Hope you’re enjoying some of these older stories this week. Here’s another from 1924, which has drama almost good enough to be made into a film! I hope it’s the first time you’ve heard this remarkable tale.
It starts of in 1922 in a lodging house in Newcastle occupied by various hawkers. (travelling salespeople). Mr and Mrs McAvoy were English hawkers living there with their baby daughter Irene, whom in March that year was aged about 10 months old.
Now, in the same lodging house was another hawker Mrs McGregor, originally born as a Ferguson of Blantyre. Mrs McGregor was a single mother who also had an infant daughter of her own, (although had taken a great fancy to the McAvoy’s bonnie child, spoiling her with sweeties and toys).
One day, Mrs McGregor took her daughter and the McAvoys little Irene, to the shops to “buy some sweets”, but not return back to the English lodging house! A great panic ensued as the McAvoy’s raised the alarm and police were called. A search was made all over Newcastle but the missing woman and the 2 children could not be found.
A few weeks later the heartbroken McAvoys heard though ‘hawker circles’ that the woman had been spotted further south into England and it became clear that the woman was not in Newcastle and had abducted their child!
It was at that moment, that the McAvoys decided to personally search outwith Newcastle and embarked on a journey BY FOOT around much of England and Scotland, a journey which would last 2 full years, as they searched for clues. Little did they imagine the enormity of the task and how many places their search would take them.
No stone was left unturned. Town by town, village by village they searched arriving by foot in all weather and immediately asking for help from local police in each place. They called into every lodge house they could find asking if anybody had seen Mrs McGregor and 2 children. From time to time frustratingly they found out that she had been there only weeks earlier but had left with the children. Mrs McGregor proved most elusive.
By 1923, this search had gone on for a year, disappointment on a daily basis for the McAvoys. They searched high and low as far south as Leeds for wee Irene and never gave up, sacrificing their business during the search. A year and a half passed when news came to them that Mrs McGregor had been seen in Glasgow, and they set off in haste, ALL THE TIME ON FOOT, for Scotland.
They missed Mrs McGregor in Glasgow by only a few weeks and hot on her trail, for several more months they followed successful leads to Edinburgh then back west to Greenock, where it had been reported Mrs McGregor had been seen begging in the street. They were closing in on her and contacts kept them advised of sightings as best as possible.
By 1924, wee Irene was almost 3 years old, the child been missing for 2 whole years. Then in April that year, a lead came when Mrs McGregor tried to claim relief (benefit) in Johnstone in Paisley. A reporter knowing of the search gave the McAvoys money for a train, the first time they allegedly used public transport, so that they could reach Paisley at once, before Mrs McGregor moved on. It proved useful and allowed the McAvoys finally to be a step ahead in the same town as McGregor at the same time!
The Trap was set
In early April 1924, the McAvoys arrived at Dimity Street Lodging house in Johnstone and to their relief found Mrs McGregor there with the 2 children, one of whom was their 3 year old daughter Irene, not seen for 2 years! Needless to say this meeting was intently dramatic, emotional and at first Mrs McGregor was unwilling to hand over Irene.
The McAvoys got hold of Mrs McGregor and roughly marched her to the nearest police station where she eventually admitted abducting the child. Whilst the McAvoys were deliriously happy at getting their child back, they were incensed with anger at Mrs McGregor and they told Johnstone Police that an English warrant had been put out for Mrs McGregor’s arrest. The police officers detained Mrs McGregor at Paisley whilst they made inquiries and later found out from Newcastle police that no such warrant had ever been put out, only inquiries for a missing child. No crime had been committed in Scotland. As such, Mrs McGregor was let go. She quickly collected her own child from the lodging house and was not seen again, nor in any subsequent census, perhaps knowing an arrest could be made if she ever went back to England.
As for the McAvoys and little Irene? They set off from Johnstone, Paisley on 13th April 1924 on the long journey back to their home in Newcastle, England and to ‘rebuild their lives’. How did they all get there? You guessed.
From “Blantyre Explained” by Paul Veverka (c) 2018
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