Alexander Murdoch was born on 1st January, 1825 in Camelon, Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland as the first child of Old Kilpatrick-born William Murdoch, who earned his living as a Nailer, and Larbert-born Mary Anderson. Alexander had four siblings, namely: Robert, George Fairbairn Smith, James, and Helen.
CAMELON, a village, in the parish of Falkirk, county of Stirling, 1½ mile (W.) from Falkirk; containing 1340 inhabitants. This village, which is situated on the turnpike-road to Glasgow, is sometimes called New Camelon, in contradistinction to the ancient city of that name, supposed to have been a Roman station, and, at one time, a very considerable sea-port town.
The inhabitants are partly employed in the Carron iron-works, and in the manufacture of nails, which was originally introduced here by Mr. Cadell, of Carron Park, and for which there are now two establishments, affording occupation to 250 persons; two distilleries are also carried on, upon a moderate scale. A handsome church has been built by subscription near the western extremity of the village, on ground given by Mr. Forbes, of Callander, who also contributed largely towards the expense of its erection; it was opened on the 23rd of August, 1840, and contains 660 sittings. A school, for which an appropriate building has been erected, is also supported, by subscription.
At the time of the 1841 Census (7th June), the 16-year-old Alexander, now employed as a Nailer, was residing at George Square in Camelon with his parents Nailer William (40) and Mary (40) and his siblings, Robert (14), George (10), both also Nailers, and James (7). George Square was located just to the east of what is now Union Road.
William Cadell, son of the founder of the famous Carron Company and himself the first manager of the works, is credited with the establishment of the earliest nailmaking concern in Camelon. In 1790, more than twenty years after he gave up a direct interest in the works at Carron, Cadell brought a group of skilled nailmakers from England to begin manufacturing in the village. The Cadells had bought out Carron's interest in this particular activity in the 1770s and had already established workshops in Bannockburn and Laurieston as well as places much further afield. In Camelon the trade expanded steadily and young men were drawn to the area and apprenticed to masters who taught them the secrets of a hard, heavy and ill-rewarded trade. Houses, workshops, tools and nailrods were supplied by Cadell to the men and to the boys, often no more than nine or ten years old, who slaved for twelve or more hours each day to turn out the thousands of nails that were required to earn a living wage:
Round the central fire hammered away four nailers - no rest, no breathing space for them. From hour to hour the bent back and steady quick stroke, for the nailer must strike when the iron was hot and he had to pay for heating the iron. In the morning they hied to the warehouse for their bundles of rods which were converted into nails ranging in length from ½ inch to 12 inches.
Four nailer's rows or squares appeared in Camelon - the Wee Square at the west end, Fairbairn's Square, owned by George Fairbairn, a leading nailmaster of the early 19th century, George Square, close to Lock 16 on the canal, and Gunn's Square in the same vicinity. Living conditions were extremely poor and the nailers and their families developed a reputation for hard living and hard drinking, which survived until mechanical nailmaking robbed them of a living from the middle of the century on. One observer in 1840 thought things were improving:
The morals of the nailmakers have been improved within the last few years. In particular drunkenness and habits of improvidence are greatly on the decrease.
By then a visit of the dreaded cholera in 1833 had brought many deaths to the nailer's rows with Mr Harrison paying £40 to assist with the burial costs 'which has been repaid from the earnings of survivors. After this, a penny-a-week death fund was established to offer the vulnerable nailers some protection.
Janet Mundie was born on 13th April, 1828 in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, and was the ninth child of Nailer John Munday (or Munn) and Helen Carrigan. She had nine siblings, namely: Janet, Helen, John, John, James, Matthew, Elizabeth, James, and Elizabeth.
At the time of the 1841 Census (7th June), Janet (11) was residing with her family, surname recorded as Munn, in the next dwelling but one to the Murdoch family at George Square in Camelon. Her father John Munn (50) was of course a Nailer and her mother Helen was 49 years old. Both of her brothers Matthew (15) and James (13) were Nailers. Also resident was her sister Betsy (8).
On 2nd April, 1848, Alexander Murdoch, then 23, married his 19-year-old neighbour Janet Munday, most likely at George Square in Camelon.
On 6th May, 1849, Alexander and Janet's first child was born and named John Oswald Murdoch in honour of the newly appointed first minister of St John's Church in Camelon, the Rev. John Oswald. The infant had the distinction of being the first to be baptised in St John's Church.
Helen Murdoch, named after her maternal grandmother, was born on 21st December, 1850 in Camelon.
At the time of the 1851 Census (31st March), Alexander (26) and Janet (23) were residing with their children John (2) and Helen (3 months) at "no. 16 Row". This was probably George Square at Lock 16. Alexander was still earning his living as a Nailer.
Third child Alexander Murdoch was born on 27th February, 1855 in Camelon, and Mary Anderson Murdoch was born on 21st August, 1857 also in Camelon.
