Robert Harper b1840-d1915

For those interested in local military history, the ‘Rules and Regulations of the Forty Fourth Company of Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers (Blantyre Corps).’ booklet is available in Low Parks Museum in Hamilton.

Printed in 1860, this particular copy is handwritten on first inside page by Robert Harper.

The 1st Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers was a Scottish Volunteer unit of the British Army. Originally raised in Glasgow from 1859, it later became a battalion of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). During World War I it served on the Western Front and in Ireland. Converted into an anti-aircraft regiment just before World War II, it served during The Blitz and in the campaign in North West Europe, and continued in air defence role in the postwar years until 1955.

I’ve been researching Robert Harper a little, though I will say I’ve entirely presumed given Robert scribbled his name on his own copy of the Blantyre Corps rulebook, that he was a Blantyre man. The only result is in the 1861 census which shows 20 year old Robert Harper living at Front Row, Blantyre works with his widowed mother and grown up siblings. Robert born around 1840 was the son of John Harper, a farmer and Agnes McCurdy. The family were cotton mill workers, weavers and dye workers and all born in Ireland, meaning they came to Blantyre between 1840 and 1860. The Village was a small place then and all his neighbours were also dye workers or weavers.

Robert’s call to military service continued throughout at least the 1860s and 70s. In 1867 when the Greenhall Rifle range opened, he is noted as being a Sergeant and won a prize for being the fastest to reload able to fire off 7 shots a minute!

By 1871, Robert was still in Blantyre at No 2 Newlands, Blantyre works and together with his older sister, Rebecca, they were looking after their 62 year old mother Agnes. This Irish family looking out for each other and working hard in the mills. By 1881, after his mother had died, Robert still not 40 was head of the household and shared his home still at Blantyre Works with his elder sister Rebecca, 4 years his senior. However, by the 1880’s the Blantyre mills were starting to struggle and the nature of people employed there had started to change.

Robert must have had a tolerant, close family relationship with sister Rebecca. In the 1891 census, he remained single, still unmarried, no wife, no children living in the same Blantyre works house, with his sister now in her 50’s looking after the household. He is noted as being a cotton yard dresser, a job he had for at least 30 years. In the 1890’s they lived at Middle Row, moving only a short distance from Front Row, perhaps downsizing their house given it was only the two of them.

But the writing was on the cards for millworkers and by the 1901 census, Robert and Rebecca had not only moved from the Village but no longer were mill workers, casualties of the end of the Blantyre Mill Works. The forced closure of the mills meant a change in profession and by aged 60 Robert was a shopkeeper, having moved to Stonefield to Burnside Cottage, still sharing with his sister.

In 1901, Rebecca died aged 69 and is noted then as being ‘single’. She had been ill for 1 year and 3 months and it was fitting that Robert would sign her death certificate. This is a story of a brother and sister looking out for each other throughout their lives. By 1905, Robert Harper was still in Blantyre at a house and grocers shop at the bottom of Victoria Street.

As such, despite his Irish ancestry and birth, Robert who never married was a Blantyre man for most of his life living here for around 50-60 years. He died on 2nd March 1915, by then a retired grocer in Paisley. He had been ill for some time and passed away in the house of his elder sister Margaret in Paisley. He was 74 years old and his death certificate shows him as ‘single’.

All this research I managed to uncover….from just one scribbled name on the inside of a book!

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