Robert Smith of Pilot Acre

In April 2016, I received an email from Janet Hogan who said, “My G/grandfather Robert Smith, born 1837 Ireland, moved to Scotland and in the 1901 census he was living at Pilot Acre, Stonefield, Lanarks with niece Maggie Pollock. I believe Robert died between 1901-11 but I have searched and searched on quite a few websites, and found nothing to indicate this! Hoping you may be able to shed some light on this. Thanks”

I was able to reply as follows:

Starting off at the 1901 census, I could confirm that Robert Smith was living at Pilot Acre with niece Maggie Pollock. However, the census is more revealing as it lists Robert’s age as being 71 that year, indicating that he was actually born in 1830, not 1837. It was good to check that first to make sure I had the right family for there were several Robert Smiths living in Blantyre in that census.

So, lets go back to the start of Robert’s life. Born in Ireland in 1830. The later census information lists Robert’s birth as “around 1830” meaning he, himself may not have been sure. (His death certificate later in life casts doubt on 1830 and on 1837 and indeed suggests 1834!)

His father was James Smith, a teacher and his mother was Elizabeth Lamb, an irishwoman.

By the early 1860s, Robert was married to Essey (Esther) Smith (nee Pollock born 1843). They had a son Alexander Smith born on 25th July 1865 at Cambusnethan near Lanark. This birth entry is telling, for it confirms Robert was not only married at that time, but had moved to Scotland by then too, giving away that they lived near Lanark.

1830 to 1907 Robert SmithThe first time we see Robert in Blantyre was in the 1891 census, where he was living at Bowie’s Land with his wife Essey and their one daughter Elizabeth, aged 18. Elizabeth is noted as being born in Cambusnethan, another good indicator that with the family not in the 1881 census, that they came to Blantyre between 1881 and 1891. Robert is noted as being a shoemaker in Blantyre at that time. Bowie’s Land, according to the valuation roll was 4 double storey tenements on Stonefield Road having address of 87 to 95 Stonefield Road on the south eastern side of the road.

By 1895, he was living at Pilot Acre at Stonefield Road, which is the plot of land between the Blantyre Bowling Club and Stonefield Road. Pilot Acre has address 85 Stonefield Road, so he may have simply moved next door. Robert and Essey were renting his house from William Lucas, a writer who lived in Glasgow, so Robert did not own it. Robert paid a rather low £8 per year in rent. (about £1,000 a year in todays money)

1895 Robert Smith at Pilot Acre

However, on February 10th , 1900, Esther Pollock passed away at Pilot Acre at 4.30pm that afternoon. She was 57 years old and had been ill for 6 months. Her parents Alexander Pollock, a farmer and Elizabeth Spiers had already passed away by that time. James Stewart, Esther’s son in law (married to her daughter Elizabeth) was witness on the death certificate. Also on the certificate is a record that Robert by then was a master shoemaker.

1900 Esther Smith nee Pollock death

By the 1901 census he was “around 71 years” old and his 18 year old niece Maggie Pollock, a dressmaker had moved in with him. James was noted as still working as a shoemaker, his elderly years, lack of immediate family around him and ongoing profession suggesting things may have been tough for him.  Maggie’s birthplace is listed as Ireland in 1873 suggesting that one of Essey’s brothers in Ireland was Maggie’s father.

Maggie was perhaps making her way out into the world, living with her Uncle and seeking employment in Blantyre in those boom years of expansion in the town. This may have served a good purpose and she may have been sent there also from Ireland for company and assistance for her uncle in his grief stricken years.

However, Maggie’s living arrangements were only temporary, for she moved out shortly after, and Robert sadly was living alone, in his 70s. This may have impacted his health and for whatever reason, he moved out about 200 yards away to 22 Watson Street, to homes , unfortunately known to be rather squalid at the time. He died on 1st December 1907 and his death certificate is telling by listing him as a “pauper” (formerly a shoemaker). The certificate casts further doubt on his age but lists him as 74 years old. Perhaps through the damp conditions of those homes, he had chronic bronchitis for 3 months and died of heart failure at 9pm that evening. His son in law James Stewart, then living at Newhousemill, East Kilbride was witness on his death certificate.

1907 Robert Smith death

It may not have been a fitting end for this man passing away penniless. Designated with “pauper” status was more common than you may think, and often meant the inspector of the poor would visit him, and he would likely have received additional monies to maintain some sort of standard of assistance with rent, tobacco and clothing allowances. It may have caused him some embarrassment (or not as the case may be).

The questions for further investigation need to be where was son Alexander Smith? His lack of appearance in any census, makes me think he may have passed away early in life or moved away entirely. Daughter Elizabeth may have been 2 miles away in East Kilbride with her husband James Stewart at Newhouse Mill and it is clear from the death certificates, at least they may have been looking out for Robert in some manner.

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