Famous ancestor: Eric Liddell aka “The flying Scotsman”

Born 1902 the son of Rev James Dunlop Liddell and Mary Redding, Eric Liddell is one of the athletes the film Chariots of Fire was about. Eric was born in China as his Scottish parents were missionaries, and he was sent to boarding school near London, though he spent time in Scotland when his parents were home on leave. He excelled at sport at school and when he was at Oxford became known as Scotland’s fastest runner. He then went to Edinburgh University to study science and as well as athletics played rugby, being a member of the Scotland team in Five Nations matches. He was chosen to compete as a runner in the 1924 Paris Olympics and broke the world record in the 400 metres.

He spent most of his time from 1925 in China, working as a missionary, and married his wife Florence there. She and their children went to Canada in 1941 due to the Japanese threat but Eric stayed in China. In 1943 he was interned in a Japanese run camp and died there, of a brain tumour, in 1945.

So how am I related to Eric Liddell?

Eric Liddell’s parents were Rev. James Dunlop Liddell and Mary Redding.

James Dunlop Liddell was a devout Congregationalist who started his working life as a clothier but then attended the Congregational College in Glasgow and was ordained. In 1898 he applied to the London Missionary Society and was given a missionary post in Mongolia. He was born in 1870, the son of Robert Liddell and Elizabeth Strachan.

Elizabeth Strachan had married Robert Liddell in 1859 in Greenock. They lived in Greenock, where Robert Liddell worked as a joiner, until Elizabeth’s death in 1874. Robert had been born in Stirlingshire and the death of his wife seems to have prompted him to move back home, as in 1881 he and his children are at Drymen, Stirlingshire, and Robert Liddell is a grocer. Elizabeth Strachan had been born in Kilmarnock in about 1838, the daughter of coal miner John Francis Strachan. In the 1851 census she is with her parents in Dalry, and is described as a knitter and scholar in the evening. By 1854 she had moved, with her parents and siblings, to Greenock.

John Francis Strachan married Jean Johnston Loudon in 1837 in Kilmarnock. They lived in Kilmarnock, Kilmaurs and Dalry, John working as a coal miner and then an ironstone miner, before moving to Greenock East some time before 1854. There John worked as a machinist. He was born in 1818 at Riccarton, the son of Thomas Strachan and Elizabeth Nisbet.

Thomas Strachan married Elizabeth Nisbet in 1816 in Riccarton. He was a coal miner and died in Riccarton in 1821, at the age of 25, leaving a wife and three children. He was born in 1795, son of my ggg grandfather John Strachan and his wife Agnes Neilson.

This makes Eric Liddell my 4th Cousin as his ggg grandparents, John Strachan and Agnes Neilson, were also my ggg grandparents. However, Eric was born almost 50 years before I was born. I remember going to see the film Chariots of Fire when it first came out in 1981, not realising then that it was about a relative.

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6 responses to “Famous ancestor: Eric Liddell aka “The flying Scotsman”

  1. That is so cool. I loved Chariots of Fire; Ian Charlson was just perfect as Eric Liddell.

  2. What an interesting connection! Chariots of Fire is my favourite movie of all time. It was released in 1981. I asked my wife on our first date ro see the movie in Toronto. I figured it was a safe bet because it had won the Best Picture award at the Cannes festival, it was a sports story and
    it was rated as “Family” by our censorship board! The film won the Best Picture award in 1982 at the Oacars and a couple pf months later my wife and I were married. I talked so much about the movie, she feared that I would insist that the wedding party run up the aisle to the Chariots theme song!

    I recall searching for Eric Liddell through Ancestry and finding a reference to him in an England census when he was in boarding school in London as a child. I enjoy finding out whatever I can about him? His story remains truly inspirational.

    • I’m very grateful that the most famous person I can put on my family tree is someone inspirational, with a great story. The film is wonderful, and that theme song is unforgettable.

  3. …I forgot to mention that on a trip to Scotland last September, we made sure to visit St. Andrews to see the beach where the opening scene for the movie was shot. If I was a little more ambitious, I would have gone for a run along the beautiful beach.

  4. Hello, Eric Liddell’s mother was Mary Jane Smith Reddin not Redding. Her parents were Janet Mabon and Henry Reddin. I am related to him too hrough his maternal line. My paternal grandmother was Jessie McDonald Mabon and was a cousin to Eric Liddell like you. My grandmother had letters from his parents to hers. Here is a website about Eric Liddell and a biography https://www.amazon.com/Scotlands-greatest-athlete-Liddell-story/dp/0900867043k about his life .http://www.ericliddell.org/about-us/eric-liddell/biography/

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