Francis Armour – the contradiction

This blog post is about the contradiction that is my maternal great, great grandfather, Francis Armour. Francis and his wife Elizabeth McDaid were wealthy enough to have a stained glass window put in their adopted Church in Scotland (they were both originally from County Donegal in Ireland) and I have Elizabeth’s Catholic Epistles and Gospels into which Elizabeth pasted Francis’ glowing obituary, but they also had to apply for poor relief due to poverty.

As is usual with my family history blogposts I will look at Francis’ major life events as officially registered and I’ll then discuss his story.

Birth, marriage and death certificates for Roman Catholics started in Ireland in 1864 – Francis and Elizabeth’s younger children appear in those records but Francis and Elizabeth were born and married before those records started. Unfortunately also the County Donegal Church records have not survived which recorded Francis and Elizabeth’s birth and marriage.

In May 1882 Elizabeth took unwell and was treated at Paisley Asylum (and also at an asylum in Ireland) and so Francis had to apply for poor relief – thankfully there is an excellent heritage centre in Paisley which has retained Francis’ poor relief application.

Francis confirmed on 16 May 1882 that he was then aged 48 and Elizabeth was aged 46. Francis confirmed that he and Elizabeth were married about 25 years ago by Reverend Father McGill in Buncrana. Francis also confirmed that he had moved from Ireland to Johnstone 4 and a half years previously with him moving by himself initially and his family following him shortly afterwards.

In the 1881 census Francis, a flax heckler, and Elizabeth, were living at 10 Mary Street, Johnstone with their children Robert, John, William (my great-grandfather), Mary, Francis and Elizabeth. In the 1891 census Francis, a flax dresser, and Elizabeth were living at 21 Russell Street, Johnstone with their children William, Mary, Francis and Elizabeth.

On 31st December 1895 Francis died at 21 Russell Street from cardiac debility and pleurisy for 6 days and Francis was buried at Abbey Cemetery, Elderslie on 2nd January 1896.

St Margaret’s Church Johnstone – the Armour family Church

Here are some of Francis’ contradictions.

We’ve seen above that Francis and Elizabeth were so poor in 1882 that, when Elizabeth took ill, they had to apply for poor relief. However, when Francis died in 1896, he left behind £320 5s 0d which was equivalent to £26,255.78 in 2017!

When Francis died he had only £1 in the house, and £8-worth of furniture in the house, but he had £41 8s 4d in a Post Office Savings account, £205 6s 8d invested in Johnstone Cooperative Society Limited, an insurance policy with the Prudential Assurance Company Limited that would pay out £50, £12 10s 0d invested in the Paisley Cooperative Manufacturing Society Limited and £2 payable by the Johnstone Flax Mill Friendly Society.

Francis’ obituary pasted into his his wife’s Catholic Epistles and Gospels reads as follows:

‘By the death of Mr Francis Armour, which occurred on 30th December, the Catholics of Johnstone have sustained a severe loss, and the place he has left vacant will be hard to fill.

A man of genial and sympathetic disposition, he took a deep interest in any work which would benefit the poor. For the last number of years he was president of the local conference of the St Vincent De Paul Society, and he faithfully carried out its precepts, as no deserving case was ever brought under his notice without receiving prompt attention. He also took a deep interest in the co-operative movement, which owes much of its success in this town to his untiring energy. He leaves a widow and grown-up family, for whom much sympathy is felt in their sad bereavement.

A large number of mourners followed his remains to the grave on Thursday, 2nd inst.. Father Davidson read the burial service, and as the coffin was lowered into the grave it was felt that a good and faithful servant had gone to his reward. RIP.’

Francis and Elizabeth installed a beautiful stained glass window in St Margaret’s Church, Johnstone:

St Margaret’s Church, Johnstone

In conclusion: I do wonder personally if Francis was so involved in investing both financially and of his time in their local adopted community that he didn’t have the finances left for his family?

Sources: Scotland’s People website for censuses, death certificates and inventory on death, photos of St Margaret’s Church taken personally by Jacqueline Hunter, Elizabeth McDaid’s Catholic Epistles and Gospels in personal possession of Jacqueline Hunter, Paisley Heritage Centre for Francis Armour’s poor relief application, Renfrewshire Council Parks and Cemeteries department for Francis Armour’s place of burial and the National Archives in London for a currency converter.

Smith at the Crosslee Mill

This blog post is about my maternal 4 x great grandfather, John Barr, and what happened to his place of employment, the Crosslee Mill.

