Exactly six years ago this month, my nascent blog was featured by The Gentle Author in the London blog, Spitalfields Life. As an alumnus from the Gentle Author’s writing course, I had been invited to send in a post from my blog to be considered for publication, and through this fortuitous event (see here) I gained my first core readership, as well as the confidence to promote my blog to friends and family. Since then, I have featured again in Spitalfields Life (see here), and also returned to the old weaver’s house in Fournier Street for an advanced writing workshop with The Gentle Author just before the pandemic hit the country (see Strange Times Indeed).
Now I find myself in the position of having to promote my new blog A Scottish Family Album. So if you have enjoyed A London Family (which will continue to remain online and accessible to readers and researchers), it would be an honour and a pleasure if you joined me in my new Scottish genealogical quest which is based on the old family albums that my mother inherited from her parents and maternal grandmother. Starting this fresh project has taken me back to the early days of my London-based research and the excitement that each new family find generated. This time I have the added bonus of my secret weapon: my Scottish mother, who herself undertook genealogical research into her family after I came back home full of tales about life in Thatcher’s London as an heir hunter.
This month’s blog post in A Scottish Family Album is entitled Foxed Mirrors and Fairy Tales – and is focused on my own impressions of my Scottish grandparents and their home in Edinburgh. Having featured in last month’s A London Family, it is a link between my two strands of genealogical research.
My Scottish grandparents were ten years younger than my English ones (my father was ten years older than my mother) and thus my Scottish grandfather just missed serving in WW1, unlike Grandad Skelton (see Portrait of my Grandfather as a Soldier). Yet both my grandmothers worked as young women – Grandma Skelton as a telephonist at the Central Post Office in London (see Portrait of my Grandmother as a Young Woman) and my Scottish grandmother undertook an apprenticeship in an Edinburgh department store as a dressmaker, a skill she passed on to my mother.
I always remember her making her own clothes, just as my own mother did, and in fact in the 1963 wedding photograph of my parents below, she is wearing her own ‘mother- of-the-bride’ outfit (second from left). In contrast to my rather stout and ungainly English grandmother, Grandma McKay was always neat and elegant and whippet-thin. It is hard for me to believe that on this day she is exactly the same age as I am now, although her grey permed hair seems to set her apart from today’s fifty-somethings (the outfit would still be a killer one!)
Poor grandma Skelton almost looks like the second-rate version in her similar get-up, and yet I loved them both dearly; and whereas my Scottish grandmother could be nippy and spiky at times, Grandma Skelton was more of an archetypal mothering grandmother (see Portrait of my Grandmother in Later Life). However, I had the chance to get to know my Scottish grandmother for a lot longer as she did not die until I was thirty-four. Up until that point, we had many a fascinating conversation, and a visit to Grandma’s was never just a chore for me. She was sharp as a tack and curious about the world, and I often thought that it was as if each grandparent had ended up with the other’s partner (in looks and temperament).
Both my grandmothers had to give up work once they married, although my Scottish grandmother did not have her first and only child (my mother) for another seven years. Interestingly, this seven-year wait for a family also happened to my English grandmother’s mother, who then had three children when she was relatively mature. For that reason, my father barely knew his maternal grandmother, but had a vague memory of an old lady dressed in black who sat in a chair in a corner of the living room.
In my mother’s case, she was thirty before she lost her grandmother (who was born in 1874) and during the years when my great-grandmother lived with their family after the untimely and accidental death of her husband, my mother had ample opportunity to hear all her grandmother’s tales of growing up in the 19th century. It seems unfathomable to me now that I have my own memories of a woman who had come of age during the high Victorian time, and through the longevity in the Scottish family (at least on my grandmother’s side) I have been lucky to be the recipient of tales passed down from the generations. This is not least because of all those family photographs (see Messy Boxes) which were always the catalyst for stories and reminiscences round the fireside.
As T. S. Eliot says in East Coker (where we started out in 2015): There is a time for the evening under starlight, A time for the evening under lamplight (The evening with the photograph album).
Looking forward to you joining me on my new genealogical venture!
The Incidental Genealogist, October 2021