To celebrate winning a rather nasty battle with the Covid -19 bug, which knocked me off my feet for a month and brought me rather closer to my maker than I had planned just yet, I am giving all my novels away for free on Amazon Kindle for the next 5 days. So, wherever you live in the world, you can pop along to Amazon and grab one of my great reads — or all 4 — to keep you company during this horrid old lock down. Simply search for Peggy-Dorothea Beydon on your Kindle or Kindle app to download my books for FREE, or click here to be taken to Amazon via my author page. This offer is from the 15th of April through to the 19th of April, inclusive. So grab yourself a freebie and enjoy a jolly good read on me 🙂

The Illustrious origins of the Ross Clan

The second of my articles on my Ross bloodline.

Up until now my genealogy articles on the Ross clan have been working backwards through the family line. In this one I am going to reverse that order, taking you right back to the very beginning of the clan Ross, then work forward to join up with John Ross, ‘the mealer of Cullisse’ and his son, Duncan, my five times great grandfather from my previous article.

Photo by Susanne Jutzeler on Pexels.com

An old account, quoted by Buchanan of Auchmar, gives a firm Norse origin to the Ross clan. This has well-established roots in the personal claim of the first Earl of Ross, Feacher MacinTagart, that he was O’Beolan or Bjolan. Icelandic, Scottish and Irish sagas speak of King Bjolan, a half Norse king of South Lagore in County Meath, Ireland and the Applecross district of Wester Ross. He was said to be the son of the Helgi Bjolan, a Viking of Norse nobility and a Christian convert – he was the son of Kitell Flatnose Bjornsson, Norse King of Mann and the Isles, who in turn was a son of the King of Norway. Bjolan’s mother is said to have been an Applecross princess of direct descent from the Kings of Tara. So, as you can see, the Ross clan has pretty illustrious Norse and Celtic roots. In the late 800s King Bjolan became the lay abbot of Applecross and chief of this district in Scotland; Irish chronicles say his tribal authority extended through Meath too, where he left an Irish line of noble descent. The Monastery and abbey of Applecross was established by St. Maelrubh in 671, who was a descendant of Niall, High King of Ireland.

Viking sources say King Bjolan’s wife was Kadlin, (Cadlinar), daughter of the well-known pirate Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy. Among their descendants in Scotland were the inherent Abbot’s of Applecross and much of the nobility of Ireland and Iceland. The O’Beolan lay Abbots of Applecross – who already had immense government and church authority over their own districts in Wester Ross – became the Earls of Ross in the mid-1200s. An Earldom was an extension of their authority, giving them control over the lands of all Ross-shire. In addition new lands were granted to them in Wester Ross and the Isles. The O’Beolan abbots continued in Wester Ross and the Hebrides as descendants of the Earls of Ross whilst the actual earl removed to Easter Ross.

Photo by Marlon Martinez on Pexels.com

The family was originally known to the Highlanders as Clann Grille Aindreas, or ‘the sons of Andrew’ and the founder of the Clan Ross was Fearchar Mac-an-T-Saigart (Farquhar, the Son of the Priest), abbot of Applecross in Wester Ross, who inherited the abbacy early in the 13th century. Farquhard, was a great warrior, who had rescued King Alexander II of Scotland and his army from attack, with Farquhard’s own tribal forces and allies, for which the king knighted him. It is said that Farquhard then accompanied King Alexander II and Queen Margaret to London, with a host of other Scottish nobles, for the coronation of Edward Longshanks, brother to Queen Margaret. At the English king’s court was a huge Norman warrior, Dougall Duncansone (who actually sounds far more Scottish than Farquard for some reason). He was said to be a “renowned man of marvellous strength”, an expert wrestler who had never been beaten. That was until the Highlander, Sir Farquard, decided to take part in the entertainments and fight the English king’s champion. King Alexander II was so proud of this Highland knight’s victory that he made him the Earl of Ross.

Fearn Abbey
Fearn Abbey, Nigg

Before taking on the Norman champion it is said that the devout Farquard promised God that if he overcame the Norman giant he would found an abbey of the first religious men he met after his victory. These men were two canons from Galloway, one of whom was called Malcolm and his companion had ‘certain relics of St Ninian with him’. With these holy men the new Earl of Ross founded Faren Abbey, or Fearn as it was later called. Farquhard was buried there and Malcolm was its abbot for 15 years until his own death.

After the first Earl of Ross the line passed directly through Farquhard’s line. Hugh, the 5th Earl married a sister of Robert the Bruce, he fell at the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333.  His son, William, died without an heir in 1372 and so the earldom passed through his daughter Euphemia, who was Countess Ross in her life time, the title of earl then passed to her son, Alexander Leslie, who only left a daughter, and the ensuing wrangling for the earldom saw James I of Scotland confiscate it for the crown in the mid-1400s, the earldom eventually fell into disuse in the 1600s.

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Balnagown Castle, Ancestral Home to the Ross Clan.

The earldom may have been forfeited to the King, but he could not take away the, up until then, linked, chieftainship. It was separated from the earldom, and passed to the next in the direct male line, Hugh of Rariches, Laird of Balnagown, which constituted much of the area around Tain, Rosshire. He was the 3rd son of Hugh, the 5th earl, and as clan chief he adopted the name of the county, becoming Hugh Ross of Rariches, the first to hold the Ross surname and the first definitive chief of the clan Ross. He married Margaret Barclay and they had two children, William and Jean.

William became the 2nd chief and laird, he married Christina, the daughter of Lord Livingstone, and Robert II of Scotland became his uncle by marriage. His eldest son Walter became the 3rd Chief and Laird of Balnagown upon his death.  Hugh was also granted the lands of Cullisse. He married Catherine, daughter of Paul MacTyre ‘the freebooter of Strathcarron’. When Walter died in 1412 he was succeeded by his son Hugh.

Hugh, 4th Chief of the clan Ross, Laird of Balnagown and Cullisse married Lady Janet daughter of the Earl of Sutherland, granddaughter of the Earl of Orkney. Their son John became the 5th chief and laird, whilst their 3rd son, William of Little Allen founded the Shadwick branch of the Ross clan.

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The Crypt at Tarbat Church

John, 5th chief and laird had five sons, the eldest, Alexander, became the 6th chief and laird. He married Dorothy Sutherland. The Ross clan had been in a long ongoing struggle with the neighbouring clan MacKay of Strathnaver. After one particularly nasty raid on Ross lands in around 1486, Alexander decided enough was enough, and so he raised the clan and went out looking for Angus Roy Mackay and his mob. The Rosses encountered the Mackay raiding party on the Tarbat peninsula, where they were ‘fiercely attacked’. It appears that many Mackays were killed before they sought shelter in the church at Tarbat, which the Ross clan proceeded to set on fire, burning to death all inside, including Angus Roy Mackay himself. Archaeological evidence supports this legend as there is clear evidence that Tarbat church suffered major fire in the middle ages.

Euphemia de Ross, daughter of he 4th Earl,
Queen Consort to Robert II

The internal sandstone walls and crypt have been scorched bright orange and charcoal from the roof timbers was found on the site. A very recent discovery of a strange burial at this site is thought to also be connected to this feud. Two full skeletons and six male heads have been discovered,you can read more about it here John (Iain) Riabhach Mackay avenged his father’s death by invading the Ross lands with the help of clan Sutherland in 1487. This raid culminated in the very bloody and brutal Battle of Aldy Charrish which saw Alexander Ross of Balnagown and many of his kinsmen slaughtered. The clan Ross never really recovered its numbers after this defeat. Alexander’s son, David became the 7th chief and laird.

