Henry and Helen were my grandparents, but sadly I never met them as they both died before I was born. Although none of their children are now living, lots of their grandchildren are so when detailing lives of their children and grandparents I will be aware of living people’s need for privacy. Fortunately, Henry and Helen lived much of their lives when there are plenty of records available to research, so a fairly thorough picture of the major events of their lives has been able to be drawn.
Henry Strachan 1873 – 1918
Henry Strachan was born in 1873 in Crookedholm, a small village next to Hurlford on the River Irvine, to the south-east of Kilmarnock, and was the eighth child and third son of Joseph Strachan and Jeanie Haddow. He was named for his uncle Henry Strachan, his father’s younger brother. His parents had settled in Crookedholm just a few years previously, having been married Kilwinning but having lived in Dreghorn and Riccarton, plus a brief spell in Hurlford. The frequent moves were due to following where there was coal mining work to be had.
In April 1881, when the census was taken, Henry was eight years old and at school, living with his parents in Crookedholm. His eldest sister was married and living in Hurlford, three sisters had died in infancy, but his elder brothers Robert and John, sister Flora and his younger brother Colin were all at home, as well as his six year old niece Jeanie Hood Strachan, daughter of his eldest sister Amelia. Jeanie was brought up by her grandparents Joseph and Jeanie.
Henry came from a long line of coal miners and started work down the mines while still in his early teens, working alongside his father, brothers and no doubt other male members of the extended family. A map of Crookedholm from 1856 shows only one small coal pit at Crookedhom, but this grew considerably once the Portland Iron Works opened between Crookedholm and Hurlford in the early 1870s.
In 1882 Henry’s brother Robert married but died in1890 having been in Ayr Asylum for three years. His brother John married in 1890 and took a house in Crookedholm. In the 1891 census, Henry is living with his parents at Lamont’s Land, Crookedholm, age 19 (though he was actually 18) and a coal miner. Also in the house were his sister Flora, brother Colin and eight year old niece Jeanie Strachan, the illegitimate daughter of his sister Flora.
In 1893 his sister Flora died. Around this time Henry must have met Helen McCrae, who lived in Kilmarnock, and in September 1895 she gave birth to their eldest child Joseph at her parents’ home at 7 High Church Lane, Kilmarnock. Why they didn’t marry before Joseph was born can only be speculation, but it it was most likely to be lack of housing and money, and could also have been because Henry’s father was ill and not working, for in December 1895 Joseph Strachan died from cardiac disease. But marry Henry and Helen did, on 27 March 1896 at the Commercial Inn, Hurlford – by that time Helen was living at Readeney Street, Hurlford.
Henry and Helen’s second child, daughter Mary Ann McInarney (McInerney?) Strachan, was born in September 1896 at Crookedholm – interestingly, Helen, later known as Nellie, has signed her name Ellen Strachan when registering Mary Ann’s birth. A son John McCrae Strachan was born in June 1898 at Crookedholm: his birth was registered by his father.
In the 1901 census Henry and Helen, with their children Joseph, Mary Ann, John and Jeanie, are living at Old Factory House, Crookedholm, which was next to Mill Lane.
Henry next appears in the 1905 valuation roll as the sub-tenant of a house at Cowan’s Row, Crookedholm. The owner was Andrew C Holburn, a teacher, and the tenant was Portland Colliery Co. Henry’s next door neighbour was his uncle Henry Strachan, who was a pitheadman. Cowan’s Row still exists, although the old houses have been demolished and replaced (See my page on Cowans Row and Wellington Pit, where Henry would have worked, at http://wp.me/P34D39-eV)
More children followed for Henry and Helen. Jeanie Haddow Strachan was born in January 1900, Henry Strachan in September 1901, Matthew McCrae Strachan in April 1904, and Helen McCrae in April 1906: all were born at Crookedholm.
At sometime between 1906 and 1908 the family moved from Ayrshire to Lanarkshire. The move was most probably prompted by work as the closure of coal mines and the Portland Iron Works at Hurlford must have made it harder to find regular work in the Crookedholm area. Several members of the extended family had already moved to Lanarkshire, which could be why that location was chosen. Both Henry and his brother John went at about the same time, and both first lived in Tollcross.
Henry and Helen’s eighth child, Colin McCrae Strachan, was born at Graham Street, Tollcross in June 1908. But the family moved to Cambuslang not long that after, as their ninth child, William McCrae Strachan, was born there at 14 Mansion Street, Cambuslang in January 1911.
