I’ve lived in Penicuik most of my life, but it is only now, after sixty-six years, that I find the threads of the past unravelling. The local mill women I’ve researched in the library thrive in my imagination, now not so faceless. The vision is strong. I see them cut and de-button rags. History reels around me, pulls me in, and further in, my mind rolling like the huge mill machines chugging and clicking and producing. The potchers, (big vats) the calendars, the overhauling, the dispatches tickle my curiosity.
It began with an ending, as it so often does. The twisted side of nature. The desire, once your parents have gone, for answers. Answers to questions you should have asked but were too busy in your own world to ask. My mum died recently, some thirty-seven years after my dad, taking with her, her knowledge. Although I’ve retained a lot of what she told me about her family, I have only snippets about my dad’s. Snippets no longer cut it. I want it all. I want the whole story, not a clipping. My dad was a Penicuik man and I’m out to find out more about him and his forebears. My forebears. I am the oracle, shipping his past back to life. I’ve roped in help. My brother is on board, at the wheel, sister is at the stern. They also have a vested interest.
I’ll begin here, with my dad’s dad. James Currie. We discovered he was a stoker on HMS Pegasus towards the end of WWI. The documents are hard to read, so details are sketchy. My grandfather came from Bonnyrigg, lived somewhere on Polton Street. I think of him now when I pick up my oldest grandson, Daniel, from Lasswade High School. I’ve told him about his great, great grandfather.
One day, I’ll spout out the list of my dad’s mum’s siblings to him, like my mother did with me. I must share this. Here we go. Jessie, Bessie, Aggie, Molly, John, Ruby, Belle, Jean and Mime. Nine. Jessie was my granny. It transpires she worked in Eskmill Papermill, lived at 1 Oakleaf, which was down by Eskbridge, and may have been a mill house.
These houses are no longer there, haven’t been for a long time. They weren’t there in the sixties when my brother and dad rummaged around there one summer day and got ravaged by wasps. I’m glad I wasn’t with them. Was my dad seeking knowledge of his roots, I wonder, but there’s no one to ask. I walked down there not so long ago, to see if there was any sign of Oakleaf. I mean, could there be an old street sign, a stone, an old foundation, anything, but all I came across were some self-built bungalows and a murderously steep drop down into the river.
I’ve had a bit of an obsession for a few years now with our river Esk, so it all fits in. It lies down a ridge, deeper than our town. It’s hidden, in parts it is dark and dangerous, unlike the picturesque part of the river Esk in Musselburgh. I’ve walked the length of it from one end of Penicuik to Roslin, under a canopy of trees, along the old railway line, mostly alone, despite the remote nature of it, the long dark history hanging from every limb.
I’m prone to obsessive behaviour. Like my sojourns to the local library. After my mum passed away, it gave me an interest, something to keep my mind off the awful day I found her. Anyhow, I’d been given information about a collection of material by James Black and his son, and I was able to go and look through it. The town and surrounding areas came to life. I read a lot about the millworkers. I didn’t know then that my granny was one of those, although I admit to always looking for connections.
A book has also come into my possession. It’s called Through The Mill, by Ian MacDougall. It’s reminiscences of mill workers, from 1927 until they closed. My granny was born in 1895, so she may have worked in the mill around 1910. The conditions were hard. Long hours, heavy work. Living conditions too. They spoke of outside, dry toilets, no running water. A man in a horse and cart would come around lifting the mill waste and the human waste from people’s houses. Water for cooking and washing was got from wells. Now that I know my granny was among those immortalised in both Through The Mill and the Black Collection it all means much more to me. She probably knew James Black, perhaps even spoken to him.
There’s a photo. It was in this collection of historical material. It displays some young girls, probably children of The Free Gardeners society members. Immediately one of the girls at the front jumped out at me. It was me. It looked just like me, as a child. That’s why I took a photo of it. At that point I was unaware that my granny came from Penicuik. Could this girl be my granny or her sister? I’ll never know. I have no photos of her as a young girl. I’ll share it with you. The girl in question is in the front row, second from the right. She’s biting her lip.
This is only the start. We have so much more to do. I have a great aunt to find, who, rumour has it, played the mandolin in an orchestra. That mandolin is now with me. I inherited it, along with the musical traits. Now can you see why I relish the challenge of family discovery?
2 thoughts on “Keep Granny Alive”
Can’t wait to find out more. The girl does look like you Jan.
Thanks Ellen. It’s good you’ve confirmed a likeness. This hopefully will be continued.