I'm a twit too

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


The Glasgow my maternal grandmother Kathleen Clarke was born
 into, was an inner-city tenement teaming with paupers. Her parents had migrated from the slums and chaos of  civil war in Dublin.
Like most people who move, their search of  better work opportunities, was for a better standard of living for them and their children.

That three of my Great Grandmother Christina's babies survived in an overcrowded tenement with poor sanitation, in a city where infant mortality was tragically high, makes her a heroine in my view.
Finally in the winter of 1923 she succumbed to the stress, disease and malnutrition aged 28years with brief rest and clean sheets before death.

In those years in Glasgow  there was also political struggle and a clash of ideologies which wanted to determine the future for Glasgow's population.where many were still affected by war and unemployment.

Whilst the "Red Clydeside" activists contested their religious and political promises in the public arena, the Pauper Children of Thomas and Christina Clarke  being Roman Catholics were boarded-out with others of their religion. My motherless 3 year old Nan scored a nice spot in the seaside town of Rothesay, on the Isle of Bute, under the care of  the Sisters of the "Servants of the Sacred Heart".

Cute little Catherine(Kathleen) would have been excited by the adventure; taking her on the train and ferry to the orphanage. Travelling with a Nun in traditional habit, this would have been amazing to see the Sea. For certain she was on a Holi/day!

System in Scotland of boarding pauper children in private dwellings. Report to the Board of Supervision by William Arthur Peterkin, general superintendent, 1893. 1893-94. 

There was a long tradition of boarding out orphans and abandoned children in Scotland. In 1845, the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed, which made provision for the erection of poorhouses. By 1893, 66 poor houses had been established in Scotland. Mr. Peterkin regarded the boarding out system as "the means by which thousands of children have been raised from the pauper class into the higher grade of self-supporting and independent workers." He visited a number of parishes, interviewed the poor law inspectors and visited the houses where children were boarded out to discover whether the system operated satisfactorily. He made notes of the number of children boarded out in each parish, whether they were placed with relatives or strangers, and what careers they subsequently followed. He discovered that most of the children found respectable jobs and married well, very few of them remaining on the poor roll.
Many of the inspectors thought that the children should be boarded out in the country as this was much healthier and the children were removed from the evil influence of towns. Furthermore, those boarded out with crofters and small farmers had the opportunity of learning farm work. Later, most of the boys were employed on farms and the girls became domestic servants. (excerpt copy from Glasgow Digital Library). 

My maternal grandmother  didn't share much of her/story to her daughters or grand-daughters. I guess she didn't want to open herself up, after spending so many years building a respectable facade. 

This grand-daughter who got to read Literature and Women's Studies at University level can only imagine the complexity of emotions from legal, religious and social prejudices in the British culture my female forebears had to contend with.
Brought up Catholic, discussion of any form of family planning and abortion was not an option for them.(It's still against Catholic doctrine), and sex education in any form was censored.
Glasgow born Marie Stokes was setting up the first family planning and sexual health clinics in the 1920's but access would have been out of sight and mind for my Nan in the Catholic communities she grew up in.
To have two Grandmothers who found themselves unmarried and pregnant in the 1930's and bearing the existence of secret children with no-name fathers is no surprise to me looking at the environment they lived in. Whether taken by force or submission to their desire, their pregnancies and resulting children, rocked the foundation of their families when they were revealed.

My Dad's Mother Elsie, had parents who were not overtly religious, but hid their pregnant daughter in the house until she gave birth in 1935, then claimed their grandchild as a 'late baby'(peri-menopausal accident).

My Mum's Mother Kathleen was without parents and extended family...she could only turn to her parental Catholic Church for answers.
 Back of George St. Tenement when Nan Clarke was born Feb.1920
(photo,Mitchell Library)

My Grandmothers were victims of patriarchal prejudice from Church and State. Feminism was mainly a middle-class, educated womans privilege; 'Mary Poppins' looked after the children whilst the lady of the house went out with her placards.
The hang-over of being a 'bastard' remains for some; What you were born into determined your life experiences, opportunities and also your Inheritance - whether you are included in the Will...

The Clarke children born in Glasgow grew up thinking their father was dead. The Nuns may have told them so they wouldn't expect him to turn up one day.
It's a fact that when their father Thomas Clarke came out of the Paisley asylum he re-married and lived in Greenock, near Glasgow until his death in 1950. Obviously he always felt incapable to face them.
The record shows:
Cath Clark 10 George St. Glasgow     Religion R.C.
Legt. or Illegt.  LEGIT    Cause of Charge: Mother died in Asylum, Father unable to provide a home(and now in asylum). 
St.Joseph's Convent/Orphanage, Rothesay, Isle of Bute.
5 yrs in 1925 GUARDIAN : Sister Lydia, The Convent, Rothesay - Isle of Bute.

6 yrs in 1926 GUARDIAN: Mrs.Morrisson
Clunemore, Drumnadrochit , (nr Loch Ness).