Janet Murdoch was born on 18th November, 1859 in Camelon and died there in 1862.
At the time of the 1861 Census (8th April), Alexander (35) and Janet (32) were still residing at George Square where Alexander continued to ply his trade as a Nailer. Residing with them were their children John (11), Helen (10), Alex (6), Mary (4) and Janet (1).
Elizabeth Murdoch was born on 10th December, 1861 in Camelon. Janet Murdoch was born on 9th March, 1864 in Camelon, and was named after her mother and her sister who had recently passed away.
Jeannie Murdoch was born on 25th January, 1866 in Camelon. James Murdoch was born on 12th December, 1868 and youngest child Robert Murdoch was born on 11th November, 1870 both in Camelon.
At the time of the 1871 Census, Alexander (46) and Janet (43) Murdoch were still residing in Camelon. Alexander gave his occupation as a Horsenailmaker. Their family consisted of John (21), also a Horsenailmaker, Alexander (16), employed as a Moulder, Elizabeth (9), Janet (7), both Scholars, Jeannie (5), James (2) and Robert (4 months).
On 12th June, 1874, Alexander and Janet's eldest son John Oswald Murdoch (25), then employed as a Gas Company Collector, married 24-year-old Brechin-born Domestic Servant Helen Adams Howie at Larbert. On the same day, some 2½ miles away at Camelon, eldest daughter Domestic Servant Helen Murdoch (24) married 25-year-old Coal Miner Walter Grant of Carriden. We can only speculate that the Murdoch family attended both weddings.
Third child, Iron Moulder Alexander Murdoch (21) married Mary Galloway Hendry (23) at her home at Rottenstocks Farm on 7th July, 1876 in the Parish of Falkirk.
22-year-old Mary Anderson Murdoch married 26-year-old Nailmaker Alexander Harrison on 11th December, 1879 in Camelon. Alexander was the son of Nailer William Harrison and Margaret Burt. Witnesses on the occasion were Mary's younger sister Elizabeth Murdoch and William Black.
Just a few months later, 19-year-old Elizabeth Murdoch married 28-year-old Widowed Iron Dresser William Black on 2nd July, 1880 in Camelon. In the late 1880s Elizabeth and William Black made a permanent move with their family to Ashton under Lyne in Lancashire, England.
At the time of the 1881 Census (4th April), Alexander (56) and Janet (53) Murdoch had moved to Main Street in Camelon. Alexander gave his occupation as Nail Maker. Residing with them were Janet (17), James (12) and Robert (10). At this time 15-year-old Jeannie (Jane) was employed as a live-in Domestic Servant at the home of Ann MIlls and family at Callendar Lane, Callander Road in Falkirk Burgh.
Eldest son John Oswald Murdoch (31), who had been employed as a Gas Company Collector at the time of his marriage in 1876, was now a Teacher of Music and residing at Dundee Court just off Falkirk High Street at its east end. Residing with him were his wife Helen (30) and their two sons, Alexander (5) and John (3).
The nail trade was soon to fall victim to the invention of mechanical nail making and gradually the forges were abandoned and by the 1870s the trade had almost completely died with them.
The Property Valuation Rolls show that by 1885, Alexander Murdoch who would have now have been aged about 60, had forsaken the dying nail trade and had undergone a fundamental change of employment. He was working as a Newsagent and operating from a House and Shop at 58 High Street in Falkirk. This address was located just west of the Steeple on High Street.
Slater's Commercial Directory of 1886 recorded Alexander's occupation as Stationer trading out of 56 High Street in Falkirk.
Over the ensuing years, the Valuation Rolls, although lacking consistency, suggest that the house was number 58 and the shop was number 56. Sometimes number 58 was described as both a house and shop.
The situation is confused by the fact that Alexander's son, also Alexander, likewise became a stationer and newsagent. It seems he operated out of 106 High Street as early as 1887. This was located adjacent to the Steeple on High Street. Alexander Jr. later moved to the west end at 12 High Street (Shop) and 14 High Street (House).
Although Alexander Sr. was the Tenant of the house and shop in Falkirk High Street, he was also the Tenant of a house and garden on Camelon Main Street.
24-year-old Saleswoman Jeannie Murdoch married Engineer Robert Sharp, also 24, on 26th February 1890 in Camelon. Robert was the son of Engineer William Davidson Sharp and Ann Brown. Witnesses to the marriage were Jeannie's brother James and Mary F. Mundy.
At the time of the 1891 Census (5th April), Alexander (67) and Janet (63) were residing at Main Street in Camelon. Alexander was a Newsagent (Own Account). Also resident were their sons James (22), employed as an Iron Moulder and Robert (20), a Shoemaker. This indicates that Alexander and Janet's main residence was in Camelon Main Street while his place of work was a mile to the east on Falkirk High Street.
