Marion Wyllie Clark was born in the middle of the nineteenth century on June 29, 1851, in Wishaw, the heart of Lanarkshire, Scotland’s coal mining and cotton weaving region. She was third of eight children born to Janet Sellars, the daughter of cotton weavers, and her husband John Clark, a wagon driver and farm laborer. Marion’s parents had been married seven years when she was born. They followed the Scottish naming conventions of that era and named her Marion Wyllie after her paternal grandmother, who lived in nearby Ayrshire, where John had grown up.
Marion was born at a propitious time for genealogists in future generations. Because 1851 was a census year in Scotland, information about Wishaw is readily available. The town had 4100 residents in 1851, double the number reported in the census a decade earlier. The railroad had come to the parish in recent years, generating an industrial boom and new job opportunities. Until then, the area had been a home for Scotland’s flourishing cotton-weaving industry, which had provided a living for Janet’s family. Most Wishaw homes had a textile loom and, except for the very young or old, all members of a family typically were required to perform one or more of the varied tasks required to turn cotton into fabric. Textiles were hauled north to Glasgow, first by wagon and later by train, and sold throughout Great Britain and elsewhere. Other Wishaw households eked out a small living as tenant farmers who typically worked for either the Coltness or Wishaw estates, owned by the Stewart family. James Stewart, who owned the Coltness property, was a successful economist and author who published books pioneering his economic theories. By mid-century, however, the cotton weaving industry in that area was giving way to coal mining and brick and tile works.
When Marion Wyllie was born, Wishaw’s long main street housed artisan workshops and service trades in the upper end and row housing for about 120 pit workers and their families in the lower section. The majority of the mining families lived in either the Byrnes or Wilson colliers’ rows.
Marion was eleven when her father died in a freak accident that caused him to be crushed between two wagons. By then there were eight children in the family, five of them younger than Marion, one, six-month-old Isabella. In that era, there would have been no life insurance to help out a widow in the event of the death of her husband. Likely the family had barely subsisted on the meager earnings of their father even before his death. One can imagine the grief and financial crisis the family endured after John Clark’s passing. Then, six months later, the tragedy was compounded when year-old Isabella died. Marion’s older brother, James, was barely seventeen. It was common in that era for children to begin helping support the family in their early teens, so it was likely James had probably started working a couple of years earlier, probably as a coal miner. Now he was the main breadwinner for the family, but at his age, he wouldn’t have earned enough to make ends meet.
Eleven years later, when Marion was twenty-two and living with her mother and siblings in the mining village of Chapel, she married coal miner William Bulloch in the summer of 1873. Her husband, a year older than she, had a difficult childhood. He was born in New Stevenson in Bothwell parish on May 15, 1850. William’s parents had died young, his mother, in childbirth when he was seven, and his father, two years later of pulmonary consumption, likely related to working in the mines. His paternal grandmother Margaret (McGilchrist) Bulloch raised William and his older brother in Paisley in Renfrewshire, where they were reported living in the 1861 census. Ten years later, William, now twenty-one, was living in Motherwell in Dalziel parish with an aunt Margaret (Bulloch) Baird. The Bullochs have been traced back to Baldernock in Stirlingshire in the mid-seventeenth century. As it turned out, Marion’s mother, Janet, was the only surviving parent to witness their marriage. Marion gave birth to ten known children over a twenty-four-year period, six sons and four daughters.
Coal miners tended to move where the mines were producing and owners hiring. Census takers through the years recorded the family living in Chapel and nearby Morningside in Cambusnethan parish through the early 1890s. William, and maybe his son John, probably worked for Chapel Colliery, which leased out single and double apartments to its employees. An inspector who visited these apartments in 1913 reported them as “mean” and “dilapidated,” and it’s probable they weren’t in a much better state during the twenty years that the Bulloch family lived there.
Marion and William’s youngest son, Andrew, was born in Bellshill in Bothwell parish in 1898, indicating the family had moved there some time before. Marion was forty-seven when Andrew was born. The census taker in 1901 found the family living in a housing complex called Violet Grove on North Road with five children still at home: William, Bella, David, Andrew, and a married, twenty-four-year-old daughter, Jessie Mallon, and her three-year-old son Henry. A son James, who would have been eight in 1901, was not listed for he had died the previous year of osteomyelitis of the femur. Two other children, John and Margaret, had married by that time and were not living in the home.
Bellshill was a larger, more prosperous town than Morningside. A century earlier it had been a cotton-weaving center. By the 1870s, Bellshill had twenty deep coals pits and iron and steel industries, attracting railroads and immigrants from abroad, especially Lithuanians. By 1911 the population of Bellshill was 8786.
A 1910 survey of miners housing in Bothwell parish described apartments with plastered walls, wooden floors, and outdoor privies, four families assigned to share one privy. Most of the units had outdoor sinks, with no water. Marion would have been required to take a bucket to a local source to gather water for washing, cooking, and bathing. No trees, flowers, or vegetable gardens offered shade or beauty to the residents.
