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  • Kylie Sprott

We all carry inside us, people who came before us

Isabel and I have been on quite the journey, uncovering the story of my ancestors on Bute. Isabel is the geneaologist from Bute Museum and has been steadily compiling an ever growing list of public records about my family. So, it was a wonderful moment to meet Isabel and spend a few hours with her in the Bute Museum, looking at records and photos with her colleagues.

For anyone who has ever looked into their ancestry, you will know that it is very easy to go down many rabbit holes. You discover so many people that you are descended from, that it can be a bit overwhelming. Especially when you begin to think about each of those names as a real person with dreams, hopes and experiences. You begin to realise that you truly are just one leaf on a very large tree. You also realise that many of the leaves before you made some life decisions that ultimately created you. It is humbling and sometimes a bit overwhelming.

Looking only at my Gran's family (at this stage), has helped to keep our research a little contained. My Gran (Mary) was the only child of Margaret McVicar and William Morris. Although Margaret's family are from nearby Lochgair, today's post is all about William's family. It turns out that the Morris family lived in Rothesay for several generations and we have uncovered no less than 9 addresses for the family so far.

On my last trip to Bute, I spent some time going to look at each address, hoping to get a sense of what it was like for my ancestors when they lived there. As so often happens, many of the original dwellings have been demolished and replaced.

However, Trish and I discovered some books on Bute at the local tourist centre. In "More Old Bute" we found a photo of one of the addresses of my ancestors. These books have been a brilliant way for me to visualise what life would have been like for my ancestors in Rothesay.

And for the other addresses, the team at Bute Museum were incredibly helpful and sourced some original photos for me. For a visual person like me, this is gold. I just wish that we had some photos of my relatives too.

In 1878, my great, great grandfather William Morris married Mary Woods in Rothesay at 17 Bridge End Street. William was born in Largs, Ayrshire (back on the mainland and not very far away) to John Morris and Elizabeth Wood in 1852. So, he was 26 years of age when he married Mary. Like so many others in my family, he was a fisherman.

In those days, most of the common folk got married in the same place that they lived. For William and Mary, that was 17 Bridge End Street in Rothesay. As you can see from this photo, it was a modest abode.

One of the interesting things to note about this time is that many of the dwellings did not have windows, as they were prohibitively expensive. In 1696 there was a much despised window tax levied on property owners based on the number of windows. Essentially, the more windows, the more tax the owner had to pay. As you can imagine, this played havoc in terms of public health, with dramatically reduced light and ventilation. But even today, you can see many buildings across the UK where the windows have been bricked up.

By 1881, William and Mary had moved to the High Street in Rothesay with their infant daughter Jane. It was at 111 High Street that my great grandfather, William was born. But by the 1891 census, William and Mary were living at 22 Mill Street wtih their 6 children: Jane, William, James, Mary, Margaret and baby Christina.

This is what Mill Street looked like back then. I have put a red circle around where we think was their home in 1891.

Today, the houses on the left have all but vanished, but the buildings on the right hand side remain.

By 1895, the family were back again on the High Street - 93 High Street to be exact. Things were much harder for the family by now, with the youngest (Christina) being terribly ill with acute hydrocephalus (or water on the brain). Sadly, it was here that Mary passed away at the age of 38 from "exhaustion". Christina also passed away within 2 years of her mother at the age of 6. Young Christina's death was registered by her brother William (who was 15 at the time), my great grandfather.

Within 5 months of Mary's death, William (the elder) had remarried to Janet Lafferty. At the same address. So, within the space of two short years, there had been two deaths and a marriage all at 93 High Street. By the 1901 census, only three of the original 6 children remained at this address with their father and Janet - William (who was 20 by now and also a fisherman like his father), James and young Margaret.

This is the High Street - we believe that the small house on the corner is number 93 High Street. You can see the countless tenement buildings lining the street - which would include 111 High Street (where my great grandfather William was born) and 119 High Street (where William lived with my great grandmother Margaret McVicar).

But it is the photo that is taken from the back of High Street which surprised me the most. It does look terribly grim and very run down. Life was definitely tough for my ancestors. But if you look up in the corner of the photo, you can see my flat. So, they would have seen it from where they lived over 127 years ago. That did make Isabel and I smile - and suddenly my impulsive purchase seemed to make a bit more sense.

Eventually, the family moved again to King Street, which overlooks the castle. Here at 14 King Street, William (the elder) passed away in July 1904 at the age of 52. His daughter Mary, passed away that year at the same address, from tubercular phthisis . Mary was only 20.

By 1911, William and Margaret made 4 King Street their home with their young daugther Mary Jane (my Gran) and her half brother Archie. With them also lived William's young sister, Margaret (or Maggie as they called her). Eventually, they would move up to Mount Pleasant Road, which is where my flat is.

The buildings in King Street remain, so it is possible to get a sense of what it was like there for them. But the bit that I like the most is the view of the 12th century castle from their homes. Hopefully that view brought them some joy.

ps. the quote "we all carry inside us, people who came before us" is by Liam Callanan

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