Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Old Red Lion by the Fleet Ditch

The front of the Red Lion and two pictures of the Fleet at the back of the Tavern

Flowing beneath the streets of London between Hampstead Heath and Blackfriars Bridge is the hidden river Fleet.  Its upper reaches once gave the name to Holborn or Hol (hollow) bourne but by the 18th century it was better described as the Fleet Ditch, a sluggish, dirty stream.   Next to this unhealthy spot stood the Red Lion Tavern or Lodging House, a den of iniquity.

Possibly dating from the mid-16th century, this rambling building stood in Chick Lane (also called West Street) near Saffron Hill in West Smithfield, an overcrowded area known for criminals and prostitutes. 
The Tavern provided accommodation for coin counterfeiters and contained a private still.  It was full of sliding doors and secret cupboards.

In the garret there was access to the rooftop for a quick escape and a handy plank could be used from a window as a bridge to cross the Fleet to the house opposite.  The authorities often pursued thieves into the building but rarely captured them.

Walter Thornbury in his second volume of, “ Old and New London,” tells of a chimney sweep called Jones who having escaped Newgate prison, hid in the Red Lion for 6 weeks although the building was searched several times by the police.  Eventually they imprisoned another tenant until he revealed the hiding place.  Jones was concealed behind a brick wall in the cellar 9 foot by 4 foot with a small hole near the ceiling through which food had been delivered.

There is a tale of a sailor who was robbed at the Red Lion, stripped naked and thrown into the Fleet but a woman and 2 men were arrested for the crime and later transported.  One criminal discovered in a bedroom, crawled under the bed and disappeared.  He was found to have used a trap door but he broke his leg and was arrested.

Jerry Abershawe, a highwayman on the Portsmouth Road, and the notorious criminal, Jack Sheppard, were said to frequent the Red Lion but its alternative name was Jonathan Wild’s house.  Jonathan Wild came from Wolverhampton but he was drawn to the crowded metropolis to seek his fortune.  Unfortunately he was soon put into a debtor’s prison where he met a prostitute who introduced him to the criminal fraternity.  He came up with a seemingly faultless plan.  He and his soon assembled gang stole items then later produced them for the original owners for a reward saying that they had discovered the thieves.  When the newspapers reported his heroic efforts he became popular.  He called himself Thieftaker General, although he even stooped to blackmail when wealthy gentlemen were robbed in inappropriate surroundings.

But he went too far when he betrayed fellow thief Jack Sheppard.  He became identified with the unpopular authorities and found himself in court accused of two robberies.  Although acquitted of one, he was condemned to death for the other.  Fearing an unpleasant death, he took laudanum so was scarcely conscious when taken to the noose.  Ironically the hangman had been a guest at Jonathan’s marriage to Elizabeth Mann.  Although buried in St Pancras Old Churchyard he was exhumed three days later for dissection by the Royal College of Surgeons.

In 1844 the Red Lion was demolished.  As well as the many secret hiding places, a skull and several bones were found in the cellar.

Friday, 21 November 2014

British Home Children

In April I wrote about the first children sent to Canada by the Board of Guardians of Guildford Union Workhouse

Since then I have been researching another small group of emigrants sent from Guildford to Canada.

On June 18th 1887 a group of 115 children arrived in Quebec aboard the SS Lake Ontario bound for the Guthrie Receiving Home in London, Ontario.  They had been sent from the Children’s Emigration Home in Birmingham by John T Middlemore, boarding the ship in Liverpool, but the children had originally lived in several different parts of England.

Seven of the girls came from Guildford Union Workhouse sponsored by Miss Ada Spottiswoode, the only woman on the Guildford Board of Guardians.  The youngest child was 5 year old Ada Walker, whose brother and sister had been sent to Canada two years previously despite the fact that their Uncle Frederick Walker and Aunt Jane Mercer had shown willingness to look after them.  The other girls were two groups of sisters, Margaret Cheeter aged 12, Edith Cheeter aged 11, Louisa Cheeter aged 7 and Eliza Hebburn aged 11, Ellen Hebburn aged 12 and Rose Hebburn aged 18.

