What follows is a letter written by Eric Edwards, the son of Ann Christie Penman. Sadly Eric died a few years ago, but he sent this history of the Penmans to all the Penman descendants that he managed to trace. It was his idea that, if everyone had a copy, all his hard work would not be lost, and I am sure that he would agree wholeheartedly with its posting here.
The document follows Eric’s own particular branch, but the early history will be of interest to Penmans from other branches. Frustratingly, there is an abrupt halt at 1872. Clearly there was more to come, and I am hoping that another relative has more information.
In Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta, The Mikado, the Lord High Everything Else, Pooh Bah declares “I can trace my ancestry back to a protoplasmal primordial atomic globule. Consequently, my family pride is something inconceivable. I cannot help it. I was born sneering.” He was fortunate indeed to know his antecedents back to the beginning of human life, but sadly he is in a minority of one, as most people would be hard put to be able to recall their great grandfather’s name – a mere three generations back! In times past only Royalty and the great and the good were well documented as to their origins and the hoi polloi made do with a sparse entry of their birth and marriage in the church parish register – if the parish priest of minister was sufficiently diligent to make a note of the fact. Nevertheless, a great deal of information exists and with a little perseverance I have been able to trace my mother’s paternal ancestry back to approximately 1700. In addition I have traced the descendants of the eight children who survived to adulthood of the twelve children born to my mother’s grandfather, and as we have a common ancestry I hope that this account will be of some interest to them also. A word of caution however; it is natural for people to expect that there exists in their past some famous person or perhaps a titled forebear who left lands and richest unclaimed, or even a famous rogue from whom one could claim descendency, but alas in our case I can find no such evidence. Our ancestors appear to have been lowly artisans with no claim to fame whatsoever except that their very existence led to thee and me – but this is reason enough to acknowledge them for exactly what they were and not try to embellish them in any way. In his History of Stirlingshire, published in 1770, the Reverent William Nimmo, minister of Bothkennar Church, tells of a baker’s son who was born in Stirling at the end of the sixteenth century and later went to Holland as a soldier. He rapidly rose in the service of Maurice, Prince of Orange, and became quite famous. This Colonel Edmund was conferring with a group of high ranking officers one day when he was approached by a stranger who proceeded to ingratiate himself by saying that he knew the Colonel’s family and went on to list some eminent people. Instead of impressing his fellow officers by accepting this prestigious, but false, ancestry, the Colonel coolly replied that their must be some mistake as his father was an honest baker in the town of Stirling. On his return to Scotland after his service abroad, the Earl of Mar, who was at that time son of the Regent, invited him to dine, and honour which he accepted only when his parents, the lowly baker and his wife, were eventually included in the invitation. It was not, I imagine, some form of inverted snobbery which made the gallant Colonel draw attention to his lowly upbringing, rather he appeared to be genuinely proud to be the son of his parents – no matter what their station in life.
This then, is the Penman history and although the present day descendants live in New Zealand, California, Canada, England and Scotland and answer to names like Ferguson, Bennett, Thomson, Crawford, Odam etc., they are all descended from a long line of Penmans. One branch has returned to it s roots: the Speake family, who now live in Stirlingshire where the original Penmans lived, worked and died for nearly 200 years. Elizabeth Speake teaches at college in Falkirk where her great grandfather, James Penman was born, as was her grandmother, Margaret Penman. The family tree charts provided are self explanatory, but rather eye glazing by themselves, so I will attempt to shade in some background in the following pages.
My name is Eric Edwards and my mother was a Penman. I was born in 1928 and married Nan (Agnes) Smith Stewart of 25 December 1953. We have no children so our particular branch (or twiglet) of the family tree will die out with us and there will be no one to benefit from what has been discovered of our past. Ideally, I would like each family to have a copy of this record and keep it up to date as new children are born. Remember it only takes two generations for your past to disappear into the haze and only one person to change address without notice, to be lost sight of, perhaps for ever. I hope I have not made the story too indigestible but it spans almost 300 years and it is impossible to describe the changes that came about in that time in a few pages. Bearing in mind that many of our relatives live overseas and that many of our younger relatives in this country have no idea what money was like in pre-decimal days, perhaps and explanation of that would be helpful when you come across references to wages etc.