David Ross the 7th Chief of the clan Ross, and Laird of Balnagown was knighted for his services to the crown of Scotland, and so was known as Sir David Ross. He is credited with building the original wings and towers of Balnagown Castle from field stone found on the estate. His first wife was Helen Keith of Inverugie, by whom he had Walter, who became his heir; William, who became 1st Laird of Invercharron and Hugh, who became 1st Laird of Archnacloich.

Walter, 8th Chief and Laird Ross, married Marion, daughter of Sir John Grant of Freuchie. He appears to have been slain in a clan feud in Tain in 1528. His son Alexander succeeded him. Alexander Ross was the most powerful of chieftains and is recorded as being a man of extreme violence, being utterly unscrupulous; given to raiding lands and ‘forcing his clansmen to draw out agreements in his favour with total disregard for the law’. He was imprisoned in Tantallon Castle for his avowed opposition to King James VI of Scotland. Later he was released on the condition that he would live peacefully but he did not. He was a notorious raider and considered a cheater as he was given to using most modern military equipment of the day – eighteen-pound cannon and coats of mail. His own son George was even given permission to use fire and sword against him but Alexander could not be brought in. He was married twice, first to Janet Sinclair and then Catherine Mackenzie between these two women he fathered at least 11 children. George, his eldest son inherited his chieftainship and became Laird of Balnagown, he was educated at St Andrew’s University, the first Ross chief to receive university education. However, he became as notorious as his father and died in 1615. Alexander’s daughter, Catherine, married George Munro and become Lady Foulis, she would go on to be at the center of one of the biggest and most famous witch trials in Highland history. Our own line descends through Nicholas Ross, son of Alexander and his second wife, Catherine Mackenzie.

Nicholas was given the title 1st Laird Pitcalnie, he married Margaret Munro, daughter of Hugh Munro of Assyn. Their first son David inherited the Pitcalnie title and married Jean Dunbar. Their third son was Malcolm Ross, and our antecedence is through his line. Malcolm Ross became 1st Laird of Kindeace. He married Catherine Corbat of Little Raine. Malcolm acquired many lands around the area of the village of Nigg Culnaha and Cullisse. His eldest son William of Kindeace became burgess of Tain in 1680. In 1688 William was out walking with James, 2nd Lord Duffus, between Balnagown and the Ferry at Inverbreakie. William is said to have asked Lord Dufffus for repayment of a debt he owed him, at which Lord Duffus ran him through with his sword and killed him, he then fled to England to escape punishment for this murder. William’s son David inherited his grandfather’s title becoming 2nd Kindeace.

David was burgess of Tain in 1709 and of Dingwall in 1732. He was appointed chamberlain and receiver of revenues to the earldom of Ross in 1728. The estate he inherited from his grandfather was in an embarrassed state, his Uncle David of Inverchasley, Tutor of Kindeace was his guardian. In 1712 he married Griselda Forbes, the 7th daughter of Duncan Forbes of Culloden.

Duncan Forbes Ross

Their children were Duncan Forbes Ross, John Ross (born Tain 1722) plus three daughters. Duncan Forbes Ross inherited his father’s title, and became Burgess of Nairn. This is the only instance of the name Duncan being used within the Ross clan, being named for his maternal grandfather, Duncan Forbes. His younger brother John Ross was thought so unimportant that his birth is recorded in the family annals but he disappears from the family’s own records at this point.

There is a poignant letter from one of the Ross lairds in the mid-1700s seeking apprenticeship for his son and it speaks of how the Ross sons were sent to be clergymen, lawyers and soldiers a generation ago but now they are seeking a trade. This is heavily reflected in the Tain trade directories through the 18th and 19th centuries, the many and varied descendants of Farquhard Mac-an-T-Saigart, 1st Earl of Ross, were now silver smiths, watchmakers, blacksmith, farmers, postmen, wrights, millers… Despite the Ross clan mostly supporting the English,the rebellion of ‘45 still took its toll, as did the famines in the area, and there are many surviving letters of the elders and lairds rallying against the young migrating to the New Worlds. This John Ross had at least one son, John Ross, who was born at Kilmuir in 1756, land long associated with the Kindeace line of the Ross clan. Though it was around this time that the land was being sold off as the laird was deep in debt. John Ross married a distant cousin, Elizabeth Ross or Roy (the nmes are interchangeable at this time), in 1773, in Tain. He became the miller or ‘mealer’ of Cullisse and was previously of Culnaha. Back in 1664 Sir George Mackenzie of Tarbat had

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18th century highland croft house

lodged a complaint, saying that he owned a local mill with ‘indoubtit right of the particular thirlage … and specialle in the lands of Pitcalnie, Culdene, Cunahall, Culnald, Pitkyllian, Nigg, Annat, Sandwick …’ but Malcolm Ross and David McCulloch had built a new mill on the “commontie” ‘beyond all rule of law’, the new mill he was so angry about seems to have been a new mill at Cullisse, built by Malcolm Ross 1st Earl Kindeace which, 100 years later, would be milled by his great-great-grandson, John Ross. Being a miller was an extremely important roll a he was a servant of the laird responsible for taking his lord’s cut of everything that went through the mill, around one bag in every eight would be left as payment. Corn, beans, oats, barley… all sorts went through the grind stones, and the mill owner, the Laird of Kindeace in this case, took his cut. Given this job was one of great trust between the miller and the laird, it made sense that it would be a post given to a trusted member of the family, so this for me underlines the connection with this John Ross, mealer of Cullisse, and the Kindeace line. John and his wife had three children, David, Duncan and William. This being our Duncan Ross born in 1781, the name Duncan isn’t one found much in the Ross lines, if at all but if my conjecture on this association is correct it means he would have been named for Duncan Forbes of Culloden, a well-respected nobleman who would have been our John Ross’ great-grandfather, and John Ross’ uncle, Duncan Forbes Ross 3rd Kindeace.

Nigg Church, the place of worship for many generations of Ross.

All the books and annals I have studied speak of the difficulty in placing the lesser Rosses in later centuries in their correct lines, but I am 99% certain that my above line is correct. Dates, places and family names along with lots of processes of elimination (I have actually followed all the known lines of Ross descent and discounted them) all point to this being our line of Ross decent, though even if I am slightly out I am in no doubt at all that our line comes down through this Kindeace line.

For over three centuries the chiefship rested with the Ross’s of Balnagown, until the death of the 13th Chief of the Clan, David Ross of Balnagown, in 1711. The chiefship then passed to another Ross family, and the chief became the Hon. Charles Ross, son of Lord Ross of Hawkhead in Renfrewshire. David Ross of Ross and Shandwick is the current chief.

(Please Note – My research is ongoing as I am not 100% happy with the generation connection in the 1720 era. I will update this article when I have further information)


Remember, remember the 5th of November,

The gunpowder treason and plot!