The Hebburn family had their name spelt Hebborn or Hebbourne on different documents.  In 1871 William Hebburn, Labourer, was living with his wife Emma (Becks) and his daughter Rose Alma in Woodbridge Hill, Stoke, Guildford but by 1881 Rose, her 8 year old brother George and her younger sisters Ellen and Eliza were inmates at Guildford Union Workhouse after the death of their mother in Bellefields in 1877.  George remained in England and can be found as a farm labourer in Littlefield Common, Worplesdon in 1891.

It was difficult to find the Cheeter girls in England until I realised their surname was Chewter.  Margaret Ellen, Edith Mary and Louisa were born in Pirbright, Surrey the daughters of James Chewter and his wife Sarah.  James was a farm labourer but he and his wife appear to be missing from the records after 1880.
St Mary the Virgin, Worplesdon
In fact all three families were originally from the neighbouring villages of Worplesdon and Pirbright just to the north of Guildford and as agricultural labouring opportunities declined they moved closer into Guildford so that the fathers could find casual labouring jobs.  They managed to eke out a living until one parent died and then it was impossible to provide for the family and look after the children.

Thanks to Jim Littlewood, a descendent, we know that Rose was contracted to a Mr A N C Black of PO Dutton, Elgin County. The contract is signed on behalf of Middlemore by H. Gibbons.  As she was 18, Rose was only committed to working under this contract for 3 years so it is perhaps not surprising that in 1890 she married James Collins in Tonawanda, New York.  By 1892 the New York census shows the couple with 1 year old daughter, Frances, living in Wheatfield, Niagara County NY.

By 1905 Rose’s life had changed dramatically.  She had 5 children, James, Rose, Frances, Lilly and Veronica but they are listed in the New York census of Inmates in Alms-houses and Poorhouses. The reason given was "father’s desertion".  They were transferred the same day as they arrived to "homes for the friendless".

Thankfully life improved for the family.  James Collins must have died, as in the 1910 census Rose is listed married to a Mr. John A. Clarkson.  Living with them are the 5 Collins children and 3 year old Edna Clarkson, daughter of Rose and her new husband.  Rose Hebburn Collins Clarkson died on 14th October 1944 at Buffalo, Erie NY.

Meanwhile, 12 year old Ellen Hebburn had been assigned to John H Elliott of Wilton Grove at Concession 6 of Westminster on 28th June 1887 and later moved to E Adams of Chatham Kent Co. on 22nd August 1888.  In an incident report dated February 3rd 1892 it is stated, “Ellen writes to say she has left Mrs Ritchie because the wages were not high enough.  She is now earning $5.00 per month. She did not receive the letter and papers at Christmas so Mrs Ritchie kept them.  She is anxious to have her sister’s address."

The last mention of Ellen is from another Visitor’s Report on September 5th 1893:- "Ellen went to a Mrs Osborn from Mrs Brill then to Mrs Griffiths and finally left for her sister in Buffalo. She suffered a good deal from sore feet and was not able to do much for some time before she left."

It was arranged for 10 year old Eliza Hebburn to go to a merchant, Mr S E Hooper of Clandeboye, on 23th June 1887, on 7th May 1888 to George Dodge of Aardoc Strathroy, then to Robert McGregor of Huntley, Lanark County (Almonte) on 5th December 1888 and finally to Harry H Cowan of Wellington Street, Richmond Road, Ottawa on 7th June 1889.

After five different employers in two years it is perhaps not surprising that tragically Eliza shows up on the 1891 Canada census in St. George’s Ward of Toronto.  She is listed as an inmate at Mercer Reformatory and Industrial Refuge at the tender age of 14 years.

These were just a few girls from over a hundred thousand children sent to Canada as indentured workers from all over Great Britain between the 1860s and the 1940s.