The 1911 census taken in April finds the family there: 14 Mansion Street is an apartment of 2 rooms with windows. There were thirteen people living in that small space, Henry, Helen, their nine children, and two lodgers, both coal miners. Mansion Street still exists, although the building the Strachan family lived in has since been demolished. The nearest coal mine is probably Gateside Colliery – and there’s a photo online of brushers who worked at Gateside Colliery at the time.
Henry isn’t in this photo of Gateside Colliery workers but it gives a good idea of what coal miners looked like when at work – rather different to the “scrubbed up” version of Henry in the photo at the start of this page.
The Strachan family moved shortly afterwards to 54 Gilbertfield Buildings, Halfway, Cambuslang. By then Henry must have been working at the Gilbertfield Colliery, owned by United Colliers Ltd, which in 1910 employed 315 underground and 82 above ground. A report says that employees lived in mine owner’s housing at Gilbertfield and in rented housing in Cambuslang. The report (online at http://www.scottishmining.co.uk/235.html) states they were two story buildings, with one ‘house’ downstairs and another upstairs, and were built in around 1884. They had wooden floors and weren’t overcrowded. There was no garden but communal washhouses and coal cellars were outside, along with 10 communal toilets in closes. Each apartment had a sink and a water supply, the toilets were connected to the main sewer, and they were scavenged (i.e. had rubbish and ash removed) daily. The report contains a floor plan for similar housing at Bardyke.
This is a map of Halfway in 1908. By comparing it to a map of 1886, made just after Gilbertfield Buildings had been constructed, it can be worked out that Gilbertfield Buildings are the double rows of “blocks” on Mill Road close to Ebenezer Hall. Gilbertfield Colliery is just to the right.
Halfway, according to Wikipedia, acquired its name because it was the halfway stopping place for coaches going from Glasgow to Hamilton, and was also known as Gilbertfield – a stately home known as Gilbertfield Castle is situated there. To find today’s Halfway on Google Maps, search for Overton Road, Cambuslang.
Sadly, it’s at 54 Gilbertfield Buildings that Henry and Helen’s youngest child William died, of measles, in June 1912. That must have been what prompted Henry to buy the Title Deeds to a lair at Westburn Cemetery on 4 July 1912 – the deeds ended up in my father’s possession and I now have them, but the parchment document is very fragile. I have not visited the cemetery but intend to, as that is also where both Henry and Helen were eventually to be buried.
Henry and Helen’s daughter Amelia (Milly) Strachan was born in 1913 and her birth was registered at Cambuslang – the image is not yet available online due to the 100 year privacy rule so I don’t know her exact date of birth. The 1915 Valuation Roll has Henry Strachan as a tenant at 54 Gilbertfield Buildings at Overton Street, owned by United Colliers who charged a yearly rent of £9 12s. In November 1916 Henry and Helen’s youngest child, my father Robert Strachan, was born at 3 Overton Street, which was most probably Gilbertfield Buildings, as a later map of Halfway shows that a road built along the back row Gilbertfield Buildings was called Overton Street.
Henry Strachan died at the age of 45 on 27 November 1918, three days before my father’s second birthday. The address on the death certificate is 3 Overton Street with cause of death pneumonia arteriosclerosis. His eldest son Joseph registered the death. His early death must have been a huge blow to the family, as the youngest four children had not reached working age and my father was not quite 2 years old.
Helen McCrae 1875 – 1944
Helen McCrae – also known as Ellen and Nellie – was born on 10 August 1875 at 4 Dean Lane, Kilmarnock, sixth child of John McCrae, a coal miner, and Mary Ann McInairney. Dean Street still exists and is near Dean Park, but the buildings that would have been there in 1875 have been demolished and replaced. It’s near the river, in what was known as the Townhead part of Kilmarnock. John McCrae was possibly working at Bonnyton Colliery.
In the 1881 census, Ellen McCrae age 5 and at school is with her her parents at 40 Mill Lane, Kilmarnock, her father a coal miner and her mother a hand sewer. Her eldest sister Agnes is with a baker’s family in Kilmarnock working as a domestic servant, sister Sarah is a bonnet maker and sister Susan “working at tobacco”. Two brothers are at school and the youngest, William, is just two years old. Mill Lane has gone now, but it was in the centre of Kilmarnock near the river, running off King Street.