The unit of currency in both Scotland and England was always the Pound Sterling but prior to the Union of Parliaments in 1707, a pound Scots was worth only one twelfth of an English pound. The pound was divided thus:-
one pound (£1) = 20 shillings (20/-)
one shilling (1/-)= 12 pence (12d)
The pound was represented by a bank note as was 10 shillings. Coins were issued for two shillings and sixpence (2/6), two shillings (2/-), one shilling (1/-), sixpence (6d), threepence (3d), a penny (1d), a halfpenny (1/2 d) and lastly a farthing, which was a quarter of a penny.
Sometimes the most apparently prosaic matters have a hidden historical significance in researching family history. For example the remains of the Wall which was built by the Romans about the year 150 AD from the Forth Estuary to the Clyde Estuary can be seen in Falkirk. The Wall was built in the reign of the Emperor Antoninus ostensibly to mark the northernmost advance of the Romans and to keep the Picts out. The three Roman Legions stationed in Scotland at that time were allocated stretches of the Wall to build, three Roman Miles at a time and at the end of each stretch a slab was erected dedicated to the Emperor Antoninus. In 1868 Henry Cadell of Grange unearthed a slab inscribed:-
To the Emperor Caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Pius
Father of his country the Second Augustinian Legion dedicates
this, having completed 4652 Paces of the Wall.
This stone is now in the Royal Museum in Edinburgh. When Roman Rule was coming to an end, the Pictish leader, Grime, or Graham, breached the Wall at Falkirk, and this event is still commemorated to the present day in local place names as in Grahamsdyke in Boness and Graham’s Road in Falkirk. Our common ancestor, James Penman lived at No 95, Graham’s Road Falkirk, and one of this daughters, Jane Penman (Odam) was born there in 1878. This is in no way an attempt to give the family some tenuous connection with the dim and distant past, but rather to show that the area in which the family lived for two centuries, the narrow waist of Scotland from the Forth to the Clyde Estuaries, is in itself steeped in history, the scene of many battles and occupying armies, and everywhere one turns there is a place name or site with a direct link to the past.
Having survived for so long, the Penman name has died out in our branch of the family and of the many descendents of James Penman and Elizabeth McLaren, not one answers to the name of Penman. The book of Scottish Surnames says that the name originates in an obscure village in Wigtonshire but from my observations, the name seems to be most prolific in the Stirlingshire and Fife areas. Certainly there are many Penmans still living in those places and it is more than probable that if one were to research all their family trees they, and we, would all be interrelated.
Enough of long winded explanations, I hope that the following will be of some interest to you and that if our overseas relatives ever come back to visit it will be of some help to locate the areas where out ancestors lived, worked and died for more than two hundred years.
The earliest Penman I have so far been able to trace is an Alexander Penman who married a Janet Peters and apparently lived in Beath on the Fife, or northern bank, of the River Forth. Although I have no dates of birth for them, they could have been married in 1721 or 1722 as a daughter Helen, was born to them on 18 October 1722 at Dunfermline, followed by their eldest son, William in 1724, also at Dunfermline. Perhaps they then moved to Beath as their next tree sons, Alexander, 1728, Robert, 1732, and David, 1735, are all shown as having been born there. What Alexander Penman did for living must remain a mystery as there is no way of finding out for certain but the economy was primarily agricultural; weaving, coal mining and salt making being the only industries and it is perhaps significant that the County of Kingdom of Fife as it is know, is and was the largest coalfield in Scotland and that later Penmans were miners.
Coal was first worked in Scotland by the monks of Newbattle Abbey in the 13th century but for more than a century was used only by the peasantry. It was used as fuel in the manor house kitchen but was later admitted into the house proper when supplies of wood became scarce with the passage of time. Demand increased to such an extent that by 1620 the inexperienced miners couldn’t dig enough and the Privy Council decided to fix the price of cal at 7 shillings a horse load but due to the resistance of the coal owners this was soon modified. The fire grate was introduced and coal became the accepted fuel although the methods of winning it were still crude. It started by gathering only the surface coal lying around, then progressed to crude mining by digging a hold then expanding it underground by excavating the coal to form a bell shape. When it became too dangerous to excavate the bell any further, they just moved on to sink another “Bell”. By 1700 salt workers and coal miners were already held to be “necessary servants” and as such were bound, with their wives and families, in perpetual servitude to the owners of the salt works and coal mines. In effect, they were slaves and could be transferred with the mines at the coal miner’s whim and they were not to be freed completely from this “thirldom” as it was called until another century had passed. In 1775 an Act with the following preamble was added to the Statute Book “Whereas by the Laws of Scotland as explained by the judges of the Courts of Law there, many colliers coal bearers and salters are in a state of slavery or bondage, bound to the collieries and saltworks, transferable with those collieries and saltworks...” In the Act it was stipulated that coalworkers under the age of 21 should be liberated in 7 years and those between 21 and 45 in 10 years. It was not until a further Act was passed in 1799 that it was declared that all colliers in Scotland were now free.