On 31st December, 1891, Iron Moulder James Murdoch (23) married Domestic Servant Mary Fairbairn Mundy (24) at her home at Lock 16. Mary was James's cousin.
25-year-old Shoemaker Robert Murdoch married Domestic Servant Susan Boyd on 27th July, 1896 at her home in Merchiston Place in Falkirk. Although of similar age, Susan was the niece of Mary Fairbairn Mundy who married Robert's brother James.
The 1895 Valuation Roll for Falkirk records that Alexander Murdoch Sr. was the Tenant of the shop at 56 Falkirk High Street and the house at number 58.
At the time of the 1901 Census (31st March), Alexander (76) and Janet (73) were still residing in Camelon at 90 Main Street. Alexander was now recorded as a Retired Newsagent. They were in the fortunate position of having the assistance of a Domestic Servant 13-year-old American-born Jane Boswell.
The Falkirk Community Trust have a photograph taken in 1900 showing the 75-year-old Alexander Murdoch standing outside his newsagent's shop at 56 High Street. Copyright laws prevent it from being reproduced here.
In 9th February, 1903, 78-year-old Alexander Murdoch died at his home in Camelon Main Street (probably No. 90). The Cause of Death was Chronic Bronchitis and Enteritis. His son James of Thistle Street in Camelon reported the death.
On 31st May 1905, 50-year-old Alexander Murdoch Jr. died at his stationer and tobacconist's shop at 12 High Street in Falkirk. The Cause of Death was Acute Gastritis. His death was reported by his brother J.O.Murdoch residing at 167 High Street. His wife Mary, continued to run the stationer's shop, at least for a short while. At the time of the 1911 Census (2nd April), she was still residing at 14 High Street and was self-employed maintaining a Servants' Registry, effectively an employment agency for servants.
If Alexander Murdoch Sr. had enjoyed an unconventional career path, starting out as a Nailer and changing career at the age of 60 to open his own newsagent's shop, his eldest son, John Oswald Murdoch, could justifiably claim to have out-done his father in the unconventionality stakes. John was himself a Nailer, then Gas Company inspector/Collector, then a Teacher of Music and finally a Cycle Agent.
However, he also developed a reputation as a composer, brass band leader and choirmaster. In 1909 the Falkirk Herald featured him in "Men You Know" an occasional series about local prominent citizens.
This newspaper article is available for download at the bottom of this page.
Just 6 months after the newspaper feature was published, another article appeared as a consequence of John Oswald Murdoch's sudden death. He died aged 60 on 18th September, 1909 in Dundee Court, Falkirk. The Cause of Death was Peritonitis and Cardiac Arrest. His son James reported the death and gave his father's occupation as Cycle Agent.
Just 3 days after this notice appeared, John's younger sister Helen who had married Coal Miner Walter Grant on the same day as John's marriage died at Craigallian Avenue in Cambuslang, Lanarkshire. The cause of her death was Carcinoma of Breast and Carcinoma of Right Lung. Walter registered his wife's death.
Widowed Janet Murdoch née Mundie died aged 82 on 19th February, 1911 in Camelon at 2 Union Road, the residence of her son Robert who report her death. The Cause of Death was Apoplexy with Debility from which she had been suffering for two years. Janet had had the misfortune to have been pre-deceased by 4 of her children.
Mary Anderson Harrison née Murdoch died aged 74 of senile decay on 21st August, 1931 at Burmac House on Baird Street, Camelon. Her husband Alexander Harrison, who had started out as a Nailer and had become a successful Screw Manufacturer, had died on 13th March, 1926 at the same address.
We believe that "Burmac" was a large detached house at 1 Baird Street at its junction with Union Road.
The Value of Alexander's Estate would be equivalent to £700,000 today.
William Harrison & Sons (Falkirk) Ltd was a nailmaking firm founded before 1870. The first product of the company was hand made nails, but after the 1914-18 War, machines were introduced into the firm by Peter Harrison. These machines turned out small brass and steel components. The firm branched out into skylight lifters, wire eyes, oven door hinge pins, box hooks, screws, bolts and nuts, rivets and general ironfoundry. During the Second World War a new workshop was added to the premises at Camelon, and the whole of the machine capacity turned over to war work. In the spring of 1963, after being in Camelon for nearly 100 years, the firm moved to a large modern factory in Bainsford and became William Harrison & Sons (Falkirk) Ltd. Emphasis was placed on automation and the firm now engaged in light engineering - capstan lathe work, repetition, turning and screwing for the ironfounding, engineering, building, electrical, motor trades and chemical industries.
Jeannie Sharp née Murdoch died on 31st August, 1943 at her home address of 24 The Hedges in Camelon.
On 9th March, 1945, 76-year-old James Murdoch died at his home at 51 Thistle Street in Camelon. The Cause of Death was Capillary Bronchitis and the death was reported by his son James.