With thanks to Jim Littlewood for sharing his family research
And to Judy Neville of Ontario for her expertise and research advice
Other sources
Census & birth records from


Thanks to Marion Crawford of the Middlemore Atlantic society in Canada I now have more information about the other girls.

In 1887 when she arrived in Canada five year old Ada Walker was placed with a family in Parry Sound.  She was described as, “a bright little girl, doing well.”

The Chewter/ Cheeter girls were now given the surname Chuter.  Edith was placed in three different locations, the final one being at Belmont, Ontario, Louisa, age 7, was placed with Francis Davis at Adelaide Street, London, Ontario and Margaret, age 12 went to David Phillips of Durham, Oxford Co. Ontario.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The tragic story of Mrs Lindsay and her daughters

I have been trying to discover more about life for a 19th century soldier’s wife and children to fill out the account of my great-grandfather in Gibraltar, Nova Scotia and Barbados, so I recently read, “On the Strength” by Veronica Bamfield, who was a soldier’s daughter and a soldier’s wife.  Both Veronica’s life and her book, which describes military families from the 17th century to the 1940s, are fascinating but what most caught my attention were the testimonies about the Lindsay family in Cawnpore in 1857.
Northern India
Recently on “Who do you think you are,” Billy Connolly discovered that his ancestor John O’Brien served with the First Madras Fusiliers when they discovered the massacre of women and children in Cawnpore.  These included Mrs Catherine Jemima Lindsay and her 3 daughters, Caroline, Alice and Frances.  Mrs Lindsay, whose family called her Kate, was the widow of George Lindsay who had been a senior civil servant in Benaresand was appointed a Judge in Delhi before he retired to Rochester in Kent.  Kate Lindsay had thoroughly enjoyed her life in India and found Kent rather humdrum so after the death of her husband she was keen to return to India where she planned to stay with her brother-in-law Major William Lindsay who was married to Kate’s sister Lilly.  Despite objections raised by her family, Mrs Lindsay took her youngest child, Fanny, out of school and travelled out to India in 1856 with her protesting daughters.  She also hoped to be reunited with her son, George Lindsay, who was an Ensign in Cawnpore.

Most of what we now know of the family comes from the long letters which Caroline wrote to her relatives at home.  In November 1856 she wrote of meeting her Lindsay cousins in Barrackpore, Calcutta.  She mentioned the, “very nice house,” and a ball given for them by the officers, “the room hung with flowers and the colours of the regiment; two bands and supper laid out in a tent.”  They didn't retire until 2.30 am but were up at 9 to catch the train to Ramnagar, 130 miles away.

On the following day they set out at 5 pm by carriages to a river.  As there were no boats the carriages were pulled across by coolies which took 2 hours in the moonlight.  They were relieved to reach a Dak bungalow at 9 pm to spend the night.  Dak bungalows were provided every 15 miles along the main roads.  But their problems were not over.  The new horses provided had not been in harness before so they reared and bolted.  The weary girls and their mother climbed back into the carriages and set off again.   By now they had been joined by brother George but once again a horse bolted and one of the gharris (carriages) was upset.  The family crossed three more rivers, this time dragged through low water and sand by 8 bullocks.  Finally they arrived at Cawnpore, an important garrison town for the East India Company lying both on the Grand Trunk Road and the River Ganges.

On November 11th they gratefully arrived in Benares where they rested for four days.  Colonel Cotton, an old friend of Mrs Lindsay, arranged, “a very nice dance,” for the girls but George, “would not go.”  They travelled on to Mirzapur, where they stayed for three days, going to dinner parties, dances and the races.  Alice was looking forward to reaching Cawnpore. “I shall be very glad to be settled for some time, for moving about and stopping first at one place and then another is not pleasant.”
The Lindsay sisters  a) Caroline  b) Fanny  c) Alice

The winter in Cawnpore passed with parties, dancing and concerts.  It is easy to see why Kate Lindsay found it more stimulating than Rochester and there were plenty of young officers as beaux for Caroline, Alice and Fanny.  But as it grew warmer rumours reached them of unrest among the native sepoys and of mutiny and murder in Meerut.  Although Mrs Lindsay wanted to send her daughters to a safer place, she wished to stay with her son George.  Colonel William Lindsay insisted that she & his wife Lilly should also depart, at least for Calcutta, but in fact they all stayed in Cawnpore.