I know of no reason

Why the gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

In the early hours of the 5th of November 1605, the royal guard apprehended a man acting suspiciously in a cellar beneath the Houses of Parliament. Upon being challenged he declared his name to be John Johnson. The authorities had received a letter tipping them off to a plot to assassinate the king, James I, the royal family and the assembled Members of Parliament at the opening session on that day. It had been decided to let the plan mature further, to the very last hours, maximizing the possibility of catching all the conspirators red-handed. A pre-dawn search of the buildings in the Westminster precincts revealed the swarthy, rugged Mr Johnson lurking amongst thirty-six barrels of gunpowder and a great mass of kindling – flame at the ready. Further enquiries ascertained that a certain Thomas Percy had rented the cellar, and so the first conspirator was connected. A known Catholic recusant (non-conformer to the established Church of England) he was servant and kinsman to Henry Percy, the revered Earl of Northumberland, a warrant was instantly issued for his arrest too. As the held man, John Johnson, was submitted to torture, illegal under common law but permissible by royal assent in the case of treason, the first domino in the chain fell, but not by any word from his lips – it would take three days of manacling and racking before the man held at the Tower of London spoke, admitting that his real name was Guy Fawkes – by this time he had hoped he had given the other twelve men involved in the plot ample time to flee abroad.

James I of England, VI of Scotland, had become successor to the English throne at the death of his childless second cousin, Elizabeth I, in March 1603. The protestant Elizabeth’s reign had been hard on the Catholic citizens who remained in England, her initial tolerance was lost due to various misguided Spanish and French sponsored plots to assassinate her, including one which involved James’ mother, Mary Queen of Scots, and led to her imprisonment and beheading by her English cousin. Recusants under Elizabeth were heavily fined or repeatedly imprisoned. The extortionate fines completely wiped out the fortunes of many great families, but still they refused to give up what they saw as the ‘true faith’, practicing their religion in hidden chapels within their great houses, and harbouring priests within a warren-like network of ingeniously constructed ‘priest holes’. With the coming of a new king came new hope, even though the king himself was a protestant, his beloved mother had been a devout Catholic and so, it was rumoured, was his Danish wife, Anne. The Catholic, English nobles flocked to him as he made his procession down from Scotland to take the crown of England, courting him and managing to gain an indication that he would be tolerant to Catholics under his reign. That was all they wanted – toleration. James suspended the fines and set free those Catholics who were being held in prison because of their faith, he even gave a few known Catholic nobles good positions within his court, in the summer of 1603 all looked set fair for the catholic community of England, some exiles even began to return from abroad. As the year passed and became 1604, the king enjoyed his riding and his hunting but did little to pass laws that assured the Act of Tolerance. Some grew restless and two factions emerged: those Catholics who sought tolerance and those who would see the king toppled and a Catholic relation upon the throne. Initially, these radicals had hoped for help from Spain in this matter, by way of an invasion, but the canny James signed a peace accord with the Spanish, thus scuppering any hope of aid to the rebels. Two audacious plots against him, the Bye Plot and the Main Plot were discovered and many nobles were arrested for their involvement, including England’s darling, Sir Walter Raleigh.

James I was obsessive about his personal safety, having been the target of assassination attempts all his life, these Idiscovered plots changed his mind on tolerance, if his real plan had ever been that at all! In the early months of 1604 James publicly declared his ‘utter detestation of the papist religion’. This was shortly followed by proclamations ordering all Jesuit priests from the kingdom and fines for recusants to be reinstated – with demands for any arrears due through 1603! To a certain young Catholic noble from the Midlands this was too much, he decided the king had to go!

Robert Catesby was a charismatic, glamour boy and hero of his time – a soldier, expert swordsman and horseman; well loved and admired by all at court and in society. His noble family had been heavily persecuted under Elizabeth for their devout Catholicism. From the age of eight Catesby had seen his father regularly taken to the Tower for harbouring priests and other such crimes against the state, and his family were taxed to near bankruptcy for their beliefs. In the summer of 1604 he decided enough was enough. He devised a plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament upon its opening session of 1605, killing the king, his two male heirs and the assembled Parliament, the king’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, who was but ten years old at the time, would be kidnapped and installed as a puppet monarch whilst a pro-Catholic government was installed. Catesby brought together an assembly of likeminded friends and relations and told them of his plan. He had an incredibly persuasive manner, insisting to those who were initially horrified by the idea that ‘a dangerous disease requires a desperate remedy’ (a statement which was to become a catchphrase to the plotters). Catesby recruited Thomas Wintour, Catesby’s brother-in-law and Robert Wintour, his brother. Distant cousins of Catesby, the brothers John and Christopher Wright; Thomas Percy was an intimate friend of Catesby’s and brother-in-law to the Wrights. Later, other close friends and relations were enlisted – Robert Keyes, John Grant, Ambrose Rokewood, Sir Everard Digby, Francis Tresham and Thomas Bates (Catesby’s servant). The thirteenth member of the group, an outsider introduced to them by the Wright brothers who went to school with them, was Guy ‘Guido’ Fawkes. A Catholic, Yorkshire man, Fawkes had served as a mercenary in a long military career on the continent and was an expert with explosives. They were united in their devotion to the Catholic religion and a hatred of the English monarchy’s oppression of that faith. They planned their move for the next state opening of parliament in March 1605, but plague was rife in the capital so the parliament was suspended until the fateful day of the 5th November.

The plot was sprung in the small hours of that day, and as word spread across London the people spontaneously lit great bonfires in celebration of their monarch’s safe delivery from the jaws of death. Through the swirling smoke twelve men made desperate rides out from the capital, their plot having been discovered. Instead of making for the safety of the continent, as the be-racked Fawkes was hoping, the men rode to their homes in the Midlands in a vain, final hope of Catesby’s to rally men behind them in an uprising. It quickly became apparent that this was but a fool’s dream and the men made for various hideouts. Heavy rain slowed their escape and some were caught on route. Catesby, Percy and others made for Holbeche House – the home of a friend and sympathizer, Stephen Lyttleton. On the 7th of November, the house was surrounded by Richard Walsh, the Sheriff of Worcestershire, and his men and a shoot-out ensued. Catesby, Sir Ambrose Rokewood, Lord John Grant and Grant’s friend, Henry Morgan, all died in the battle, their situation not helped by an explosion of their own gunpowder stores that had been set to dry out by the fire!

The rest of the conspirators were rounded up, as were those close to them as well as many innocents who were wrongly implicated. The main surviving plotters were hung, drawn and quartered as were some who were wrongly condemned. Others suffered imprisonment and heavy fines, including wives and aunts of the conspirators. Guy Fawkes appeared before the baying mob of spectators who had paid up to ten shillings each to see the ‘terrorists’ suffer their gruesome execution, but he denied them their spectacle by jumping from the gallows when the noose was placed around his neck, thus killing himself and avoiding his drawing and quartering whilst still conscious.

Catholic emancipation was set back another two hundred years because of this plot and Catholicism was not fully and legally re-established in England until 1850. James I installed an Act of Parliament in January 1606 called the ‘Thanksgiving Act’ which decreed that the populace would commemorate his safe deliverance from the evil plot on November the 5th each year, and thus the tradition of bonfires, fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes was born. The Act remained within the constitution until 1859, and Guy Fawkes Night is celebrated the length and breadth of this land to this day. Though, to my mind, it should be ‘Robert Catesby’s Night’ by rights, but time and tradition has forgotten the real man behind the plot, and his cohorts; only the outsider, the ‘hired help’ has been remembered.

