British Columbia.

On 27th January, 1918, David's wife of 5 years died at the Victoria Infirmary, Glasgow of Suppurative Appendicitis. David, now a Steam Boiler Stoker and Army Pensioner, registered the death. It is likely that for most of David and Margaret's married life, David would have been serving in Europe in World War I. David's two sons, Robert and Bill were taken in by their grandparents, Robert and Jean, and remained with the Abercrombie family until adulthood.

Almost two years later, on 29th December, 1919, David, now 39, married 25-year-old widow Elizabeth Dennis at 7 Seton Terrace, Glasgow. On this occasion, eldest brother James was a witness. The couple's residence at the time of the marriage was 109 Castle Street, Glasgow.

On 28th March, 1922, John Connacher Abercrombie, now 32 and employed as a Foreman House Painter, married Mary Thomson Logan, a 28-year-old Sewing Machinist at her family home of 22 Abbotsford Place, Gorbals. John's brother, George Linn Abercrombie, was the best man.

Next, on 1st February, 1924, youngest of the family, William Alexander Abercrombie, now 27 and a Journeyman Plumber, married the 22-year-old Christina Weir Macartney, also a Sewing Machinist, at her family home of 40 Abbotsford Place, Gorbals. Witnesses on the occasion were Christina's sister Helen Orr Macartney and James P. Muir, the stepson of William's sister, Mary.

On both these occasions, both sons gave their home address as 20 Apsley Place.

Between these two happy events, James Abercrombie, eldest son of Robert and Jean, died of Rectal Carcinoma, on 27th June, 1922, at the family home of 20 Apsley Place. He was 47 years old, a Commercial Traveller and had never married.

In 1927, on 14th June, at age 36, it was George Linn Abercrombie's turn to get married and he did so, in Aberdeen, to local lass Susan Ann King, a 28-year-old Cashier, in the Douglas Hotel, Market Street, Aberdeen. George's occupation was Commercial Traveller and possibly he met his bride-to-be on his travels. He gave his usual residence as 20 Apsley Place, Glasgow

1927 Wedding photo of George Abercrombie and Susan Ann KIng1927 Wedding photo of George Abercrombie and Susan Ann KIngFamily Album

Abercrombie Family group (1927)Abercrombie Family group (1927)Family Album

The above photograph shows an Abercrombie family grouping believed to be taken on the day of George LInn Abercrombie's wedding. Robert and Jean are seated. George is the bald gentleman standing centre in the formal suit with a buttonhole next to whom we would assume to be his best man, David Galbraith of 12 Apsley Place. William is second from the right at the back. The two boys wearing shirt and tie are David's sons, Robert and Bill. The youngest boy is William and Christina's son Robert who is leaning against his mother. Unfortunately, we have been unable to identify the sisters.

The main issue we have with the photo is in identifying the location. There are a number of family photographs taken at this particular location. The family home at this time was 20 Apsley Place and the building in the background does not at all look like a Glasgow tenement.

We are also left to ponder the possibility that the family rose early, dressed for the photo and then set out for a train to Aberdeen.

Around 1930 the family moved again, just down the street to 12 Apsley Place, and it was here on June 16th, 1930, that Robert's wife, Jean Gracie Abercrombie died of a Cerebral Haemorrhage. She was 76 years old. The 78-year-old Robert took the responsibility for registering the death, as he had for the births of all bar one (William) of their fourteen children.

1930 Death Record of Jean Gracie Linn1930 Death Record of Jean Gracie LinnScotland's People

Jean Abercrombie nee Linn

Very shortly after this in around 1931, the family had a new address - 62 Warwick Street. This does not necessarily imply a change of residence. Around this time, Apsley Place was combined with its northern extension Warwick Street and the new extended street named Warwick Street. In later years, the extended Warwick Street would be combined with Nicholson Street to the north and the combined entity renamed as Nicholson Street.

Jean's passing had spared her the experience of the death of her son, David, who died, aged 50, on 17th December 1931 at the Royal Cancer Hospital, Glasgow, of Papillomatosis of the Bladder and Pneumonia. His usual address was given as 62 Warwick Street, Gorbals, Glasgow. His brother George registered the death.

Robert Gillies Abercrombie died on 17th March, 1932 at 62 Warwick Street, Gorbals, of Bronchitis, from which he had been suffering for 18 months, and, finally, of Heart Failure. He was 80 years old. His son George registered the death.