In a letter of May 19th to her sister Mary Jane Droge, wife of the vicar of St Mary’s Rocheter, Kate wrote over nine pages of horrifying events in the vicinity, including her friend, Mrs Chalmers, murdered “by a butcher.  If our three native corps were to rise, which I pray to God to avert, we must all I am afraid perish.”  She was relieved to hear that Queen’s Troops were marching on Cawnpore which, “gave us a more cheering feeling and we all went to church at half past 6 in the evening and I think we all felt our minds sustained and comforted and trusted that God would not quite forsake us.”

On May 31st all the women and children moved to the barracks at 2.30 am along with all the other British women.  Caroline wrote, “You may imagine we were all in a fright, the scene of confusion and fright everybody was in was past description.” They had to share a room with seven other women, which was cooled slightly by the well watered tatties (grass curtains) and punkahs (fans) going.  Their food was still cooked at home then delivered by the servants. “We are still quite in an uncertain state of mind as to what is to be our fate, we only hope and trust we may be defended from all evil,” wrote Alice.  
General Hugh Wheeler
General Hugh Wheeler, Commander of the garrison believed that his sepoys would be loyal so when two companies of the 84th battalion arrived on June 2nd he dispatched one of the companies to the besieged town of Lucknow.  But Wheeler had not allowed for the disaffection for the British felt by a man known as Nana Sahib, the adopted son of former local Prince Baji Rao.  The generous pension and honours awarded by the East India Company to Baji Rao were denied to his adopted son on his death.
Nana Sahib
Mutiny began from among the 2nd Bengal cavalry by Indian soldiers who already believed that they were about to be killed by the British while on parade.  After the first shots were fired on June 6th, sepoys who remained loyal were also fired upon so they all fled.  During the confusion, Nana Sahib entered the garrison and assumed leadership of the mutineers.  He caught up with those who had fled and persuaded them to besiege the city on behalf of the Mughal Empire.

In the increasing heat, the British under siege began to succumb to dysentery, smallpox and cholera.  There was news that Major General Havelock was advancing from Allahabad but how long would it take him?  On June 25th June, against the wishes of General Wheeler the garrison accepted an offer from Nana Sahib of a safe passage for the women and children to Allahabad by boat along the Ganges. 

Either by misunderstanding or planning, a great many of the party were shot in the boats or drowned when they capsized and the remaining women or children were taken to the Bibighar (Ladies’ House) in Cawnpore where they were supervised by a prostitute called Begum Hussaini Khanum.

When Nana Sahib heard that the approaching British soldiers were indulging in violence towards Indian villagers, he was advised to execute the British women.  The women of his own household protested against this and went on hunger strike but to no avail.  On July 15th an order went out that all the British women and children should be murdered.  Nana Sahib had left the town.  The women tied the door handles of their room with clothing and at first many of the rebel sepoys fired into the air.  Begum Hussaini Khanum called them cowards and butchers were hired to murder the captives with cleavers.  Next morning the bodies were thrown down a well including 3 women and 3 children who were still alive.