13 yrs in 1933 GUARDIAN: Mrs. Murdoch
South Rd. Fochabers, Moray.

I would have noticed if my Grandmother had a Scottish accent, surely? Brought up in rural Scotland with the Doric language?  I haven't a memory of how she sounded. Being almost a stranger grandchild the one Christmas Day we shared with the excellent festive pudding she cooked I wouldn't have guessed she was not originally from Birmingham.

My Mum didn't talk about her Mum much.

Our Lady & St. Bean, Marydale, Drumnadrochit where Kathleen would have
gone to Church and was schooled from 7yrs-13yrs.

We were sojourners in each others lives.
  Could Catherine(her Scottish name), really have lost her Highland voice at the age of 21 when World War 2 had begun? Was her great desire to fit in, be understood by her new English friends in the Munitions factories in Birmingham?

In 1933 Kathleen's had a new guardian Mrs. Murdoch of South Rd.- 2 streets behind the High St. Fochabers, on the River Spey, Moray Shire. Glasgow Parish boarding-out forms show in 1936 Kathleen  worked in Domestic service then in 1939 at the Grant Arms Hotel.

High St. Fochabers where Nan worked and lodged
 at the 
The Grant Arms Hotel in 1939. Her record states:12/6/1939 Off Glasgow Parish - Boarded-Out Children Roll. She is 19years old and independent. It is easy to guess she drew lots of attention from the men folk, and no doubt took a fancy to the odd lad herself. 

Likely patrons would have been men working at the RAF Lossimouth near Fochabers established in April 1939. There were salmon fishermen and the odd fiddler or two!

In September of her first year without a legal guardian the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain would announce over the radio that Britain and France were at war with Germany following the invasion of Poland.

Co-incidentally Catherine would travel to P.M. Chamberlains electorate to work in the Munitions factories.

As a young single woman Cath Clarke could have been conscripted by the Government being in the 20-30 years demographic, or signed up to a major city to work and fixed up with a live-in hostel in Monument Road Ladywood - an enormous change from fresh Scottish air and slow-paced life to dirty, old town of inner-city Birmingham.

It must have been hard and challenging work as a Metal Works Machinist. However the upside of living in a city was the Cinema and the Palais de Dance hall. In the peak of the Blitz bombings by the Lutwaffe airplanes, having fun was vital as it could all end at any time of day or night when the sirens sounded.

Within 6 months of being in the big smoke the bonny lass  was pregnant with my mother.
 How scary that must have been in a society that was harsh on women who had been found out for having sex outside of marriage, and gotten pregnant. And left the bloke Scot free.....

Grandmother could go to Confession and ask the Parish priest for help. 

In the freezing winter of 1941 she gave birth to a baby girl. The Glasgow Parish record says that on the 28/2/1941 a letter has been received by The Matron of The Hostel on Monument Rd. Birmingham 16.
The girl and her baby were living at this address and desiring to know if they could arrange to send for her, or send her back to her old guardian Mrs. Murdoch at Fochabers.

The request was sent when Mum was a month old - perhaps Mother and Child couldn't live at the Hostel anymore and Nan was anxious - wanted to try her old guardian Mrs Murdoch...she might let her bring her baby?  The response was swift from the Glasgow Parish. She was not of their concern anymore.

Kathleen Clarke had turned 21years old. She had a baby and no husband to support them. She had to go back to war-work - 12 hour days.

A foster-mother was arranged. Mrs. Walters at Littleworth House in Hednesford was the best person to care for her baby girl plus she would be safely out of the way of the bombings.

So it was, my mother was registered in the care of  Father Hudson's Homes for Homeless and Friendless Catholic Children, administered by Father Willliam Flint at Coleshill. 

 During the 30's, 40's and 50's Scottish Priest, Fr.Sydney MacEwan was a popular tenor singer of Scottish and Irish folk songs. I learned about this 'Singing Priest' by my Mother when I asked her if she had any good memories from her time in the orphanage in Australia!

The Catholic priest would tour Australia  raising money for his church in the Highland village of Lochgilphead on Loch Fyne. 
He came to sing for St. John's Orphanage in Albury and would have lifted many of the little girls and Nuns spirits with his Celtic songs. Most would have had some Irish and Scots in their DNA

It's also likely my Grandmother listened and loved his voice too, nostalgic for her old Highland homes.


  1. I am researching children sent to the Tomintoul area by Glasgow Parish. Many catholic children were boarded out here as there was a strong catholic presence in the area.
    Although originally researching my grandfather and his sister being sent to the area after they were orphaned, the local museum archivist laughed and claimed that most families had a boarded out child as this helped with the farm work.
    The archives in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow have been a rich resource for collecting information.
    Aberdeen archives have the original school records of these children as well as the Parish Council minutes.
    L. McKay

  2. I value your comment, and intend to track these ancestral footprints in the near future. Thankyou.


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