It is not clear if the whole family migrated from Beath to the southern shore of the river Forth, but the second son, named Alexander Penman after his father, was married on 22nd October 1748 in the parish of Airth in Stirlingshire to a Jean Strang. Again, one can only examine the situation where this event took place to guess at what they did for a living. The parish of Airth is quite small, 6 miles long by 3 miles wide, skirting the banks of the river Forth, and is part of the County of Stirlingshire. The Reverend William Nimmo said in 1770 that there was little of interest in Airth, while a gazetteer of 1853 described the parish as being a flat plain with the exception of two small hills on one of which the village of Airth was located, built in the protective shadow of Airth Castle. The Castle has suffered many additions, mainly of the 19th century, bus its nucleus is the 15th century Wallace’s Tower. An earlier castle stood on the spot, owned by the De Erth family, and it was seized and garrisoned by the English during the wars of independence.
At that time, the English imprisoned in the dungeon of the castle, the Priest of Dunipace who was the uncle of Sir William Wallace, the great Scottish hero. Wallace attacked the tower with his guerrilla force and freed his uncle in 1296 killing the English Captain Thomas Weir and a hundred of his men in the process. The Castle was converted into a luxury hotel in 1975 and I had lunch there some months ago. It was odd to think that my ancestor, Alexander Penman and his wife may have lived only a stone’s throw away from where I sat ; but two and a half centuries earlier. This was reinforced by finding the ruins of the original 12th century church with its attendant graveyard, now much overgrown but with the inscriptions of many of the gravestones still readable. It may be that some of the family are buried there but there is no way of making certain.
The present day village stands at the foot of this hill and is really Lower Airth, Higher Airth having been the mediaeval village in which Alexander and Jean Penman lived. Prior to 1745 the river had spread across the carse lands to the foot of the hill and Airth wa an important shipping centre. King James IV in his efforts to create a navy founded a royal dockyard at the mouth of the Pow Burn about half a mile to the southeast and High Airth became the base for the shipbuilding activities. Robert Callender, Constable of Stirling was appointed in 511 to supervise the excavation of the docks and the work must have been extensive because stables for 50 horses were built at Airth. high Airth buzzed with activity as barges laden with rope and timber were towed up the Forth and the countryside echoed to the crash of hammers as the wooden walls of the ships rose higher and higher. The Great Michael, the pride of Scotland and one of the wonders of her age, slowly inched her way up the river to the docks after her construction at Newhaven. Likewise other ships such as The James and The Margaret are often mentioned as having been refitted at the Pool of Airth for it provided a safe sanctuary from English raiders.
The great fleet sailed at last in 1513 to aid the French against the English but was commanded by the incompetent Earl of Arran Hereditary Lord High Admiral of Scotland who inexplicable sailed round the North of Scotland and down the West cost. The furious King James IV sent the seasoned seaman, Sir Andrew Wood overland to Ayrshire to intercept the fleet and take charge, but by then it was too late and the enterprise collapsed. About the same time, James IV and most of the Scottish nobility perished at the battle of Flodden Field in the same year, 1513. The great ships vanished into oblivion and “The Great Michael” lay rotting at Brest only two years after being built.
After this, the dockyard at Airth was abandoned, but shipping continued from high Airth. However, the river was receding and the flat flood plains were being reclaimed, so that shipping used a tidal channel that ran from the river to the footy of the hill. The port was erected into a Barony and free port in 1597 and began to prosper for it was the only outlet to the sea for the County of Stirling. As the land was reclaimed by sea dykes and dried out, it soon became more convenient for those in business to live on the lower level and they began to build a new town at the footy of the hill. Traditional crowstepped houses with pantile roofs were erected for the sea captains and merchants around a fine new Mercat Cross dated 1696. Some of these houses have been restored along Short Street and the Mercat Cross still stands, bearing the arms of the Bruce and Elphinstone families. The Cross was the site of public trials and executions and up until the 1930’s it was the custom to proclaim deaths and funerals from the steps. The house adjacent to the Mercat Cross dates from 1722 when the development of the lower town was under way and although the old village on the hill was still occupied as late as 1764 it gradually became deserted, but the new church was only completed in 1820 and the old chapel was then abandoned.