The last testimony from the Lindsay family was a scrap of paper found in a long low building in which the women were later imprisoned by the mutineers.  It was in Caroline’s handwriting.
Entered the barracks May 31st
Cavalry left June 5th
First shot fired June 6th
Aunt Lilly died June 17th
Uncle Willy died June 18th
Left Barracks June 27th
George died June 27th
Alice died July 9th
Mam died July 12th
Caroline and Fanny must have perished in the Bibighar between 4 pm on July 15th and 9 am on July 16th.  The news was sent to Mrs Mary Jane Drage, the sister of Mrs Kate Lindsay and Mrs Lilly Lindsay by Captain Moorsom of the 52nd Regiment, a friend, who had arrived with the force which had arrived too late.  Mary Jane and her husband Rev. William Drage were already looking after Lilly’s 3 young children and they now had considerable difficulty proving that the orphans were the only living relatives of Major William Lindsay and entitled to the Bengal Military Orphans Fund.

In Cawnpore a memorial was erected over the well but after Independence in 1948 this was moved to an enclosure to the east of All Souls Church.

"On the Strength" by Veronica Bamfield

Clan Lindsay Society

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Building Thames barges

My interest in family history was sparked by the stories my Grandma told me of the forest of masts she could see over the roofs when she grew up in Rotherhithe in the 1890s.  She was very proud of her father and brothers who built barges and lighters but she also told me more about how the family first started this occupation in Berkshire in the 18th century.

Every descendent of Robert Talbot has been told the story of how he and his brothers brought the family barge building business up to London from Berkshire on a stage coach.  Certainly there was a stagecoach route from Thatcham to London along the Bath Road and some time before 1799 Robert and Richard moved to London, as they were both married there in 1799.  There is no evidence of any other living brother accompanying them.  As Richard and his wife Elizabeth Jenkins do not appear to have had any children, Robert Talbot is seen as the founder of the barge building dynasty.

Robert and Richard were born in the beautiful village of Pangbourne, on the river Thames in Berkshire, the sons of John Talbot and Mary Ivey.  Their other brother Edward died in 1792 and their sisters married in Pangbourne.  Although there is no proof that John Talbot was a barge builder, there were other Talbots who built barges in Pangbourne at that time.  As yet no family connection to these other Talbots has been made.  After the death of Mary Ivey in 1795, John Talbot married Mary Kirton and had seven more children before his death in 1837 at the age of 92.

Robert Talbot married Ann Proud at St Andrew by the Wardrobe, near St Paul’s cathedral in 1799.  At first they lived in Shadwell, a crowded dock area between Limehouse and Wapping, but by the time of the birth of their second child, Thomas Talbot in 1804 they were living by the Thames in Fore Street, Lambeth.  Fore Street, as its name signifies lay on the foreshore of the river Thames.  It was a very busy area of boat builders, whiting works and potteries including Doultons, later Royal Doulton. 

By 1839 Robert had moved his barge building business to the up and coming boat building area of Rotherhithe Street.  It is probable that all their premises were rented.  Leaving Fore Street was wise, as by 1866 it was disappearing beneath the Albert Embankment.                               

Robert and Ann Proud had 8 children, before Ann’s death in 1830.  Robert married again twice; to Ann Richards, a widow, in 1833 and to Cricey Finley in 1848, the year before his death of Asiatic cholera.  Robert Talbot was buried in a graveyard on Lambeth High Street, near St Mary at Lambeth (The Garden Museum).  The stones were moved against the walls by 1950 and have since eroded but it is a peaceful park with a children’s playground.

Four of Robert’s sons, Thomas, Robert, Richard and Edward followed their father, becoming barge builders while Charles became a stationer and printer, with premises in Tooley Street. 

The barge building sons undertook 7 year apprenticeships with the Worshipful company of Watermen and Lightermen, and 16 members of the extended family became important officials of the Shipwrights company, including Edward James who was a liveryman of the Shipwrights company and a Freeman of the river Thames.  His uncle Edward L. Talbot was Master of the Shipwrights company in 1869, as was John William Talbot in 1880.
Lucy Talbot and Sons 1866
Rotherhithe in Victorian times, was a vibrant part of the Pool of London, teeming with Irish labourers, boat builders and sea captains.  The “Fighting Temeraire” sailed into port to be broken up here in 1838 and the Mayflower had set sail from Rotherhithe in 1620.  There were rope makers, sail makers and oar makers like George Henry Leggett.  Large quantities of timber were unloaded here.  Grain was unloaded into the flat-bottomed lighters made by the Talbots and other barge builders.  The wife of Edward James Talbot, Elizabeth Palmer Hopkins came from several generations of lightermen.

