Today is the day when I am hopefully going to find out a little more about my Grandfather,
Samuel Reid who left Scotland around 1911 bound for New Zealand.
We left the house here in Edinburgh at 10am and headed off for West Calder. We travelled for about half an hour in lovely country side and then we spotted the West Calder sign.
The township itself wasn’t that inspiring (nicer than Mataura). While we were looking for a park Mackenzie spotted the council building with births deaths and marriages. We found a park and headed back to that building. The building was closed up and had relocated. Fortunately, a lady that was passing by (with a big bag full of empty wine bottles) stopped and asked if we wanted that office. She gave us directions for the library and council offices down the road. Before she left Pete asked her if she had had a big night the night before. She laughed, said her husband was due home on Thursday and she thought she should get rid of the empties!
We found the library and council office rooms successfully. The lady there, Anne, was very helpful and enlisted the help of a customer, Allan (a headmaster), who also gave us a lot of information on the area and the Shale Mines. The mining in the area was for shale and not coal. Anyway, they told us about Hermond Row where my Grandfather came from. Unfortunately there aren’t any houses remaining - just the mund (we think he meant mound) of old shale. Alan told us that the “Row” of houses were just across the road from the mund before they were destroyed. He also said that the workers for the Shale Mine Company were paid with coupons instead of cash – these coupons were only redeemable at the company store! How any of the families got ahead I don’t know.
Anne told us that there was a local historian (Sybil) in Linlithgow that would be able help with the history. She gave us the postal code for Linlithgow and a book on shale mining off the library shelves – “take it, we have plenty in stock”. she said. We then headed out to where Hermond Row would have been for a look and to take some photos.
This is all that remains of the "Row" area - the shale mine pile:
From there we headed off to Linlithgow. It is a very picturesque little town. We were looking for somewhere to have lunch when a lady stopped and asked if we needed help. She advised us that a great spot for lunch was up near the canals. Taking her advice we headed up that way.
Unfortunately nothing was open for lunch however, we did start talking to this retired man who is coming to New Zealand next March. What a delightful man. He spoke with a real Scottish accent, just like I imagined they would over here (haven’t heard really broad accents prior to this!) Within quarter of an hour we knew he was an ex gardener, had four granddaughters, what they did regarding schooling, their names, places of interest to visit in the area, he goes to the gym three times a week, does Norwegian walking on a Tuesday, that he was a member of the Whiskey Club and that he had a wee dram each night – only one mind you!
He spoke of New Zealand “over the bye”. It wasn’t that he went on about himself at all but that we asked questions and he answered. He advised us to take a trip to the Falkirk wheel. He gave us directions to the eating and drinking houses in the town and wished us well.
We had lunch and headed down towards the library to meet Sybil. We talked to Sybil for awhile and then she logged into the Scottish People website and we started! We looked through the census details for 1891, 1901 and 1911. Granddad was on the first two census returns but not on the 1911 census. So he had either left home and was living somewhere else or had left for New Zealand by 1911.
The census returns themselves are worth seeing. All hand written, with name, age, address, occupation, type of home and how many windows being recorded.
The addresses we found were Hermond Row (no longer in existence) and 4 Woolford Row. Sybil knew the Woolford Row homes were still standing! We also managed to look up Granddads birth certificate, his parent’s marriage certificate and details of where they married.
Sybil said they married in a little town called Addiewell. When she told us that she screwed her nose up a bit and said that it wasn’t that nice a town – she had prepared a lot of history material for the area. It was a poor town. The church is still there but she said they wouldn’t have married there, it was normally at the bride’s home or at the local hall where the reception would also have been held.
Granddad’s father was noted as being a shale miner. Sybil said that Shale Miners were a step up the ladder from coal miners as the shale miners didn’t have to bend down to work!
From there we decided to head off to Falkirk and see the wheel and return back to Edinburgh via Woolford Row.
The wheel was very interesting – an amazing piece of engineering built to shift boats from one canal to the other. Also at the Falkirk wheel were scaled down versions of the Kelpies. The Kelpie structures are to recognise the draught horses that helped pull the boats/barges down the canals in years gone by. The original sculptures of the Kelpies are at the helix park and stand at 30 metres high.
From Falkirk it was off to Woolford Row – how exciting. We took a couple of wrong turns but as luck would have it we travelled around the West Lothian district and through Addiewell.
Next thing we were in the Lanarkshire district – down the road to Woolford Row. We parked and got out the car in the rain.
A local lady Phyllis saw us and told us to visit Mrs Higgins in house 2 – “Mary has been here forever and knows all there is to know about the Row”. Phyllis took us along to Mrs Higgins house and introduced us. She was a wee stout woman all of 4 foot tall – she made Grandma Waide and Nana Flannery look tall.
She was lovely - 94 years old and knew all about the Reid family. I had to kneel beside her to talk as she couldn’t hear me. She kept rubbing my right wrist where my bangle is talking animatedly about Mr and Mrs Reid.
I asked what their first names were – “Mr and Mrs Reid” she said. “They lived at number one not number four” she said.
“When they arrived Mr Reid didn’t even have a job but my husband managed to get him one at the local restaurant as head waiter – he looked very smart in his uniform “she said.
I asked Mrs Higgins how long she had lived there. “I’m 94 now and I moved here when I was 8”
Mrs Higgins tried ringing her daughter down the “Row” but her line was engaged. She said she wished she was more mobile so she could make us a cup of tea. She said she gets a lot of people calling wanting to know the history of the “Row”. “I might be 94 with limited sight, dull hearing and sore legs but this is still bright as a button” she said tapping her head.
Unfortunately Mrs Higgins was talking about a later family of Reids as Granddad would have been well gone by the time Mrs Higgins arrived at the Row in 1928 – nevertheless she was a delight and I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was the wrong family. When we went to leave the house she made a great fuss of Peter and the girls, telling the girls what pretty wee lasses they were.
Peter then went down to number 4 and talked to Alistair the current owner. He was happy for us to take photos, come in for a cup of tea and even look around the house. It has been altered internally and had a sun porch added. The original home had two bedrooms and a kitchen /living area with an outside wash house. Would have been very cramped for a family of 10! We declined the house tour and cup of tea, took some photos and left.
We headed off again down the road. The satnav told us we needed to turn about face at the next possible opportunity. We did so and I spotted some yellow sheep at Woolford Farm. I got out to take photos and Peter said he was going to go in and ask the farmer what breed they were. Long story short, Matthew Hamilton, the owner, invited us in to show us photos of the “Row” when they mined there. In this particular area they mined coal not shale. He showed us this extensive map of the mining tunnels – mind blowing the amount and lengths of the tunnels. He also offered us a cup of tea.
While we were there Madison made friends with Guiness, the Hamilton's very likeable dog.
It turned out that the sheep were sprayed dyed yellow as a mark of identification between the stud stock and the flock. Matthew’s family had been on the farm for over 150 years and owned over 3,500 acres.
After that we headed back to Edinburgh. It had been a very long but interesting day. Along our journey we had met some very interesting, friendly, helpful and genuinely hospitable people. Coupled with that, we were able to drive all around the area that Granddad came from, and that in itself was special.
I am very grateful to Pete and the girls for their interest and patience today.