The Penman family would not, I imagine, have been included in all this prosperity, the fine houses being only for the rich merchants and sea captains, trading their cargoes of salt and coal to the Low Countries. It is a matter of conjecture as to whether they lived in the village of Airth or somewhere in the parish. The First Statistical Account of Scotland say that coal was once extensively wrought in the parish and if they were indeed a mining family then their circumstances would be much less cosy than the picture I have painted.
The family would be living by the colliery in a row of cottages built by the mine owners for their workers. These would consist of one room, or at most two where the whole family would live. Naturally there was no running water in the houses, only a communal well, no lavatories, only a communal midden, no roads, except for tracks which were dust bowls in the summer and quagmires in winter. These conditions applied everywhere, not only in the mean colliers’ cottages. The farmer and his family lived in the same room as the farm servants, eating at the same table. A line was drawn across the table where the salt was places and the farmer and his family ate at one end and the servants at the other – hence the saying “to be seated below the salt” or to be considered inferior. It was to be some years before the more prosperous farmers housed their unmarried male servants or “Hinds” in separate “bothies”. Food at this time was also the same everywhere and consisted of oatmeal porridge or pease meal, milk and cheese, bannocks of bread and on high days and holidays, a piece of meat perhaps. Curiously, although potatoes, so great a part of our staple diet nowadays, had been introduced to Ireland about 1580, it was not until 170 that they started to be planted in Scotland and they were looked upon with great distrust. MacDonald, Lord of the Isles brought some seed potatoes from Ireland and ordered his mutinous tenants to grow them, which they did with bad grace, but when the crop was harvested it was carried by the crofters and dumped at the door of the castle where they informed the Chief that they had done as he had asked and grown them, but now he could eat them because they wouldn’t. However, after instruction had been given as to how to cook them etc., they gradually came to be accepted.
Young Alexander Penman, having been born on 22 September 1728, was to see big changes in the way of life in Stirlingshire, for the industrial revolution was just about to start. Firstly though, when he was 17 years old he was witness to the demise of Airth as a commercial shipping port. In 1745 Prince Charles Edward Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie”, raised his standard at Glenfinnan and rallied the highland clans to his cause, They marched South sweeping all in their past toward Derby where they would eventually had to give up the crusade. On their way South, a party of Jacobites, as his followers were called, seized some small vessels at Fallin and transported a number of brass cannon to Airth Harbour where they erected a battery. Government ships were sent from Leith to dislodge them and an artillary duel took place which failed to dislodge the opposition. The warships retire don the outgoing tide, but burned every vessel along the river bank to prevent them falling into enemy hands. As most of the vessels belonged to the inhabitants of Airth, the effect on the town was so severe that it never recovered and most of its trade gradually passed to Carronshore and Grangemouth. Three years later, young Alexander was married, the entry in the parish register saying, “22nd of October 1748, Alexander Penman and Jean Strang were married.” This event took place in the old Chapel of which I spoke, the ruin of which can still be seen next to Airth Castle.
As the system if Thirldom was still the rule, Alexander and his brothers would have been working with his parents in the coal mine from an early age. The father digging coal and the mother and children acting as coal bearers, taking the coal from the coal face to the mine entrance. The Reverend William Nimmo writing in 1770 deplored the system saying that it was not unknown for men to give themselves a hernia lifting a ”half load” basket on to the shoulders of an eight year old coal bearer. So Alexander and his new wife Jean Strang were bound to the same life. Children duly came along. Duncan was born on 22nd October 1749, William on 19 April 1752, Helen on 5 May 1754, Marion on 4 April 1756, and Alexander on 12 September 1763. All were born in the parish of Airth and presumably lived and died there as it was not until the next generation that the family were to move away to neighbouring parishes. William is the son we are most interested in as he is our direct ancestor, and he was born at a time when the great changes of which I spoke were about to take place.