John Barr was born on 20 January 1791 in Shettleston, Glasgow to James Barr and Agnes Cummin and John was baptised 3 days later in Barony parish. James, a coal hewer, had married Agnes in 1787 also in Barony.

John married Agnes Lees in an irregular marriage on 28 March 1808 in Paisley. A regular marriage was a couple marrying in Church by a minister after banns had been read for 3 consecutive Sundays. An irregular marriage was also known as a marriage of declaration because the couple simply made a declaration in front of two witnesses.

John Barr and Agnes Lees had 11 children together and the description of John’s occupation in each of these baptisms tells us a lot. We know from these baptisms that from 1809 until 1815 John was in the 71st regiment, latterly a sergeant, and from 1817 to 1835 John was a smith at Crosslee mill in Renfrewshire. Crosslee mill has a rather chequered history which I shall cover in the latter half of this blog post.

71st Highlanders at Vimerio in 1808.

The 71st Regiment had 2 battalions whilst John was with them, the 1st serving abroad in numerous campaigns and the 2nd at home. I suspect John was in the 2nd battalion as he had numerous children in the west of Scotland whilst serving with the 71st although I’m currently unable to prove that theory. I’ve searched for mention of John in the army records on The National Archive website and the Find My Past website but have been unable to find a candidate to match John. I’ve commissioned the experts at the Royal Highland Fusiliers museum (which is the most recent regiment coming down from the 71st) to see if they can find any of John’s records for me.

John does appear in one census with his family. In 1841 John was living at School Wynd in Barony parish with his wife and children: John was 50 and a machine mechanic journeyman (journeyman being the stage above apprentice), Agnes was also 50 and four of their children were living with them: Robert aged 15, a machine mechanic apprentice (following his father), David was 14 and a cotton weaver, George was 12 with no occupation noted and Agnes was 20 and a cotton weaver. George would eventually also enlist, served with the Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment and would meet and marry his wife Mary Anne Marchant in Lincoln, Ontario in 1861.

John died between 1841 and 1851. In the 1851 census Agnes is living in Pollockshaws, she’s a widow and a pirn winder (a pirn being a yarn package inserted into a shuttle) living with her daughter Agnes, now a bobbin winder, and her son David, now a labourer.

The rest of this blog post I shall devote to Crosslee Mill to which John devoted at least 18 years of his working life.

Crosslee Mill was a cotton mill which originally opened in 1793. During it’s heyday it employed 300 people in a six storey building and was the largest mill on the River Gryfe. The mill burnt down in 1858 and was replaced by a factory which again was itself replaced by a concrete structure in the 1920s. From the 1920s until 1985 when it was demolished it was owned by Nobel Explosives/ICI and then TH Lawsson trading as Lawtex who manufactured umbrellas. Nowadays there is one remaining mill building which has been redeveloped as office space.

The destruction of the mill, which John would have known, in 1858 was extremely dramatic and was reported in almost 40 UK newspapers.

I shall share the report of the destruction of John’s former place of employment directly from the Thursday 29 July 1858 edition of the Northern Daily Times as it had the most detailed account of all the newspapers:


On Sunday afternoon, about two o’clock, the large cotton-spinning mill at Crosslee, about six miles west from Paisley, was discovered to be on fire.

The mill was six storeys in height, and one of the largest in this country. When the fire was first observed the flames were bursting from some of the windows of the third flat. An express was instantly despatched to Johnstone and Paisley for the fire engines from these places, which were sent off without delay, but before either of them arrived the fire had completely gutted the centre flats, including the floors and joisting, and the weight of the machinery in the upper flats had brought down the walls – the front wall falling outwards, and the back wall falling inwards, carrying the roof along with them, and the whole was an undistinguishable mass of flaming ruins.

Nothing, therefore, could be done to save the main building, but a detached building comprising the picking room and store, was preserved from the devastating element. The engine-house and its contents were likewise saved. The fire continued to burn all afternoon and all Saturday night, and was watched from various points about Paisley with much interest till a late hour, and it was not fully extinguished on Monday afternoon.

The mill, machinery, and cotton destroyed, is altogether estimated at about £60,000, but the proprietors are insured, we are told, in three different offices. The catastrophe will throw upwards of 500 people idle, for whom there is no other employment in the district. Indeed, in that respect, it may be regarded as a terrible calamity. The proprietors are Messrs William Stevenson and Sons, a well known and highly respectable firm; and it is much feared that the mill may not be rebuilt.

Sources: Church records and census records on the Scotland’s People website, National Army Museum website, ‘Paisley – Oor Wee Toun & Environs’ Facebook page, British Newspaper Archive website.