By 1891 Ellen McCrae age 16 is working at a mill. The family are at 7 High Church Lane, Kilmarnock and father John is still a coal miner. Her married sister Agnes, who was ill, is with the family along with her daughter Mary. Brother Matthew is a coal miner as is younger brother Willliam. James is at school and there is boarder, an 18 year old coal miner.
In 1895 Helen was a witness to her brother’s wedding at Anne McCubbin and has signed herself as Nellie McCrae. Later that year she gave birth to her eldest son Joseph, and married Henry Strachan in March 1896.
When Henry Strachan died in 1918, Helen was left with ten children, the youngest four of whom had not reached working age. Son Joseph was to marry in December 1918, daughter Mary in 1919 and son John in 1921.
Then began fifteen years of sailing back and forth to Canada, which has been rather confusing to piece together from passenger lists available online, but eventually I discovered my grandmother Helen made five journeys to Toronto and back to Cambuslang from 1923 to May 1938.
Journey 1: to Toronto in 1923 and back to Cambuslang in 1924
In 1921 the first of Helen’s children migrated when Jeanie Strachan age 21 sailed from Glasgow to Quebec, destined for Toronto. Widow Helen Strachan and my father Robert, age 6, went to join Jeanie, arriving in Canada in September 1923, destined to the Salvation Army, Toronto. (I know there was a Salvation Army connection, as it’s through them that my father learned to play the trombone and trumpet.) Helen gave her address in Scotland as 3 Overton Street, Halfway, and her nearest relative as her sister Mrs Downey of 12 New Street, Kilmarnock – this was her elder sister Sarah McCrae who had married Samuel Downie. Helen (listed as Ellen) and my father returned to Scotland in May 1924, going to 27 Bank Street, Cambuslang.
Journey 2: to Toronto in 1928 and back to Cambuslang in 1929
Helen’s son Joseph Strachan migrated to Toronto in 1925, to be joined by his wife and children in June 1926. Also in June 1926, John Aitken, husband of Helen’s daughter Helen, sailed to Canada, destination 2003 New Gerard Street, Toronto and his passenger list entry states his wife and one child were to follow. Helen Aitken nee Strachan and her son arrived in Canada in October 1926. The Aitkens, however, returned to Scotland. In December 1928 Helen Strachan sailed once again for Canada, this time taking with her daughter Amelia, age 16 and a weaver, and son Robert age 12, a schoolboy. They were going to Helen’s daughter, now Mrs Jean Harper of 1573a Dundas Street, West Toronto and Helen gave her nearest relative as her married daughter Mrs Mary McBride of 27 Bank Street, Cambuslang. Helen and son Robert returned to Scotland in March 1929. Amelia stayed in Canada and got married but returned to Scotland, returning to Canada with her baby son in 1930.
Journey 3: to Toronto in 1930 and back to Cambuslang in 1931
Helen and her son Robert then went back to Canada in April 1930 giving an address at Mansion Street, Cambuslang. Sailing with them was her daughter Helen Aitken and her two small children, husband John Aitken having already returned to Canada. The Aitkens would, however, return to Scotland permanently. Helen Strachan and son Robert returned to Scotland in October 1931, going to 46 Park Street, Cambuslang.
Journey 4: to Toronto and back to Cambuslang in 1932
This stay in Canada was short – from Mary to December 1932 – and Helen Strachan travelled on her own.
Journey 5: to Toronto and back to Cambuslang in 1938
Helen again made a short stay in Canada, from May to October 1938.
That was her last trip to see her children in Canada: perhaps she’d have gone there again if war hadn’t broken out in September 1939. In the late 1930s and early 1940s Helen helped look after her son Henry’s children in Cambuslang, and her son Robert (my father) lived with her until he married his first wife in August 1939 and was soon after called up into the army.
This photo is of Helen with her sons Harry and John, and John’s wife Sophia. Not sure when it was taken but it looks as if it might have been taken at the same, or about the same, time as the photo taken with Robert at the beginning of WW1.
Helen Strachan nee McCrae died on 26 June 1944 at the Royal Cancer Hospital, Glasgow. She was not a patient but was there visiting someone when she had a cerebral haemorrhage. Her son John Strachan, who lived in Cambuslang, registered her death.