Remember, Remember the fifth of November

The gunpowder treason and plot,

I know of no reason

Why in this gunpowder treason

Catesby should ever be forgot!

(Addition to the traditional rhyme by Peggy-Dorothea)

Peggy-Dot AKA novelist Peggy-Dorothea Beydon, is the author of The Book Ark series and More Than Gold – A Klondike Adventure. She is also a highly accomplished craftswoman. You can discover much more about her and her work by going to the home page of this website.  

John Ross 1806-1878 & Duncan Ross 1781-1861

This is the first in a two part set of articles on the noble origins of the Ross lineage of myself and my blood relatives of this line. It has taken many, many hours of very hard detective work to piece this line together. I have not only taken evidence from the usual ancestral sources, BMD records, census records etc but also from some very ancient Scottish annals, chronicles, land records, parish accounts and even letters to assure myself that this line, to the very best of my ability and knowledge, is correct. The key to it all was the deciphering of one word on a birth record; after a fair few weeks of intently staring at this word, written in the Nigg Church entries for 1781, and with the invaluable input of my husband, the indecipherable squiggle can now be clearly read for what it actually is ‘mealer’ (a Scottish term for Miller). This was confirmed by another subsequent document I discovered which showed him to still be a miller in 1787. To understand why this was such an important breakthrough, and for what it then imparted, read on.   

Birth and Baptism entries for Duncan Ross 1781

My last article on my Ross ancestry was about William Ross, my great-great-grandfather. As you have read, he was illegitimate and his mother, Betsy Ross, left him in the care of his grandparents, John Ross and Mary (Mclean) Ross. John Ross was born in Aberdeen, although I cannot find a record of his birth, all of his census entries state emphatically that he was born in Aberdeen. His death record names his parents as Duncan Ross and Elizabeth Cameron, and I have a huge suspicion that his father, Duncan, was in the army. Given this period is at the height of the Napoleonic wars and recruitment was high among young Highlanders. I am fairly sure this is where he spent his youth, even though I cannot link any documents to him specifically there are tantalising traces that indicate this was the case.

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Highland regiments C1810

His wife, Elizabeth Cameron seems to have been born in Nairn, although – again ­– it has been impossible to find a marriage record, but they must have been married in the opening years of the 19th century. My biggest weight of evidence for Duncan being in the army is that their first born, John, was born in Aberdeen, then there is a 7 year gap between him and his brother Duncan being born in 1813 in Nairn. We already know from Betsy Ross’ story that soldiers were a regular feature of Nairn life, often garrisoned nearby, and Aberdeen was one of the central forts for the military. Indeed, it is where Betsy went when she married her soldier husband and had the first of three girls. I have a similar inkling that John may have been in the army in his youth, though yet again I have no concrete evidence.

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18th Century Road Building

The first actual record we have of John Ross is his marriage to Mary Mclean in Nairn, on the 29th of July, 1830, when they were both 24 years old. John settles down to life as a road labourer in Nairn, and by the 1841 census he and Mary are living in the Tradespark area of Nairn, with 4 children (Betsy Ross being their 2nd child aged 6 at the time), they go on to have 5 children in all, Findlay, Betsy, William, Mary & John. By the 1861 census, William Ross, my great-great-grandfather is 1 year old and living with his grandparents at Moss side, Tradespark, Nairn. William has been abandoned by his mother who has gone off with her new husband (see previous blog). John and Mary have taken responsibility for their grandson, John is now 58 and working in the quarry. Sadly, Mary died in 1867 and shortly after young William is sent to work on a farm. On the 1871 census John is living alone in Collectors Close, just off of Nairn High Street, he is 65 and working as a road labourer again. With old age John falls into poverty, which was common for the elderly in this era. He ends his days in Collector’s Close dying at 8pm on the 2nd of February 1878, he died of ‘apoplexy of a few hours’. Mary Ross, his daughter witnessed the death, signing with an ‘X’.

John Ross Death Certificate 1878

We now jump back a generation to John’s father, Duncan. He was born in 1781 in a small village called Nigg, on the opposite banks of the Moray Firth to Nairn, on the peninsular of Ross and Cromarty. He was the son of John Ross and Elizabeth Ross or Roy (these two names were somewhat interchangeable in this area at this time), who were married in Tain in 1773. Duncan had at least 2 older brothers, David and William. His father, John, was the ‘mealer’, or miller, of Cullisse at the time, and is also noted as being formerly of Culnaha – both evidenced on Duncan’s birth records (see above). Cullisse and Culnaha are small settlements in the environs of Nigg and the nearby town of Tain. This information was of great importance in tracing the family line back beyond this point. This area of Scotland is the Ross clan heartland, and every other person who lived in the area at this time was a Ross, or related to the Ross clan. The branches of the descendants of the first Earl of Ross had splintered over the centuries, into several noble lines residing in the area, and throughout the centuries marrying your Ross cousin was commonplace. It is exasperatingly hard to trace the correct line of a Ross ancestor in this area as John, William, Alexander, David, Malcolm and Robert were traditional family names to all the Ross’, and it is somewhat akin to unraveling a mass of tangled wires in attempting to locate the correct father and son, especially when some of the records are almost illegible or non-existent, and rarely mention mothers in this period. I came very close to giving up on attempting to take this line any further back, but one thing gave me a chink of hope that I might be able to pick up the line, Duncan is a very rare name amongst the Ross clan, and further research showed that it only seems to feature in one particular family line of the clan.

The church at Nigg

So, Duncan Ross, my 5 times great-grandfather was born in the small village of Nigg 1781, and probably served in a highland regiment through the Napoleonic war. He married Elizabeth Cameron of Nairn in the early years of the 1800s and they had their first son, John (see above) in Aberdeen in 1806. The family were settled in Nairn by the time he had his second son, Duncan in 1813. They lived at 2, Rose Street, Nairn where Duncan is listed as a ‘Flesher’, or butcher, on the 1841 census, aged 62.

2 Rose Street, Nairn

He and Elizabeth had at least two other children, Isobel in 1816 and Maria in 1818. John and Elizabeth can be found at the house in Rose Street right up until their deaths, Elizabeth aged about 61 in 1867, John aged 72 in 1878.

The author searching for her ancestors graves during a trip to Nigg 2013

Where did the Ross clan stem from before Duncan? We know for certain his father was the mealer of Cullisse, but what were the origins of this John Ross? All will be revealed in my next blog article

Peggy-Dot AKA novelist Peggy-Dorothea Beydon, is the author of The Book Ark series and More Than Gold – A Klondike Adventure. She is also a highly accomplished craftswoman. You can discover much more about her and her work by going to the home page of this website.  

Best Laid Plans…

When I launched this website a few weeks back I promised you a weekly Sunday blog with absolute intent, and my best laid plans would have undoubtedly worked out, if I had a regular Monday – Sunday week like most folk. However, circumstance dictates that my week revolves on a strange set of cogs compared to most other people’s lives, and so my routine runs on a more haphazard wobble of a ten day reset. My dearly beloved works shifts, which currently consist of — 4 early shifts, 2 days off, 4 late shifts, 2 days off. (I say currently as these are constantly in review and shift with a movement akin to the sandbanks off of the North Norfolk Coast). As we like to maximize our time together, I have always worked to my husband’s shift patterns – but for a creative type this is rather challenging. As any artist will tell you, the muse is fickle, she ebbs and flows with no sense of timing whatsoever, it is always hard to be structured as an artist, even though some essence of a routine is creatively a very positive thing.