At the time of William's birth in 1752, William Cadell of Cockenzie met Dr William Roebuck of Sheffield and discussed his plans to produce Iron in the area. Roebuck was the son of a Sheffield cutlery manufacturer and had studied medicine at Edinburgh and Leyden. With a Samuel Garbett he had become a manufacturer of sulphuric acid in Prestonpans, but was intrigued by Cadell’s plans and they became partners in the project, forming a company for the purpose. Land was purchased from local farmers by the banks of the river Carron so that a foundry and furnaces could be constructed. One of the farmers who had a lease on a piece of ground which had two years to run was asked by Roebuck to name a reasonable prices for it, which the farmer duly did. Roebuck was horrified at the exorbitance of the sum asked and told the farmer he would have to reconsider his terms. The puzzled farmer consulted a friend asking why he thought his most reasonable price had caused such an uproar, whereupon the friend suggested that the Englishman had probably confused Scots pounds with English pounds. The relieved farmer was on the point of writing to Roebuck explaining this when the company wrote to him accepting his original price, thus paying twelve times the proper price. So the mighty Carron Iron Company was formed, the first furnace was blown in 1760, and it was to become the oldest in Britain with the exception of one in Coalbrookdale in the North of England [Coalbrookdale is actually in the Midlands.] It became world famous turning out cannon, mortars, chain shot etc for the arsenals of Europe with orders from Russia, Denmark and Sardinia among others. As well as extra large mortars, Sardinia also received a shipment of guns ten feet in the bore. A new type of gun was named a Carronade after the works and was made until 1852, being cast solid in an upright position then bored to the required calibre. The British government was the biggest client and the Duke of Wellington’s whole battering train was forged at Carron.
Such was its fame that many crowned heads of Europe visited it including the Czar of Russia and the King of Belgium as well as many other Princes and minor royalty. The sky at night was bright red with the glow from the furnaces and with noise, fumes and smoke it was like a scene from Dante’s Inferno.. A later historian commented on this with his account of how “The Prince of them all, Robert Burns” came unannounced to the gate of the works to see for himself the wonderful foundry but was refused entry, the porter no having recognised the famous man. Burns retired to a nearby Inn and while there, he scratched the following lines on a window pane
We cam na here tae view your works
in hopes tae be mair wise
but only lest we gang tae hell
it may be nae surprise.
But when we tirl’d at your door,
your porter dought na hear us
Sae may should we tae Hell’s Tetts cam
Your billy Satan sair us.
(We didn’t come here to view your works,
hoping to learn anything,
but so that if we go to hell
it will come as no surprise.
But when we knocked at your door,
your porter couldn’t hear us,
so may your brother Satan serve us
if we should arrive at the gates of Hell.)
A Mr Benson, a commercial traveller to Carron stayed at the same Inn and was shown the lines, whereupon he wrote this reply:
If you came here to see our works
you should have been more civil
than give us a fictitious name
in hopes to cheat the devil.
Six days a week to you and all
we think it very well
the other if you go to church
may keep you out of hell.
This then was the start of the industrial revolution and the coal that Alexander Penman, his wife Jean and their family gathered was the fuel for the furnaces of the Carron works. They were apparently still living in the parish of Airth and were destined to do so for another thirty years or so. In 1774 the second son, William was married in Airth parish church and the entry in the register read, “11 November 1774m William Penman and Janet Izet in the parish of Tulliallan were married.” The reason for this was that Janet Izet was born on 25 August 1751 at Culross on the opposite bank of the river and as she had been resident in Tulliallan parish the bans had to be called in her parish church as well as in Airth where her bridegroom lived. Their first child was Alexander born on 24 December 1775, followed by twins, James and John on 30 November 1777. William came along on 28 August 1785 the Robert 13 May 1787 and Marion on 24 October 1789. All these were born in the parish of Airth but the last child Andrew was born on 12 June 1794 at Larbert. If the family moved as might be indicated by this last event, it was not far as Larbert parish is only about 4 miles away. With regard to Andrew, it will be understood that it would be a monumental task to trace the descendants of every member of these families, and that the names would run into many hundreds, but by coincidence I have been in touch with a direct descendant of Andrew, a Bernard Thomson of Lauriston, a district of Falkirk perhaps three or four miles from where his ancestor was born 200 years ago.