Children of Henry Strachan and Helen McCrae
Henry and Helen had a large family of 11 children: my father and my aunts and uncles. As the children of their children are still very much with us, if any of you reading this would like to add more details, please let me know. If you ask me to email you we can converse in private if you prefer.
Joseph Strachan born 1895 at Kilmarnock
With his parents at Crookedholm in 1901, he moved to Lanarkshire in around 1910 with his family and is with them at Mansion Street, Cambuslang in 1911, age 15 and a coal miner. He was the informant for his father’s death in November 1918. In December 1918 he married coal miner’s daughter Agnes Morton White (known as Aggie) at Dailly, Ayrshire, where Aggie came from. His occupation on his marriage certificate is a stoker on HMS Arran, usual residence Halfway, Cambuslang. Joseph went to Canada in 1925 to join his father-in-law William White who was already in Toronto, and Joseph’s wife and two young daughters joined him there in 1926. They had a son born in Toronto in 1928. Joseph joined the Baptist Church, a calling he passed on to his son and grandson. In 1954 Uncle Joe and Aunt Aggie (as I knew them) returned to the UK for a holiday, and visited my family in Leeds. I was only 3 years old at the time so my memory of it is very vague. Somewhere there is, I think, a photo taken at the time which I’ll have to try and track down. Joe and Agge Strachan both died within two weeks of each other in 1991 at the grand ages of 96 and 92.
Mary Ann McInairney Strachan born 1896 at Crookedholm
With her parents in Crookedholm in 1901, then moved to Lanarkshire with the family and is with them at Mansion Street, Cambuslang in 1911, age 14 and a domestic servant. She married James Tennant McBride in September 1919 at the Co-operative Hall, Halfway, and on her marriage certificate gives her occupation as assistant at a butcher’s. She had three children and remained in the Cambuslang area. Mary died in 1980 at 83 years of age, and I remember visiting her when I was a child.
John McCrae Strachan born 1989 at Crookedholm
With his parents in Crookedholm in 1901, then moved to Lanarkshure with the family and is with them at Mansion Street, Cambuslang in 1911, age 12 and at school. He married Sophia Jarvey Sweeney in August 1921 at the Trinity United Free Church, Cambulang, and on his marriage certificate gives his occupation as coal miner. They did not have any children as far as I’m aware. John died in 1973 age 74. Again, I can remember visiting Jock and Sophia (pronounced So-fy-er) when I was a child.
Jeanie Haddow Strachan born 1900 at Crookedholm
With her parents in Crookedholm in 1901, then moved to Lanarkshire with the family and is with them at Mansion Street, Cambuslang in 1911, age 11 and at school. She was the first of the family to migrate to Canada, going there in 1921: her arrival form says she was intending to go into domestic service and was destined to a Major (indecipherable name) who was most likely with the Salvation Army. In 1927 she married William Harper in Toronto. She must have returned to Scotland for a short trip though, as in May 1928 she’s on a passenger list returning to Canada with her nephew, the son of her married sister Helen. Jean had two sons, Colin (follower of this blog) and his brother, and had six grandchildren. Like several of her siblings she lived to a great age: she died in 1995 age 95. Jeanie kept up a correspondence with my parents and, after my father died, with my mother. We never met but my father always spoke very fondly of her.
