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.