The Carron Company flourished and as well as armaments turned out grates, cooking ranges, stoves , pots and pans and drainpipes etc. They became powerful merchants, among the oldest in Glasgow where in 1765 the projected Duke Street to get a direct route to Cumbernauld. In 1766 they introduced the first horsedrawn railway with wooden rails covered with a sort of hoop iron to bring coal into the works from Kinnaird Colliery. In 1777 the wooden rails were replaced by rails of iron made in Coalbrookdale. Naturally this was not a railway as we know it, the steam locomotive was a long way away.
William and Janet Izet apparently settled down in Airth Parish, still bound to the colliery which may have been Kinnaird as this was close by. This was owned by James Bruce who lived at Kinnaird House, a mansion which is still standing and was the scene of his untimely death when he fell down the stairs. He was a very famous man of his time and was called Bruce – The Abyssinian Traveller because of his feats of exploration in that part of the world and he is credited with having discovered the source of the river Nile. His grave can be seen in Larbert churchyard where he was buried in 1794 aged 64. Notable events during William and Janet’s life were the “discovery” by Captain Cook of New Zealand in 1779 where some of their descendants are now settled and the French Revolution in 1789 which was followed by the rise of Napoleon and the ensuing wars for which the Carron Company supplied the armaments.
William and Janet’s eldest son, Alexander, in turn was married to Mary Borrowman but I cannot find a date for the marriage. It must have been about 1797 as their first child Jean was born on 4 March 1798 at Airth then another daughter Janet on 24 November 1799 at Larbert. This was the year in which the final Act of Parliament freed the miners and saltmakers completely from their bondage Mining was a dangerous occupation. In 1780 a miner’s wage was 7 shillings to 8 shilling and fourpence a week and candles which were the only form of lighting underground were supplied free. Candles were superseded by oil lamps then the Davey safety lamp, while wages improved to 15 shillings per week in 1851. In 1854 wages went up to 30 shillings a week then declined until they were 18 shillings in 1858 and in 1880 21 shillings per week from which a deduction of 3 pence per week was made for lights, sharpening of tools etc., By that year, 1880, there were 34 pits open in the County of Stirling, employing 1800 men. The old system of Thirldom had something to be said for it. The miner and his family were bound to the coal owner, but conversely her was sure of employment while he was so bound and the mining communities were more or less closed societies helping one another and suspicious of strangers coming among them. Even after they were free to choose, most stayed as miners, as did their descendents.
A new century arrived and apparently the next child born was William on 25 August 1805, which arrival was attended by the roar of guns at the battle of Trafalgar and the death of the victorious Admiral Nelson there. We were at war with Napoleon and Carron prospered on the proceeds. William was born at Larbert as was John on 21 June 1807. Another daughter Mary was born on 22 April 1811 at Bothkennar, a parish adjoining Airth and Larbert. James was born on 8 August 1813 at Bothkennar, in time to see Napoleon finally defeated at Waterloo in 1815. The last son Alexander was born on 22 August 1817. Bothkennar was the small parish adjoining Airth and was the last parish in Stirling shire to be served by an Episcopalian minister. The Reverend William Nimmo was minister there in 1770 when he wrote his history of Stirling. As I have said, these parishes of which I speak are all quite small and all touch each other, so it is possible that although the births of a family are all registered in the church records of one parish, the distances are so small that it would be quite possible to live in one parish and work in another, even though there was no transport of indeed any decent roads to walk upon. I mention this because we are now coming to a period where there is a little more information available and the father, Alexander , is shown in the 1841 census (the first official census) as being aged 66, a collier, and living at Kinnaird with his wife Mary aged 60. It is reasonable to suppose that he spent much of his working life at Kinnaird digging coal for the nearby Carron works. In 1851 the next census shows Alexander and Mary both still alive at age 76 and still living at Kinnaird.