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Anyway, in recent weeks I have been very deeply drawn into my research, have acquired 5 new hens, my husband has had a few holiday days… and a super-long list of whole other stuff that has distracted and detained me. I am holding my hands up and owning fully the fact that my blog articles are never going to have regularity. Peggy-Dorothea simply does not do regularity, there I have finally declared out loud and in print! As my 50s progress I am discovering that I am seeing far more clearly what I am, and what I am most certainly not — I am also becoming fully aware of ‘what is and what should never be…’ to quote Led Zeppelin, what I can aspire to and what I should simply accept as ‘simply me’ about myself. To that end, the ‘Sunday Blog’ has become ‘Articles’ — you will get stuff from me as mood, time and inspiration strike — in other words, I embrace that I am a wild brown field mouse roaming far and wide without limitations, and not a red-eyed, white one continually trundling along on its wheel till it is time to eat or sleep 😉

Why be an Indie Author?

I am an independent, self-publishing author and extremely proud to be so. Once upon a time, self-publishing held a bit of a stigma, but with modern technology enabling authors to DIY, why wouldn’t we seek to take complete control of our art? Apart from a few short stories and articles that I have had published in magazines, I have always self-published. My publishing labels have gone through a few names, but I have recently relaunched under the Peggy-Dot Books label, which I hope to be publishing under for a very long time now. I am an independent author completely through choice, I have had interest from traditional publishers over the years, but before signatures have been put on dotted lines I have always taken the decision I prefer the freedom being an indie brings me. I like to have full control of the complete process of producing my novels — from initial inception to published novel. It is extremely hard work at times, especially in the editing stages, but I love being involved in every aspect of producing a novel, even when it leaves me in floods of tears and tearing my hair out! I am incredibly lucky that my husband acts as my editor and proofreader (and head cheerleader), even putting himself through a proofreading course just so he can perform this role thoroughly for me. I also have an invaluable team of alpha readers who eagerly help ensure that the books are as perfect as they can be when they reach publication – to be honest, many indie authors’ books are of a much higher standard than commercial publishers as proofreading is often extremely poor in their novels today, infuriatingly so at times.

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I am in very good company being an indie author, when you dig around in biographies, there are some very surprising authors who self-published, either through necessity or choice. In the eighteenth century, and into the nineteenth century, publishing by subscription was common practice, the original crowd funding really. Some names surprise though, Frank Baum, Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, William Strunk Jr, Mark Twain, e.e. cummings, Marcel Proust, Beatrix Potter, Charles Dickens,  James Joyce, Anais Nins … this list is almost endless. In this modern era some of my favourite authors are indie/self-publishers and increasing numbers of big established names are doing it for themselves as the technology is all in place to allow the author to have complete artistic control, and see maximum profits from their work — as royalties have been squeezed hard because of discount selling, and like the farmers with the supermarkets it is always the author who absorbs this cut.

If you choose to go down the traditional publishing route you have to run the gauntlet of submission which is a roller coaster nightmare for any author, and if you are accepted you will have to kowtow to the changes they want to make – and these changes can be major, whole changes of characters, settings etc. to make your novel more commercial in their eyes, not necessarily to improve it. Accountants run the industry now, and they are only interested in things they know are safe bets to sell — which is why celebrity written novels — which are more often than not written by a ghost writer and just given the celebrities name — swamp the market. Advances are a rare if not extinct now, and you will be lucky to see 20 pence from each book sale once the publisher has taken their cut, single figure royalties are common even for the biggest names.  They do little to market your book, and you might not even see it on the shelves of bookshops — many publishers simply print on demand like indie authors do to save money. It is growing more and more common that a commercial publisher will only put you into eBook version now, to see how you sell, and take a huge cut of your earnings for the privilege of them doing something you can do so easily yourself. Traditional publishers will not promote your book, you will still have to go out and sell your product and yourself just like any indie — so why would anyone bother with an established publisher? The mental kudos of your book being given the nod by an established publishing house accepting it still lingers within most writers, it was always the top of the hill we were all striving for, but this is such an outmoded way of thinking in 2019. In my youth, I always preferred indie bands to those who had record companies behind them — it is exactly the same now in publishing — the fun, dynamic, radical, exciting books being published today are indie, as are the more traditional reads that commercial publishers don’t want, as their twenty-something assistants don’t think it is what people want to read – few publishing assistants who work through the slush piles are over 50, the market that read more than any other age group.

After three years out of the game I have returned to find services for indie authors have advanced hugely. You can do some or all of the process yourself, depending on your abilities, there are editors, cover artists and upload services aplenty to help you get your book online and into print. For myself I am happiest taking the whole process on board myself, enabled by some great free at point of use services, like Draft 2 Digital, I can’t sing the praises of this service enough, and Canva enables the production of a really good book cover (both these I will go more in-depth on in a future post) KDP and Smashwords equally offer great platforms to get online, and the routes into print-on-demand to get your book into paperback are growing in number and ease of use. All the services mentioned above are free to use initially, they take a small percentage cut if you sell a book — I personally have very little money so I never pay in advance to produce a book, I always look for commission services. I learned very early on that whether you are conventionally published or fly solo, you are very unlikely to make a living wage from your work in this day and age, far too few of the population read for pleasure nowadays. My four books have been on sale for 6 years now, and I have made less than £500 from their sales, at times only making 25p a book. Admittedly, I haven’t been marketing them very much, but I know a few indie author friends who work their socks off marketing, but haven’t seen much more income, to be honest.

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So, why spend months, if not years, writing to see little financial return? Let’s face it, writers throughout time have starved in garrets and generally haven’t seen much from their efforts, not even fame in their own lifetime. When writing is in your blood, when your head fills with tales at every turn, you simply can’t help being a writer. The need to share these stories with others is what drives us writers on. Yes, of course we all have a deep hidden hope that we will be the next surprise big thing and our story snapped up to be turned into a movie, but it is very unlikely. Story is everything, it is the passion that drives and the art of language, constructing your tale using just the right words to convey exactly what is in your head onto the page so the reader can translate those words back into a picture in their head is absolute magic to me, and timeless. You can read words written hundreds of years ago and still see what the author wanted you to see.

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Through the years I have wrestled long and hard with spending endless days tapping away at a keyboard, to make £10 a month, in a good month, that is! I have walked away from my art, and made good money elsewhere doing other stuff, but the muse didn’t stop calling me, and in the end I could resist no more, I have returned to my desk and picked up my pen, which is a great relief to all those characters trapped in my head who want their tales told. I am incredibly blessed to have a husband who believes so strongly in my writing skills, and loves my stories so much, that he happily supports me so I can stay home and write. His belief in me far exceeds my own, but I have finally relented and stopped stressing that I will never raise our standard of living by my literary efforts. We live simply and within our budget, to allow me the luxury of writing, and technology enables me to live my dream. All I want in life is to write…publish…write, as simple as that – being an indie author allows me to live that dream, with just the press of a few buttons. Then, hopefully, my very lovely loyal fans, and word of mouth will do the rest. So, when people ask me why I am an indie author, I always reply ‘Why wouldn’t you be?’