Later Richard Talbot (b. 1813) moved his barge building business to Caversham in Reading, returning to Berkshire where his wife had been born.  It was said that this was because so many of his children died in the unhealthy atmosphere of Rotherhithe.  Robert Talbot (b. 1828) based his business at Strand on the Green and Percy Sutton Talbot established his at Wood wharf, Greenwich.

This article first appeared in  in September2013.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Tunnelling inside the Rock of Gibraltar in 1782

During the mid-1970s my parents lived in Gibraltar.  The house in which they resided was called Ince’s Farm, a name with a fascinating history.  If you have been to Gibraltar you will surely have visited St Michael’s Cave, a network of natural limestone caves displaying stalactites and stalagmites within the rock.  But there are also miles of tunnels, some of which were excavated in the late 18th century.

Ince's Farm by L. Sanguinetti 1977
In 1779 Spanish and French armies laid siege to Gibraltar, hoping to starve the British army and citizens into giving up ownership of the Rock and its small town.  This was to become the longest siege ever endured by a British Garrison.  The townspeople had to abandon their homes which were bombarded by the French and Spanish and settle in tents and roughly made huts to the south.  Lack of fresh produce caused them to suffer from scurvy and living so closely together, smallpox, yellow fever and influenza quickly spread amongst the population.

By May 1782 the Governor of Gibraltar, George Augustus Elliott, was desperate for a means of attacking the foreign troops who were advancing slowly in ever extending trenches along the isthmus which connected Gibraltar to Spain, but they were out of view beyond the rock face.

It was at this point that he came into conversation with Sergeant Major Henry Ince.  Henry Ince had been a Cornish miner before joining the Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment and in 1772 had been transferred, along with other, “mechanics,” to the newly formed Company of Artificers, a forerunner of the Royal Engineers.  Sergeant Major Ince suggested that he should begin tunnelling through the rock to the Notch, a ledge on the sheer North face.  He was appointed Overseer of Mines and, with the aid of 12 men, began to clear a way through the rock using gunpowder, quicklime and water and pick-axes. There was an immediate need for ventilation so small openings were blasted in the cliff face.  These proved to be in good firing positions and so began the Upper Gallery for 4 guns.  There was a problem in the sharp downwards angle required for firing but this was solved by Lieut. Koehler who mounted the large guns on, “depressing carriages”.  He was aided by the ammunition developed by Lieut. Shrapnel.
Gibraltar by L. Sanguinetti 1977
The siege ended in 1783 when it became evident that the British would not need to give up. After the ceasefire, the Duc de Crillion, commander of the opposing troops, visited the tunnels, exclaiming, “These works are worthy of the Romans.”

As a reward for his invaluable work, Henry Ince was granted a large plot of land on Queens Road, half way up the rock, on which he established “Ince’s Farm”.  One day, Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, came upon Henry, riding his old horse.  The Duke said that the sergeant major should have a finer horse, “more in keeping with your worth and duties,” but the horse he gave to Henry was too strong and spirited so the Duke suggested that Henry should sell it.

Henry Ince remained in Gibraltar for 36 years and despite some local opposition he established the Methodist church there, being one the prime Methodist lay preachers.  He wrote letters to John Wesley whom he had probably met while he was a soldier in Ireland around 1760.  Henry had at least 2 wives and 6 surviving children, Joseph, William, Robert, Harriet, Henry and George, who were listed as beneficiaries in Henry’s will.  Returning to England in 1804, he died in Gittisham, Devon in 1808, at the age of 72.  On his tombstone behind the tower of St Michael's church his tunnels in Gibraltar are described as, "lasting testimony to his skill, industry and zeal."