The industrial revolution gathered momentum. Prior to the Union of the Parliaments in 1707 the British Navigation Laws required all cargoes from the American colonies to pass through this country no matter what their eventual destination Due to the French Wars which made the South West coast dangerous to shipping, Glasgow became the main port receiving tobacco from the colonies of Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland, subsequently transhipping much of it to France and the Low Countries by transporting the cargoes across the 39 miles of the central belt of Scotland to the East coast in panniers strapped to pack horses. Great fortunes were made from this trade by tobacco barons such as Alexander Speirs, James Ritchie, William Cunningham and John Glassford, all of whom are commemorated in Glasgow street names. In return the colonies were in need of manufactured goods which were shipped in the vessels which had brought the tobacco. In 1775 the American War of Independence abruptly ended the tobacco trade as the colonies were no longer bound by the British laws and could send their cargoes directly to Europe. New industries were found to take the place of the tobacco trade, such as spinning, weaving, fabric printing, and stocking frames. Several ironworks sprang up which, as one report of the time said, “taken collectively are perhaps scarcely inferior to the Carron works.” All this activity taking place in the narrow waist of Scotland now required communications to be improved, and thus the Forth and Clyde Canal was excavated for a distance of 39 miles from Grangemouth to Bowling on the River Clyde. This became and busy highway and the Carron Company alone had sixteen lighters plying the length of the canal. Then the Union canal was formed in 1822 from Edinburgh linking up with the Forth and Clyde at Polmont just outside Falkirk. Passenger barges came into being called “Fly Boars”, changes of horse teams every few miles reducing the journey between Edinburgh and Glasgow to a fraction of the time it had previously taken. The Forth valley boomed and other iron works such as the Falkirk Iron Works were started in 1819 by men from the Carron Works. In 1880 the Falkirk Iron Works, covering 8 acres employed 900 men and boys and turned out 300 tons of castings per week, From 1760 to 1877, 21 Iron works started in the district employing 6058 workers by 1880. The largest remained the Carron Works with 3500 workers.
Young William was born in 1805 in Kinnaird and followed his father into the mines there. In due course he married Anne Christie on 5 December 1828 at Larbert. Their first child was Alexander born on 12 January 1830.
On 3 April 1832 a daughter, Anne Philp was born followed by Mary on 16 June 1834, Margaret on 1 March 1837, Helen on 10 September 1841, and lastly, James, born on 20 September 1845. All these children were born at Kinnaird in the parish of Larbert where the births were registered. In the 1851 census Kinnaird was described as “a village situated in the vicinity of the Carron Ironworks and inhabited principally by colliers. Population 304; houses 67.” According to the census about 30 (10%) of the population were Penmans and were related to each other. By 1851 however, William and Anne Christie had already moved to Carronshore about 1 ½ miles away, leaving William’s parents, Alexander and Mary still living in Kinnaird and now aged 76. William was aged 45, and his eldest son, Alexander who was 21, had married and lived in Carronshore with his wife Jean and son William aged 3. They also had a new baby, Margaret, aged two months. The census didn’t show Ann Philp as living with her parents but as she was 19, it is probably that she was now married. Helen, who would have been 10 years old was also not shown, and one can only assume she had died from one of the many diseases prevalent at the time.
James was the last child born to William Penman and his wife Anne and is the ext direct ancestor to concern us. He is also the first of the “modern” Penmans in that he lived almost within reach of living memory as he was contemporary with Queen Victoria and died only three years before her. Industry had proceeded apace and all sorts of wonderful things were happening: the railway age had arrived when the first organised passenger traffic (as opposed to earlier coal traffic lines) opened with the Glasgow and Garnkirk Railway in 1827. By 1840 Glasgow and Edinburgh had a rail link and by 1848 it was possible to reach London by rail. The railway robbed the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals of their passenger traffic in 1840 and although they continued to carry cargo traffic until the 1930s the canals were eventually closed in 1959. These two waterways, which had been built at a cost of £400,000 by Irish navigators, or “Navvies”, are interesting enough to fill a book on their own. The junction of the two canals, which had replaced the stagecoach, as the railway now replaced them in turn, was in “our” territory of Falkirk. Most of the Forth and Clyde Canal has been filled in and built over but some stretches still exist and on the motorway between Glasgow and Stirling, one still passes bridges signposted, “Forth and Clyde Canal” and in Stirlingshire bridges signposted “Union Canal”. James was destined to have a granddaughter, Elizabeth McLaren Penman who would marry William McBride and live in Riddrie, a district of Glasgow. As a boy in the 1930s I can remember playing on the banks of what I thought was a river which ran across the bottom of their garden at 131, Gala Street. This was the Forth and Clyde Canal on its way to Bowling on the Clyde estuary. Now, alas all gone and redeveloped. [Since Eric wrote this the “Falkirk Wheel” has been opened, once again connecting the two canals just outside Falkirk. It is now possible to traverse the canal from Glasgow to Edinburgh. See http://www.falkirk-wheel.com/.]