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William Ross 1859 – 1902 & Barbara Hogg 1862 – 1937

Following on from my last genealogy post about my great-grandmother, Barbara Ross, this blog is about her parents, my great-great grandparents, William Ross and Barbara Hogg.

William Ross was born in the ancient fishing port of Nairn, in Scotland on the 13th of June 1859, the illegitimate son of Elizabeth Ross, who preferred to go by the name of Betsy. On his birth entry her occupation has been initially entered as an “agricultural labourer” but the “labourer” has a firm, neat line through it, to be replaced with the word “servant” – obviously the distinction was very important to young Betsy Ross. Betsy was 23 years old when her son was born at her parent’s home, Moss Side, in an area of Nairn known as Tradespark. William is clearly entered as illegitimate on the birth entry, and his mother was illiterate, as she made her cross on the entry.

William Ross’ Birth Entry 1859

I have not been able to uncover the merest hint as to who William’s father was. In 1851, 8 years before William’s birth, the 15-year-old Betsy had been working a mile or so away from her parent’s home at Crook Farm, which was owned by bachelor William Malcolm, a 21-year-old farmer, who employed Betsy, alongside Janet Fraser, 23, and John Macpherson, 16, this is probably the same farm Betsy was working on when she gave birth to William, eight years later.

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Soldiers of the 78th Highland Regiment

On the 9th of January, 1860 Betsy married John Sullivan, a soldier from Kinsale, Ireland. He was 13 years older than Betsy, and had risen to lance corporal after 21 years in the army, serving in the 78th Highland Regiment – having served with them in India, he was one of the Heroes of Luknow, he also served in Persia and Canada in his illustrious, long army career. It seems that John Sullivan was not William’s father, as Betsy soon moved to Aberdeen with her new husband, leaving William with his grandparents in Nairn. In 1861 William’s half-sister Elizabeth was born and sometime between 1862 and 1865 his mother moved back to Nairn to live close by, as both of William’s next half-sisters, Mary Ann and Henrietta, were born in Nairn – Betsy and her family living at Moss Hall, and William and his grandparents living next-door at Moss Side, described below in a town survey of around that time.

“Moss Side – Applied to a number of Cot houses all of which are one storey high, and mostly composed of wood, in middling repair, the property of the burgh of Nairn.”

1869 Poor Report of the area.

“Moss Hall– this name is at present applied to two small dwelling houses, one of which is 2 storey’s and slated, the other one storey & thatched, both in bad repair The property of Earl of Cawdor.”

1869 Poor Report of the area.

The Sullivans moved to Inverness in 1870, where John Sullivan became a police constable. Around the same time William was placed, aged 11, at Stonewells Farm, Bog Hole, Auldearn, to work as a farm servant. He was the servant of William Petrie and his wife, living with them and their four children aged from 30 down to 15.

Scottish farm servants of the period

The farm was described in a parish report of the time:

this is a large farm house two storeys high with offices attached, the former slated and in excellent condition the latter nearly all slated also in good repair. A short distance to the north of this house, and between the road, and the River, there is a cairn of stones, entirely grown over with whins, and on the top of which, there is a stone coffin. It is about 5 feet long, and about 2 broad, and is now full of loose stones It is not known when it was discovered, or if it contained any human remains or not, The cairn has no name…”

We know that William became a ploughman, as that was his profession in 1876, when he joined the army. On the 16th June, 1876 – 3 days after his 17th birthday, William took the Queen’s shilling, claiming he was 18 years and 3 months old. He joined the 78th Highlanders, his step-father’s old, heroic regiment, but soon after he enlisted the regiment was merged with the 71st Glasgow Highlanders, as part of the army reform at the time, to form the 55th Brigade of the Highland Light Infantry. From William’s army records we know he was 5ft 6” upon enlistment (though he grew 2 more inches in the coming years, as at 20 his height is recorded as 5ft 8”), with a chest measurement of 32”, his complexion was dark, as was his hair, and he had hazel coloured eyes. It appears obvious that John Sullivan had been part of William’s decision to join up as he joined this regiment specifically, and there is mention of a letter of recommendation attached when he enlists, sadly the letter is no longer with his records, but I would make a small wager it was from the highly regarded, retired Lance-Corporal Sullivan. John Sullivan was also listed as William’s next of kin, along with his mother and three half-sisters, so it seems he had a fair relationship with them. William was to serve 7 years in the army, in that time he was stationed first in Malta, then Cyprus, as part of the British occupation after the Anglo–Turkish Cyprus Convention. The Highlanders were poorly prepared for the sweltering temperature, being dressed in their “red woollen doublets and thick trews”.Here is a description of the conditions William would have encountered:

“The first fatality occurred on that day; Sergeant Sam McGraw VC, who was 40 years old, collapsed and died of heat apoplexy during the 3 mile march to Chiflik Pasha camp sited near a stream leading into Larnaca Salt Lake. He was buried where he fell, his grave marked with a simple wooden cross. The camp at Chiflik Pasha was next to the stagnant water of the Salt Lake, infested with mosquitoes and sand flies. They remained there for a hellishly hot month before being moved to the north coast on 21 Aug to a camp on a treeless plain near Kyrenia. Three men died of fever at Chiflik, and a quarter of the regiment had malaria at any one time. Five more men died at Kyrenia and four more in Paphos. Two more died on the way home, making 14 deaths in all. Garnet Wolseley commented repeatedly on the devastating effects that illness was having in his journal. On 4 Nov 1878 he wrote:

“Visited [Kyrenia] Camp and went round the hospital. The men are listless and weak and evidently most depressed in spirits. I never saw a Corps so utterly demoralised… The men have no strength. They tumble down when in the ranks at early church parade on Sunday.”

The effects of illness on these soldiers alerted the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War so that they went out to Cyprus in November 1878. They immediately ordered the removal of the regiments from the island and drastically altered their plans to use Cyprus as a station for troops to rendezvous for potential deployment to Asia Minor and Egypt. Apart from malaria many of the Highlanders came down with a debilitating and sometimes fatal prolonged feverish illness with rheumatic symptoms. This illness went by the term remittent fever. It would be nearly 30 years before it was found to be caught from drinking infected goats milk and later called brucellosis in honour of the scientist Sir David Bruce.”

