The “beautiful jail” at Hurlford

Going through snippets of information I’ve gathered over the years by rummaging around on the internet, I came across a description of Hurlford, Ayrshire published in 1875. My coal mining Strachan ancestors were living in Hurlford by 1870 so the extract gave me a feel for what the place was like.

Re-reading it, however, I was struck by the writer saying Hurlford was “possessed of two handsome churches, a commodious academy, and a beautiful jail, which I trust the inhabitants patronize as little as possible”. No doubt the jail was less beautiful on the inside than on the outside. However, I do know that at least one person on my family tree experienced at least one night in the cells at Hurlford Jail.

A Strachan-related young woman married in the late 1800s. On looking for her in the census I found her in Hurlford, with a baby but no husband. Searching for the husband I quickly found him – he was spending the night in Hurlford jail. They went on to have more children and seem to have lived a normal life, so I don’t think the husband did anything horrendous – possibly a bit of drunk and disorderly behaviour. But it’s enjoyable imaging the reception when he got back to his young wife: “Of all the nights to get yourself locked up, you have to go and pick census night. There it will be forever, in black and white, for the whole world to see. Whatever will our genealogist descendants think!”

That is not, of course, what she’d have said, but it’s fun letting your imagination run riot at times, and genealogy provides lots of opportunities for doing so.

(The rest of the description of Hurlford in 1875 is reproduced under the articles tab)

4 responses to “The “beautiful jail” at Hurlford

  1. Judy I love this! I found myself imaging my mum or gran in that young woman’s shoes! I also have an ancestor who wasn’t at home on the 1881 census night, but I think I’ve found him at his parent’s house. His normal address was in Fife, but his parents were in Arbroath, so I guess it wasn’t just a social call. We’ve just had our census and I cheerfully told the man who came round with the forms that my partner would be overseas and we wouldn’t need a form for him. Turns out I had the wrong week and my beloved was quite indignant about it. Luckily he could do the form online. It hadn’t occurred to me that his “absence” would be a puzzle for future genealogists!

  2. Great story. I have an ancestor from Hurlford – George Chapman, born 1858 – I have not looked into him yet but now I’m worried!!!

  3. Ha, yes, of all the nights but how lucky and fascinating for you!

  4. Thanks for the comments, everyone. I find that it’s little snippets like this that bring a tree alive for me, and turn data into human beings.

    Was your George Chapman a coal miner, Lynnie? Most people who lived in Hurlford were. I have a great great aunt Margaret Strachan who married Andrew Chapman in 1857 in Ayrshire, and they seem to have migrated to New Zealand not long after.

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