Auld Robin Downie

In May 2016, I received an email from Norma Marr, a lovely woman in Canada, whom I have recently had some emails back and forth with. Norma is quite rightly very proud of her High Blantyre Ancestry and her passion for her family history is evident, despite being so far away from Blantyre at the moment.

Norma wrote, “Our family has lived in Blantyre for at least five generations and maybe more. My grandfather John Patrick died October 21, 1926 and his widow Margaret (Maggie) left with my mother (Margaret) and aunt (Georgina), sailing to Canada and settling in Calgary in January 1927 where a large part of our families still reside today. 

Today we are sending you an scanned image of our great great grandfather Robin Downie. We believe he is “Old Robin”. I love this photo and see different things every time I study it. The photo was taken by Charles E. Mitchell, the Glasgow photographer. Mitchell worked from a number of locations in Glasgow and for a time was in Greenock and I once found a reference to him in Torrance. Most of the images I have seen are posed and in a studio. The image of Robin is a little more unusual — it was taken outdoors and is not posed, it seems much more relaxed as if the photographer may have been wandering around the area and came upon Robin. Love the jaunty scarf that is tied around his neck — I like to think that he might have made it himself.”

1895 Blantyre Robyn Downie wm

Blantyre Robyn Downie BackHere’s what is written on the reverse of the photo:
“Auld Robin Downie at a bees skept. Back Priestfield Cottage – He always said if you had a spite at a man give him a skept of bees and if you had an awful spite at him give him two.”

Don’t you just love that inscription!

It was confirmed by James Patrick (his grandson) that Auld Robin was a hand loom weaver and it is known he at one time was an agricultural labourer.

Life and Times of Robin Downie

Born on 4th July 1806, Robert (Robin, Robyn). He was married twice. First marriage to Barbara Paterson (Norma’s great great grandmother born in Shotts in 1812.) His second marriage was to Lilias McLean or Campbell (taken from the marriage certificate). She was much younger than Robyn, born in 1831 in Fort William, Inverness and died January 2, 1898 at Kirkton Back Priestfield. The marriage took place at Chapelton, Glassford, Lanarkshire. At the time of his second marriage, Robyn Downie lived at 66 Sydes, High Blantyre.

There were at least 4 children. Margaret (b15 Dec 1833), Ann (b26 Jan 1837), Janet (b09 July 1841) and John (Norma’s great grandfather) who was born at Sydes Cottage, Sydes Brae, High Blantyre, born August 22, 1846 and died January 6, 1911 at Calderside Cottage.

Robin was certainly living at Blantyre in 1851, the first census he appears on in Blantyre.

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In the 1881 Robin  is listed a general labourer and as living at Kirkton Back Priestfield along with Lilias and a 9 month old child named John Sutherland, which I found a little strange!  Little John was noted as being a boarder, and I think his age may have meant he was an orphan to be living with another elderly family. Robin/Robert was aged 74 at the time and Lilias (or Lily as she was known) was a mere 50 years old, quite an age difference.

By 1891, the family were renting from Concert hall and spirit dealer, JB Struthers, and still at Back Priestfield. Robin, now 84 years old is noted as being a retired gatekeeper. John Sutherland, the baby was now 10 and still noted as being a boarder.

In 1885, Rev Stewart Wright wrote about Old Robin, describing him as having charge of the former minister’s manse garden and orchard. This is likely what is being described in the the gatekeeper description in the 1891 census, six years later. Rev Wright wrote that the old gent was a tender hearted man and let local boys into the ministers orchard on occasions once the minister had gone to sleep. The signal was gunfire, as the minister would fire a blunderbus at Kirkton to frighten off the boys, and the nighttime raids were done after the gun had been fired and the minister had gone to bed!

It appears that Robin lived a year and a bit after the death of Lilias and after her death he must of been sent to New Lanark to live with his daugher Janet (Downie) Stark. Robyn died on November 10th , 1899 at Double Row, New Lanark. The death register indicated his age as 91 but doing the maths, would put him at 93 so quite commonly, there is a discrepancy there. Sadly he died as a pauper and it is on the register that confirms he was a hand loom weaver.

Norma told me, “We do not know where he was buried. We assume probably in the New Lanark area as he had no money to speak of. I have an amazing leather bound book that was won by Robert/Robin’s grand daughter Jessie Stark. She attained the highest marks at New Lanark Public School. The inscription is dated July 11, 1894. Seems that Robert Owen’s planned community worked for her!”

On social media:

Elizabeth Weaver “the minister would fire a blunderbus at Kirkton to frighten off the boys” – Christianity in action, eh?

The Blantyre Project i will post the full story about this soon Elizabeth, but that certainly did happen and is well documented by a latter minister at that very location.

Elizabeth Weaver I can quite believe it Paul. Imagine firing a gun to stop weans raiding your orchard. Ministers were more or less gentry of course, and behaved no better than the rest of their class 😉

Janet Cochrane Your research is amazing thank you

Norma Lawrence Marr One black suitcase that contained pictures, a few documents and scraps of paper with notes all lead to this wonderful story and what has become an amazing journey for me and our family. We live away but our roots are deep.

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