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Edinburgh Castle in 1865

William seems to have been made of sturdy stock, or it may have been purely luck, but his medical sheet does not record him being struck down by any of the above during his time there. He was on Cyprus from July 1878 to March 1880. Upon being shipped home, William’s regiment was installed at Edinburgh Castle, soon to become the 1st Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry, as part of the ongoing military reforms. William’s rank is now bugler, and it would have been around this time that a certain young lassy caught his eye. Barbara Hogg, had been born on the 10TH October 1862 to tinsmith John Hogg and his wife Elizabeth neé Hay. She was the 2nd youngest daughter of her father’s second marriage. In all he had 13 children, 6 in the first, and 7 in the second marriage. Although her father had been a successful tinsmith, John Hogg died in 1875, leaving the family fairly destitute, his wife Elizabeth having to work as a washerwoman after his death. It would seem that Barbara’s mother was not best pleased when her daughter announced that she was pregnant and marrying a soldier, as the 1881 census was taken few days before her marriage to William Ross – we find Barbara living with her elder brother and his family on the other side of town to her mother. It is interesting to note that the woman who would later be quoted in the newspaper as saying “it is the first stage of ruin” about her own daughter, out and about with gentlemen till all hours in 1911, was no angel herself in her youth. (see below)

“First stage of ruin” report from 1911

On the 18th of April 1881, William Ross, bugler with the 78th Highlanders (as entered on his wedding certificate – it seems however much the powers that be renumbered the regiments, they clung proudly to their origins) married 18-year-old Barbara Hogg, of 312 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, daughter of James Hogg, army pensioner (deceased) and Barbara Hay… the address she gave was neither her mother’s or her brother’s, her father’s name was John, not James, and he was a tinsmith, and her mother’s name was Elizabeth. It would seem that Barbara was trying to cover her tracks a bit, but I am not sure why, because at the time Scotland’s law allowed a girl to marry at 12, without parental consent. Four months later, on the 3rd of August, John William Atchison Ross was born. There must have been a reconciliation between mother and daughter, as Barbara’s address on the birth certificate is just along the road from her mum’s house, at 17 Simon Square, Edinburgh – her mother living at number 9. It is impossible to know if William was around for the birth of his son, as his regiment were barracked in Glasgow a month after the wedding. A year later, William was being shipped out to Egypt with his regiment amid the eruption of the Egypt and Sudan war of 1882. William saw action at the battle of El Tel Kebir, for which he was awarded the Egyptian Medal with clasp  – a fabulous account of this battle can be read here https://www.britishbattles.com/war-in-egypt-and-sudan/battle-of-tel-el-kebir/ William was in Egypt from August 1882 to March 1883. Shortly after his return, William resigned from the army, the reason given is “traumatisation after his first period of engagement”, he continued in the Seaforth Highlander reserves until 1892.

I am 90% certain that Pte Ross pictured here is our William Ross – it is right regiment, right place, right time – taken just after El Tel Kebir

The couple had three sons before moving to London around 1888, John William Aitchison Ross(1881 – 1941), William Ross (1886 – 1949), Andrew Hogg Ross (1886 – 1941) They settled in the St Pancras area and William took a job as a furniture packer for the upmarket furniture shop, Maples of Tottenham Court Road. He must have been very well regarded there as my grandmother, his granddaughter, got her first job with Maples in around 1938 on the strength that her grandfather had worked there over 35 years before. They seem to have moved around the area a lot, I have found seven different addresses for them around St Pancras between 1888 and 1901. The rest of their children were born in London – Henry Frank Ross (1889 – 1956), Frank Hogg Ross (1891 – 1956) 1956), *Barbara Ross (1894 – 1940)*, Charles Ross (1896 – 1963), Maggie Sullivan Ross (1897 – 1974).

William died at University College Hospital, London of “Acute Lobar Pneumonia (8 days) and Asphyxia”, he was 43years old.

It must have been a huge shock to the family to lose William in such a terrible way, and relatively young at 43. Barbara was now on her own after 21 years, I think Barbara’s feelings for her husband can be summed up by her own hand nine years later, on the 1911 census entry – under completed years of present marriage she wrote 30. That life suddenly became rather tough for Barbara can be in now doubt, I have no records as to if she still received William’s army pension, after his death, but having never worked at all while William was alive, she had to work as a charwoman after his death. From the 1901 census, a year before William died, we can see that all eight of the children are still living at home, ranging in age from 19 down to 3. Ten years later only the youngest, now teenagers, Barbara, Charles and Maggie are still living with their mother. It appears that from about 1914 and through the 1930s she lived at 22 Drummond Street with Barbara initially, and Maggie for a while, we also know that Frank Ross, her grandson lived with her from his birth in 1914. In the mid 1930s Barbara was moved into St George’s Flats, on the Somers Town Sidney Estate, where my nan’s family and other family members also lived after the Jellicoe slum clearances.

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My grandmother had a very clear memory of her strict Scottish grandmother and namesake, and she could still mimic her fine Edinburgh brogue, even as an old lady herself, it was so ingrained in her. Barbara Hogg Ross would have been 62 when my nan was born. She clearly remembered her big half-brother, Frank, living with their nan. Even when he was a grown man, and a burly, tough boxer my nan recalled her ‘little’ nan regularly chasing him around the flat bashing him hard with her walking stick for some misdemeanour or another. My nan also remembered being sent regularly to her nan’s flat with money from her mum. Her nan would say that she would see her safely back home, but she would always stop off the corner of my nan’s street and tell her “I can see you well enough from here, I’ll wait till I see you get down there safely, no need to look back, I’ll be here.” Of course when my nan got to the door of her flats she would look back, but her nan would always be gone, as if by magic. It wasn’t till years later that my nan realised there was a pub door right on that corner and once her nan saw her get safely to the flats, she would slip in there for a tipple. Barbara had the joy of grandchildren several times over from her own large brood, and the family seemed to have been very close in my nan’s childhood memories. From things my nan told me I think her ancestors get their creativity and canniness from this woman, in buckets. She was a neat, tidy woman who believed clean hands and nails, and clean shoes were of paramount importance. I also think, as evidenced from my last blog in the article about her daughter Barbara’s late night antics, we can see she was a strong, feisty woman who would brook no nonsense from anyone, and that certainly has come down through the women in my side of the family too!

Barbara Hogg Ross died in June 1937, aged 75.

** Denotes my direct ancestral line.

Barbara Ross 1894 – 1940

When a person begins to research their family tree they have to be prepared to uncover things they might be uncomfortable with, the proverbial skeleton in the closet. Long-held family traditions and legends may flounder on the hidden rocks of fact, and Titanic sized tales will often be sunk by torpedoes of truth. Even in my small, quiet family a whole double wardrobe of bare bones has come tumbling out. Some of these lives make for rather troubling reading, but I am a great believer in not judging history by personal or modern standards. I think my psychology training also makes me seek the causes of the events that took place, and in general you can clearly see why lives took the road they did. My research into my family origins is built on entire fact, checked and doubled checked through documented evidence; it is their true story, and often full of detail that they themselves, or later generations chose to omit. There is perhaps a train of thought which says that I should keep these secrets, not hang this dirty linen on a very public global line, but through the years strange coincidences have often occurred during my research, and I have had very supernatural moments that have caused me to conclude that these people actually want their stories to be told, however colourful they may be. We are, in general, raised by our families to hold values, in our youth it is they who lay down rules which become our credo – and sometimes it is rather hard to envisage that these same parents, grandparents, great-grandparents… perhaps, did not lead such virtuous lives as we would imagine they did – one such case is my great-grandmother, Barbara Ross.

My nan (Barbara’s daughter) and me 1983.

My grandmother, Barbara’s daughter, was a family storyteller with an exceptional memory. From the earliest age I would sit at her knee and hang upon her every word as she related stories of her childhood to me, until I knew them so well I felt I had actually lived them myself. My nan’s account of her life up until she met my grandad was that she had been raised in Somers Town, St Pancras, amongst very impoverished folk. She obviously idolised her mother, who was credited with instilling my nan with her extremely high moral values, though, there was also a hint of a vivacious, fun loving woman hidden within the tales too. That Barbara Ross was a strong woman, there is no doubt – my family has a rich vein of women strong of body, mind and determination which subsists within their descendants today. My nan said that when her mother died, she didn’t want to be turned into her dad’s skivvy, so ran off and joined the WAAF under age – never to have contact with her family ever again. None of us ever questioned my nan about what her mum died of, I think we all assumed it was a bomb in the war. We also never really questioned my nan’s bitter loathing of her father – she never had a good word to say about him, although even these tales, told from her point of view, showed glimpses of an extremely hardworking man who loved his family and had a huge pride in how exceptionally clever his eldest child was.

