Marion Russell and Sewing Class

The great photos keep coming in! Elizabeth Elliott has shared this Blantyre photo from 1902. I’ve managed to repair and sharpen it for featuring here:

Elizabeth told me, “My great gran gave this to our mum and she left it to us. The photograph is of my great gran, Jane Cook in the front row on the far right. Her maiden name was Morrow and this is her sewing graduation class which was in Blantyre . It was taken in 1902 shortly before my great gran married William Cook of Ann Street Burnbank. My great gran lived with her family in Grimson’s land, Stonefield Blantyre. We think the lady in the back row farthest to the left is Miss Marion Russell.”

As always, I like to add something to photos which are sent in. Having that information to support the photo was incredibly helpful, for remarkably, we can tell the exact location with strong ties to teacher, Marion Russell. I believe the photo was taken at the back of the infant School playground. Using modern and old maps, if these women were transported in time to the modern day, they’d actually be inside the Asda Cafe, with Glasgow Road in the background!

The location was determined as I recognise McVaney’s Land in the background, a little pitched roof dressmakers shop on Glasgow Road which only lasted no more than 15 years between 1895-1905. The dressmakers shop was leased to none other than Marion Russell, the teacher pictured and she may have taught these young women from the school itself. The photographer has chosen the location well, capturing not only Marion, her graduated students but also her business too. Being dressmakers, what fine clothes the women have, photographed at the very end of the Victorian era just before Edwardian fashions changed and brightened up so radically.

This photo predates Blantyre trams operating, though the tram rails in Blantyre would have been under construction at the time. The choice of occupation for the working class girl at this time was fairly limited to either domestic service, shop work, agricultural work, weaving or dressmaking. Dressmaking was honest employment and appealed to many. It promised long hours and hard work in every field and usually escaped being outside in the elements.

There’s a possibility that with good frontage on Glasgow Road, Miss Russell’s dressmaker shop may have existed right up until 1905. Between 1905 and 1910, the byre at the back right was demolished and by 1915, the shop had been demolished too, the land vacant and a prime spot on a thriving, bustling busy Glasgow Road. The land would be sold on.

I own a wonderful painting of McVaneys in 1905 was drawn by modern local artist Harry Rankine, showing all the charm of that era, which I’ve marked up digitally to show McVaney’s Dressmaker shop.

Following WW1, the land would be purchased and would later become the site of the Central Garage as the dawn of the motor vehicle was ushered in. Later, in more modern times, it became the hard landscaping for the Clydeview Shopping Centre. It’s difficult to imagine how much this has all changed in 120 years. So, in the following illustration, I’ve roughly constructed how the wee dressmakers building would have looked in a relatively modern context to give you an idea of where it once was.

You can read more about McVaney’s Land, and indeed all old buildings on Glasgow Road in my heavily illustrated book, “Blantyre Glasgow Road South – The Real Story”

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  1. A lovely photo and very interesting to hear about the dressmaking class and teacher. I would like to know more about Marion Russell. My 2x great grandparents were William Russell and Elizabeth Steven from Blantyre and I’m wondering how Marion Russell may be related to them.

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