1932 Death Record of Robert Abercrombie1932 Death Record of Robert AbercrombieScotland's People

Robert Gillies Abercrombie in later yearsRobert Gillies Abercrombie in later yearsFamily Album

According to the Glasgow Voters' Roll, in around 1934, the unmarried Abercrombie daughters, of whom there were five, Janet, Jean, Agnes, Helen and Linda, moved to 85 Niddrie Road in Queen's Park in Glasgow, probably a vast improvement on the rapidly decaying Gorbals. At the same address, although in a different flat, was their brother William, his wife Christina and their two sons, Robert and James. William and his family had been residing there since 1929.

In around 1937, the Abercrombie sisters moved again and Jean is found on the property Valuation Register at "Dunargus", 4 Watson Avenue, in Rutherglen. She is recorded as both proprietrix and resident. In 1945, all five sisters, Jean, Janet, Agnes, Helen and Linda are registered as joint proprietors and it is almost certain that the sisters moved to Rutherglen together.

4 Watson Avenue, Rutherglen (1950s)4 Watson Avenue, Rutherglen (1950s)Family Album

William Abercrombie's wife Christina is standing outside 4 Watson Avenue in the 1950s.

Eldest daughter, Mary Jarvie Muir, who had been widowed in 1939, died aged 70, on 13th July, 1946 of a Cerebral Haemorrhage at 4 Watson Avenue, Rutherglen, suggesting that she too had moved to live with her sisters after her husband died.

Janet Gillies Abercrombie had died a year earlier, aged 67 on 17th June 1945, in the Glasgow Cancer Hospital at 138 Hill Street, Glasgow. Her usual address was also given as 4 Watson Avenue, Rutherglen. Cause of death was Carcinoma of Bladder and Secondaries in Pelvis. Their brother, John Connacher Abercrombie, of 15 Dunard Road, Rutherglen, registered both deaths.

Next daughter, Jean Abercrombie, who had gone into business with her younger sisters, Nan and Linda, and her brother, George, as dealers in jewellery and worked from a shop at 590 London Road at Bridgeton Cross, Glasgow, died of a Cerebral Haemorrhage, aged 71, on 21st December, 1950. She also died at 4 Watson Avenue, Rutherglen. Her brother, William Alexander Abercrombie, 3 Vermont Avenue, Rutherglen, registered the death.

Location of Abercrombie Family's Jeweller's ShopLocation of Abercrombie Family's Jeweller's Shop

The photograph shows the location at 590 London Road at Bridgeton Cross where members of the Abercrombie family operated their Jeweller's shop. A Chinese restaurant occupied the premises at the time of the photograph. The building was recently demolished.

George Linn Abercrombie, Jeweller, died of Carcinoma of the Stomach, aged 61, at 43 Gala Street, Glasgow on 20th May, 1952. His son George registered the death.

Maggie Beeston died, aged 69, in Victoria, British Columbia on 10th November, 1955.

Helen Abercrombie, Fruiterer's Assistant, died of Spastic Quadroplegia and Bronchopneumonia, aged 67, at 657 Edgefauld Road, Springburn, Glasgow on 13th April, 1956. This was the address of Foresthall House and Hospital, which used to be Barnhill Poorhouse, but changed function to become a refuge for the care of geriatric patients in 1945. Nan, her sister, registered the death.

John Connacher Abercrombie, Commercial Clerk, died of Coronary Thrombosis and Cardiac Failure, aged 67, at 21 Regent Street, on 24th June, 1959. His son-in-law, Herbert Hoey, registered the death.

Surviving sisters Nan and Linda, who lived together at 92 Stonelaw Road in Rutherglen, died in the 1960s. Linda died on 16th February, 1963, aged 70, of Myocardial Degeneration and Cerebral Thrombosis, while Nan died, aged 79, on 1st December 1966 of Hypostatic Pneumonia, Myocardial Degeneration and Arteriosclerosis. Both Nan and Linda died at Coathill Hospital in Coatbridge. Their brother, William, registered their deaths.

None of Janet, Jean, Helen, Nan or Linda ever married. Nevertheless, sisters Nan and Linda, raised the two sons of their brother David, after his wife had died on 27th January, 1918.

The youngest child of Robert Gillies Abercrombie and Jean Gracie Linn, William Alexander Abercrombie, died at home at 3 Vermont Avenue, Rutherglen, on 7th December, 1975 of Chronic Bronchitis, Emphysema and Coronary Pulmonalis. He was 79. His eldest son, Robert Gillies Abercrombie, registered the death.