Marion’s husband, William Bulloch, worked as a colliery fireman, a job with much responsibility and one of the most dangerous
positions in the mine. The fireman ensured the mine’s safety from accumulated explosive gasses, a job that required him to patrol the tunnels with a Davy safety lamp with a gauge that measured the height of the flame. Miners placed the safety lamp close to the ground to detect methane gas and carbon dioxide that collected in mine pockets. If there was insufficient oxygen in the mine, the lamp flame would go out. Unfortunately, the Davy safety lamp often contributed to accidents and deaths because they were not always reliable. They increased a sense of false security, sending men to work in areas that had been previously off limits because of safety concerns. Firemen were required to purchase their own lamps at the mine owner’s company store.
William apparently worked at this job until he was fifty-two. An August 15, 1902 newspaper article reports that William had been chosen from a group of applicants for employment as a lamplighter, or “leerie,” as the locals called it, responsible for igniting Bellshill’s gas street lights every evening and then extinguishing them again in the morning. William probably relished the opportunity to work above ground for the first time in his life, but his job would not have been easy. As twilight fell he would be required to move quickly through the streets lighting probably more than a hundred lamps before dark and then retracing his steps in the morning to extinguish them. He earned 44 shillings per week for the job, considered a respectable sum for that time, but he was required “to pay a competent assistant” from his wages.
William was employed as a leerie for the last decade of his life and, then on July 18, 1912, while home with bronchitis, he succumbed to a heart attack. When his granddaughter, also named Marion, was in her eighties, she claimed she remembered William Bulloch and described what he looked like. She recalled him being a handsome man with a mustache and a full head of hair that she described as “pompadourish.” Marion was born two years after her grandfather’s death, so it’s probable that her memory of him, recalled when she was in her late eighties, may have come from a photograph or a story someone told her.
Few families escape hardships and tragedies. Judging from the location and era in which they lived, the size of their family and the dangers and economic fluctuations of the coal mining industries, Marion surely led a difficult life. She was pregnant or likely nursing an infant over a twenty-four-year period. Her sons Walter and James died young, Walter at nine months in 1881 and seven-year-old James in 1900, of osteomyelitis of the femur. Another son, David, died on September 25, 1915, on the first day of the Battle of Loos in World War I. He was 25, one of 30,000 Scots that participated in one of first major battles of the British offensive against the Germans.
One by one, five of her children emigrated to America: first Jessie (1905), then Bella (1921), soon followed by John (1922), Andrew (1923), and Christina (1926). Marion’s daughter Margaret remained in Bellshill and married, and was likely a comfort to her mother for the remainder of her life. Marion had died before her son William met his tragic end in 1943 in a tragic, grizzly industrial accident that decapitated him at Colville’s steelworks at Mossend near Bellshill.
The only extant photograph of Marion was taken when she was elderly. She sits erect in a wooden chair, a book, perhaps a Bible, rests in her lap, hiding her hands. She looks directly into the camera in a self-possessed way, her lips slightly pursed, her large blue eyes framed by full eyebrows, and round, wire-rimmed glasses. Her white hair has been loosely swept into a bun on the back of her head in the style of the day for older women. She wears a high-necked, dark dress of a heavy fabric, trimmed with braid down the front and around the collar. Two pieces of jewelry, a broach pinned to her collar and a locket shine from the front of her dress. She likely stood less than five feet in height, because her daughters were short, even for their generation.
When her granddaughter and namesake Marion was in her eighties, I asked her about her recollections of her grandmother. Marion was my aunt and Bella’s oldest daughter. She had immigrated to the United States with her parents and three of her siblings in 1920. Though she was only six the last time she saw her grandmother, Marion remembered her home and a couple of incidents from her early years in Scotland. When I showed my aunt the photograph of her grandmother, she reported that her memory of her matched the picture. “As I remember her,” she said, “my grandmother always wore a long, black dress and a crisp, white apron over that. And her hair was always sort of swept up on top of her head.” Marion described her grandmother as a serious person. “The house was always rather dark, heavy drapes. In that era, that was typical. I don’t ever remember ever having family gatherings except when we were leaving for the United States, and we were at her house.”
Apparently Bella lived near her mother’s house prior to immigrating to the United States, for my aunt recalled the following incident: “I don’t remember anything personal, other than the day I came from my mother’s house. I was on my way to visit her, and I tripped over a manhole cover and fell. I could see the house from where I was, so I went to my grandmother’s. She put on cold cloths and used a large metal door-key on the back of my neck to put something cold there. It was a house with a white-picket fence all around and a large garden in back with lots of flowers. Marion believed that her grandmother owned her home at 32 Unitas Road in Bellshill, but no records have ever emerged to confirm that impression. I’ve been skeptical about my aunt’s recollection, given their coal mining roots and the number of children they had to raise in tough economic times. And yet, the modern technology offered by Google Earth allows me to see that property as it looks nearly a century later. The house is a duplex, bordered by a brown picket fence, with a large garden in the rear. My aunt described it much as I see it today, but whether her grandmother actually owned her house and property has yet to be proved.
My great-grandmother lived on, twenty-six years after her husband died, and long after many of her children and grandchildren left for America. As she grew older, she became what her death record described as senile, and what current medical science might label dementia or Alzheimer’s. She had been living in Bellshill with her daughter Margaret Bulloch Sime at the Unitas Street house. At some point when her senility made her difficult to care for at home, she was transferred to Omoa House in Cleland, five miles away, a home for the aged. She died on July 13, 1938. She was eighty-seven. Her son William, then fifty-two and a resident of Bellshill, signed her death certificate.