The pictures above show, on the left, my great-grandparents, the Carsons, with Jenny Bell, and, on the right, their daughter Janet with her husband, John Sinclair, and their two oldest children, John and Meg. John and Janet were my maternal grandparents.
John Joss Sinclair was born in 1866 on the Isle of Islay off the west coast of Scotland. He was sent with the Laird’s son to the village school, where each pupil was expected to bring along one peat every morning to heat the rooms. I only know of two of John’s siblings, his elder brother Duncan, who became a lawyer, and his sister Katie who was also older. She married and had a son called Wattie MacAffer. As a very small child I remember sitting on his knee in our house in Kilmacolm as he and my mother chatted. John was destined to be a Church Minister as decided by his father. However, he seems to have been a rebellious lad who had learned the taste of whisky given to him by older lads who no doubt thought it amusing to see him getting “merry”. His own view was that he had no intention of going around the countryside with his collar on back to front!
When John was 16 years old he ran away from the island to mainland Scotland. Sadly, he never returned to see his parents again. Over the next few years he was employed in farms around the west of Scotland and became a noted ploughman. Eventually, he arrived at Kilmacolm to work on The Green Farm where his life changed.
Janet Carson was born at The Green in 1864. She had two brothers, Tom and Bob, and at least three sisters, Susan, Bella and Maggie. The latter emigrated to Philadelphia and married Sam Bell. Their daughter married Bob Sheridan. One of the Sheridan girls wed a Halberstadt and had three sons, one of whom, Lloyd, came to Kilmacolm and visited his Carson relations around 1943. He was in the U.S. Military.
John and Janet fell in love and their first child, and only son, John, was born in 1886, sometime before their marriage. When their Golden Wedding was celebrated in 1936, I was 9 years old and bemused by the fact that Uncle John had already celebrated his 50th birthday. However, I was quite happy with my mother’s explanation that it had been a very cold, snowy winter that year and too difficult for them to go to the village, or for the Minister to come up and marry them, so the baby couldn’t wait any longer. Under the gooseberry bush in all that snow was unthinkable!
John and Janet worked on farms in Coatbridge, Cumbernauld and Amochrie, and John was eventually in charge of a Clydesdale stallion. In his fifties, he gave up farm work and returned to Kilmacolm. They moved into the Bridgend Toll House, which came with his new job as boss of the road-menders. With two others he kept all the verges tidy and mended the roads, a process which then consisted of spreading hot tar on the road, shovelling stones over it and flattening it all out with the steam-roller. They used a tar boiler referred to as the “tarry biler”. One of my earliest memories is of Granddaddy holding me up to inhale the fumes to help the croup I sometimes suffered from.
Between her son’s birth in 1886 and 1901, Janet gave birth to 7 daughters, so her life must have been a hard slog. Meg emigrated with her husband to Western Australia before I was born in 1926, and Belle and Jen went to Saskatchewan, Canada. All did well. Kate married before the 1914 war in which her husband was given the MM. My mother, Christina, known as Teenie at home and later as Chris, married in the 1920s as did Mary. Last to wed was Annie in the 30s, leaving John and Janet on their own. They celebrated their Diamond Wedding in 1946 and, in spite of the austerity of the time, it was a happy, crowded affair enjoyed by all.
My memories of The Toll are all good ones. Almost every Sunday there was a gathering of family there. The house was 1 mile from the village, but the road never seemed long. There were no street lights for most of the way so on clear nights the Milky Way was visible, an amazing wonder for a small child to see. Some other time I’ll write about the happy days when there were so many of us.