As I have said, James was born on 20 September 1845 and followed his father, William, into the mines, probably at Kinnaird, as William was living and working there in 1841. The many iron works had spawned a host of other trades and there was no shortage of work. James could have chosen some other way of life than mining, but I suspect that it was a case of following in father’s footsteps. For example Mr Caddell who had started the Carron Works had seen the potential in nail making with iron supplied by the works, so, in about 1795 he had started this trade at Camelon in Falkirk with skilled workmen brought in from England who, in turn, taught the local work force. In 1830 there were about 500 nailworkers, but in 1839 so many were cut down by cholera that a Mr Fairbairn, who also had become a nail manufacturer had to advance £40 against burials which had to be repaid from the earnings of survivors. A man working a 10 hour day for 5 of 5 ½ days a week earned from 9 shillings to 14 shillings per week. Wages were double that amount by 1880 when American machine made nails ruined the trade, leaving only about 30 men employed. Thus there was no shortage of work – and no shortage of disasters like Cholera. In the previous century there had been famine years when people died from hunger, especially in the rural areas. Outbreaks of plague, typhoid and cholera caused by the insanitary living conditions killed off whole communities and these same conditions had not improved by the beginning of the 19th century.
In 1839 the author of a Parliamentary Report on Housing in Great Britain recorded,
I have seen human degradation in some of the worst places both in England and abroad, but I did not believe until I visited the wynds of Glasgow that so large an amount of filth, crime, misery and disease existed in one spot in any civilised country.
Primitive conditions existed throughout the country on a perhaps lesser scale than in the crowded cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee but nonetheless just as dangerous. The authors of a report in 1842 on The Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population stated,
It appeared to us that both the structural arrangements and the conditions of the population Glasgow were the worst of any we had seen in any part of Great Britain. In the courts of Argyle Street there were no privies or drains and the dung heaps received all the filth which the swarms of wretched inhabitants could give. We learned that a considerable part of the rents for the houses was paid for by the produce of these dung heaps... The picture is so shocking that without ocular proof one would be disposed to doubt the possibility of the facts....Several women were found lying in a house under a blanket while others were then out of doors wearing all the articles of dress belonging to the party.
In Edinburgh it was the same. The barges which carried the coal from the Stirlingshire coal fields to the fires of the Capital returned laden with the ordure from the dungheaps in the streets to be spread on the farmers’ fields. The emptying of chamberpots into the streets from the high tenement windows with the cry “gardyloo” became such a nuisance to pedestrians that an ordinance was passed to ensure that the emptying of pots should take place only at certain hours. “Gardyloo” was a corruption of the French “Garde L’eau” or “look out for the water”, but alas it was not only water which rained down from on high! In a mining village like Kinnaird there would not be any tenements, but the streets of hard packed earth would receive all the soil from the houses to be collected periodically. Raw sewage collecting in the street gullies would in time find its way into the communal water wells and disease was a constant companion. In 1845, the year that James was born, and for the next three years to 1848, the one time much despised potato was attacked by blight and the ruined harvests of the crop, which had now become a great part of the staple diet, causing widespread famine throughout the Highlands resulting in death from hunger to many and forcing others to migrate to the cities.
Luckily, our James apparently escaped those alarms and excursions, and when he was 19 years ole, he married Elizabeth McLaren on 30 April 1864 at Falkirk. Elizabeth was the daughter of Daniel McLaren and Elizabeth Cuthell and was born at Larbert on 29 July 1848. This meant that she was still fifteen when she and James married and it must have been a shotgun affair because she was still fifteen when her first child, Elizabeth Cuthell Penman was born one month later on 31 May 1864! Although in this day and age we may think nothing of this, the young couple started off life under a certain amount of strain and sigma due to the fact that she was under the age of consent and that they “had to get married”. This would be a never ending subject of gossip among the neighbours, the family would be scandalised and the matter would never be forgotten. Years later young Elizabeth would still be remembered as “having had to get married.” I mention this only to add to the admiration which must be felt for them in view of what they were eventually to achieve from such an inauspicious beginning.
The next four children were also registered as being born at Larbert, William on 24 February 1866, my own grandfather, Daniel on 18 January 1868, Robert born on 21 February 1870, and Alexander on 26 October 1872.