Henry Strachan born 1901 at Crookedholm
Well, every family has one! Harry, as he was known, was called “the black sheep of the family” by my father. He was born not long before the family moved to Lanarkshire, and is at Mansion Street, Cambuslang in 1911 age 8 and at school. Thanks to his grandson Rob and some online research, I now know a fair bit about him, and why my father called him the black sheep. As a young man Harry moved back to Kilmarnock, taking over some kind of coal business belonging to a McCrae uncle, and in December 1921, when he was 20, he married Mary McGinty in Kilmarnock. They had a daughter born one month later but the baby died at a few weeks old. The next few years is a bit of a mystery: in 1932 Harry is recorded as saying he had not been in contact with his wife for at least 7 years, but Mary seems to have had more children in the 1920s. So were they Harry’s children or not? Harry went to Canada, however, in 1929, and on the passenger list said he was single. He met Mary Campbell there, and she gave birth to their son in Toronto in January 1931. Henry, Mary and their son came back to Scotland in October 1931 going to Newcastle, where Mary Campbell was from. They married in February 1932 at Blytheswood, East Kilbride and a daughter was born in May 1932 at Cambuslang. The marriage had, however, been bigamous and Henry was taken to court in October 1932, found guilty and sent to Barlinnie prison. A report from the Glasgow Herald says: Bigamy by a Miner: sentence of imprisonment was passed at Glasgow Sheriff upon Henry Strachan (30), a miner, who pleaded guilty to a charge of bigamy. Mr G Anderson, Deputy Procurator-Fiscal, said that the accused was lawfully married in 1921. Last year he went through a form of marriage with a woman whom he met in Canada. An agent said that some months after his legal marriage in Kilmarnock Strachan left his wife, following a quarrel. He tried to get in touch with her afterwards, but he found she had left Kilmarnock. He then took the step of applying to a political party the ILP for advice, and it seemed that the official of the ILP advised him that as he had not heard from his wife for seven years he was free to marry again. In these circumstances, the agent added, he appealed to the court for leniency.” If that is true, then it seems his first marriage only lasted a few months. It’s not known how long he spent in prison but it probably wasn’t very long. Harry and Mary had three more children, making five born by 1935. Harry was also very much caught up in the “Red Clyde” movement, joining the Communist Party and then, according to a family story that several of us have heard from different people, he volunteered with the International Brigade and went to Spain to fight with the Popular Front during the Spanish Civil War. This would have been sometime during 1936-1939. It seems his relationship with Mary Campbell broke down at this time, and his mother helped to look after his children. Mary was in London during the war, where she married, and then returned to Tyneside and lived with one of her daughters. Henry Strachan aka Harry died in 1961 at Rutherglen at the age of 59 of coronary thrombosis: he was living alone and his sister Helen Aitken registered his death.
Matthew McCrae Strachan born 1904 at Crookedholm
With the family in Cambuslang in 1911. He married Elizabeth Brown Russell in 1934 at Cambuslang and lived in the East Kilbride area. They had three children, I believe. I can remember visiting Uncle Matt as a child, and that my father talked of him as keen gardener who bred a dahlia named Helen McCrae.
Helen McCrae Strachan born 1906 at Crookedholm
With the family in Cambuslang in 1911. She married John Bain Aitken in Cambuslang in 1923 and they had a son and a daughter. During the 1920s they went to Canada twice, but returned and settled in Cambuslang. They ran the Cafe de Luxe on Main Street, Cambuslang, which I remember visiting, and lived in a large Victorian house called The Borgie on Greenlees Road. When I was very little we stayed at their caravan near Monnkton on the Ayrshire coast, and later stayed with them when we went to Cambuslang. Helen, or Aunt Nell as I knew her, was widowed in 1961 and her daughter was also widowed when relatively young. They lived together thereafter in Cambuslang, with a holiday home in Majorca, and eventually moved permanently to Majorca. Nell was another long living Strachan as she died in 1999 age 93, at a nursing home in Kent. She was always the “hinge” around which the extended family pivoted – she was excellent at keeping in touch by letter and sending cards, and loved visiting family wherever they were.
Colin McCrae Strachan born 1908 at Tollcross
Colin was born not long after the family moved to Lanarkshire, and is with them in 1911 at Cambuslang. He migrated to Australia in 1926 when he was 18 and working as a miner: there is a group of young men from Cambuslang on the same ship so they perhaps migrated together under some sort of scheme. He appears on the electoral roll from 1931 at Bendigo, Victoria, where he spent the rest of his life and worked at the railway yard. During WW2 he enlisted with the Australian army and saw service overseas. He married Ida Kim Too from Bendigo, but they had no childen. They lived on a smallholding just outside Bendigo, and Colin kept horses and bred canaries. He died in May 1971 of cancer.
William McCrae Strachan born 1911 at Cambuslang
William was born in Halfway, Cambuslang and died there in 1912, at only one year old, of measles and bronchio-pneumonia.
Amelia Strachan born 1913 at Cambuslang
Amelia, or Milly as she was known, went to Canada in 1928, at age 16, with her mother and younger brother. She married Donald Bremner in Toronto in 1930 and they had three children. She visited Scotland in 1931 as she is on a passenger list going to Glasgow in September 1931, with her six month old son, and again on a return passenger list in December 1931. She was the nearest to my father in age and the one he was closest to when growing up.
Robert Strachan born 1916 at Cambuslang
My father, about whom I’ve already posted at http://wp.me/p34D39-90