Monday, 15 September 2014

News from Scotland written to America in the early 19th century

While researching my Hamilton family from Lanarkshire and Ayrshire I discovered online a series of letters written by the Young and Shields families in Scotland to their relation, Alexander Shields, who had emigrated to America.  Three of the letters were written by my Hamilton ancestors who were intermarried with the other two families.  The letters cover the period from 1829 till 1853 and not only contain family news but also details of politics, religion, health and everyday economics.

In Robert Shields’ letter of 1829 to his brother Alexander in Vermont he soon expresses his Presbyterian feelings by complaining that the, “Roman Cathlicks have got their Clawes granted to them in Parliment,”(sic)  He next reflects on the decline in the handloom weaving industry, saying that, “The weavers here are in a very poore state.”

Writing to his brother-in-law Alex Shields in 1832 Rev. Hugh Young informs him that Cholera Morbis has appeared in nearby Falkirk, with 14 deaths out of 27 cases.  He observes that “temperate” people are usually not affected. (Maybe they did not drink whisky with water?)  But 3 years later, Rev. Young writes, “with a heavy heart and with eyes streaming with tears,” of how he has committed to the grave, Anna Carslaw, age 5 and Jane age 7, both victims of measles.  Luckily in 1841, his daughter Mary recovered from scarlet fever.

When William Hamilton wrote to Alexander Shields in 1839, he was more philosophical, “We have got a new Queen as you will see stamped Victoria on the head of this sheet, but what good she may do in her reign is unknown for prophets is forbidden to enter our Land...  But I have no doubt to say that there will be some events in her reign that will fill up the pages of History and be a blessing to one class in this realm and a scourge unto another.”

In his news of “Auld Scotland,” he reports that, “There is a very great emigration from Scotland to America, to Australia and Van Deimon's Land.”  He talks of an Iron Works newly erected in Galston but two years later we read that, “ it has brought a number of strangers to the town, but has made no improvement in the morals of the people, as drinking, swearing, and Sabbath profanation is carried on to an alarming degree.”  In 1843 Rev. Young talks of the depressed state of trade and commerce with the result that, “many thousands in England and Scotland,” were unable to obtain employment.

During several years the letter writers mentioned failed crops and hardship.  In 1836 a combination of cold, rain and frost meant that the crops, “did not come to maturity.”  A cold, wet summer in 1841 caused grain costs to be high, and in 1846 Rev. Hugh Young reported that potatoes had been lost over the whole country.  “They had a fine appearance till harvest, when a disease (for which no one seems able satisfactorily to account) came upon them, and rendered them unfit for use, and at present it is doubtful if seed can be procured.  Great distress is anticipated in Ireland and it is reported that Famine has already broken out in some districts of that unhappy country. The newspapers at the same time state that Government has already forwarded to several Irish ports a very large supply of Indian corn and other provisions of a cheap kind, that as far as possible the evil may be remedied.”

On the positive side, we read in 1832 of ploughing matches between 30 ploughs, a sign of prosperity and leisure time.   The younger members of the family have enjoyed sea-bathing, probably because of the new railway built in 1840 connecting Glasgow and Ayr round the coast.  Gas works established in Galston gave the residents gas in their homes and they found it cheaper for lighting than oil or candles.   The penny post was welcomed and even 8 pence for a letter to be taken to America was felt to be fair.  In 1844 there were talks in the Free Kirk of giving females a right to vote for a Minister, but it was felt that the men would not accept the result.  However many of the daughters of the families received a good education, studying Reading, English Grammar, Arithmetic, Geography and Botany.

As the replies to this collection of letters do not seem to have been kept, we hear little of the lives of the family in America, except for one reference to a younger Alexander in Vermont who has asked, “Is there a probability that I could get a good, braw, rich, active, young woman for a wife?”  Rev. Young believed his daughters could provide every one of those qualities except riches!