Barbara’s Birth Certificate

My great-grandmother, Barbara Ross, was born on the 23rd of May 1894, the seventh of nine children, and the first daughter, of William Ross and his wife, Barbara (née Hogg). Her parents had moved to London about ten years before. William had been in the army since 1876, and although he had resigned in 1883, after his return from Egypt, he remained in the army reserve for many years. William had been born in Nairn, whereas his wife hailed from Edinburgh. They had moved to London after William left the army, where he had taken a job as a packing case maker and furniture packer for the high-class furniture manufacturer Maples. Barbara was born at 41 Compton Street, St Pancras, a very poor and rundown area according to the Booth Poverty Map of 1898. In the Booth’s notebooks he describes it as “…very rough, thieves… children very dirty and ragged but well fed”. Though, he noted that there were seven houses on the east side that have been “done up, with clean, well-dressed children from one of them…” given what I know of my great-great-grandmother, this could well have been their house, though it is impossible to know – but clean, well-dressed children in such a rundown area sounds very much like my family. Booth also describes the area as a street with shops, including a coffee shop offering “…a rasher, one egg, 2 slices of bread and butter and a cup of tea, coffee or cocoa for 4 1/2d”.

The next we hear of Barbara is on the 1st of July 1898, when she is registered to attend Prospect Terrace School, which was a very radical project for the time, built in 1890 specifically to provide the poor children of the area a place to learn and play whilst their parents were at work. The family are at this time living at 9 Wicklow Street, Camden – a slightly better, working class area where policemen and cabmen dwell, though Booth had to seek police escort through the surrounding streets filled with “villainy and prostitution” and doss houses at every corner. By the 1901 Census the family are living at 17 Wakefield Mews, a mews of stables tucked away off of Regent’s Square. Booth describes it in 1899 “…small stables used by shops. The rooms overhead are let out to a poorer class”, it would have been in these “rooms overhead” that the 6-year-old Barbara would have been living with her parents and 8 siblings, her eldest brother, John, a sailor of 19, her youngest sibling 3-year-old Maggie, the only other girl born to Mr and Mrs Ross.

On the 5th of January 1902, Barbara’s father died of asphyxia in University College Hospital, after suffering eight days of pneumonia. This would have been a very traumatic passing to witness, especially for a 7-year-old girl. The family were living at 24 Warren Street, St Pancras at this time, a similar poor area to the last. Skip forward nine years to the census of 1911, and 16-year-old Barbara’s world has changed dramatically. Her mother, who up until now had been a housewife, is now working as a char woman, and she herself is working as a “tailoress” or so it says on the census entry. Only Barbara, her brother Charles and her sister Maggie are still at home, although most of her brother’s never live too far away throughout Barbara’s life. They are living in 2 rooms at 31 Euston Street, described by Booth as an area of “all very low people”. Unusually, Barbara appears on two censuses in 1911, I assume that she slept at her place of work too, and this is why she appears on two entries, as we also find her at 9 Colville Place in the Fitzrovia area of London. She is working for Harris and Sophie Schaffer, Russian immigrant tailors. They have four sons, 3 of whom work in the tailor business, the other was a violinist. They are doing well enough to have a servant, and a niece also works with them as a tailoress. Last on the list is Barbara, and here we get the first glimpse of my family’s inherent aspirations, for she may have thought herself a “tailoress” at 17, but in actual fact she is viewed by her employer as an “errand girl”.

In 1911 Barbara also found herself in the newspapers. She had apparently been out all night when her mother went to look for her at 3am. She found Barbara in St George Street, with a man and another woman. My great-grandmother was reportedly “smacked” by her mum and sent home, my Scottish great-great-grandmother then apparently set about the man. You can read the report here.

Barbara’s Assault Incident

The fact that Barbara was an unruly teenager is perhaps evidenced by the above and the fact that on the 11th of August 1914 she gave birth to an illegitimate son, Frank Ross, she had been working as a kitchen maid at the time of his birth. On Frank’s birth certificate he is illegitimate, though at his christening Barbara gives his father’s name as “Ernest Ross”, although, I have never found evidence that this man existed. My nan knew her half-brother very well, he was ten years older than her and grew up to be a boxer, “Ginger Ross” he lived with their grandmother. My nan was brought up to believe that Frank’s father had been crushed by a lorry in WWI, and that his name was Bendle. Ironically, there was an Ernest Bendle in Barbara’s life, but she had not met him yet, and he most certainly was not Frank’s father.

If Barbara Ross was aware of Oscar Wilde’s play of 1895, I will never know – but The Importance of Being Earnest does spring to mind in her life story. Ernest C Bendle was a Canadian, he volunteered in September 1914, just short of his 24th birthday, to come to Europe and fight in WWI. He was shipped straight to France, where he rose up the ranks to sergeant very quickly. I am guessing that he met Barbara when he was recuperating in London in the summer of 1915, after being shot in the back on the front line. At this time Barbara was doing her bit for the war effort, working as a checker on the railways. Ernest was from London, Ontario – 15st 7lbs, 5ft 7”, with dark hair and blue eyes, his parents had come originally from England. He claimed to be born in Ireland, but was actually born in Canada, his profession is given as a painter before his enlistment. He also suffered from trench mouth, whilst in the army, and had to have all his teeth removed! The couple married in January 1917, Barbara benefiting from her husband’s army pay, sent to her while he was serving, plus separation pay, paid by the Canadian Army. Interestingly, she had been receiving his pay, as his wife, since October 1916! Barbara had been living with her mother and Frank at 22 Drummond Street, Euston, but as Mrs Bendle she is soon living at 11 Bowles Road, just off the Old Kent Road, south of the river. This was a slightly better area, near a large bus terminus and backing onto the Grand Surrey Canal. Whether Ernest knew about Barbara’s son Frank is doubtful, especially given that Barbara had left her 5-year-old child living with her mother (ironically Barbara’s own grandmother did similar with her father to go off with a soldier, but Betsy Ross is a whole other story).

In April 1919, Barbara gave birth to Maggie P. Bendle, and they sailed to Canada with Ernest in August 1919. Barbara arrived in Nova Scotia on the SS Baltic, with a ship load of other war brides. She then traveled over 1,000 miles from Halifax, NS to London, Ontario. As much as I have tried to discover what happened next, and even after months of trying to track down other ancestors who might know, I have drawn a blank. All I know for certain is that Barbara is documented as sailing back to England in the November of 1919, without Maggie P! Barbara arrived in Liverpool late on Christmas Eve, alone and without her 8-month-old child, it is to be wondered if she managed to get back to London for Christmas Day to see the son she had left behind.

What happened to make Barbara return so quickly, without her daughter, we will probably never know for certain, nor will we know if she ever planned to go back. From Ernest’s extensive military records one thing is very clear, around the time of Maggie P’s conception he was being treated by the army for syphilis. This disease was rife during WWI, but was fully curable with treatment – Ernest got the very unpleasant treatment of the day, mercury injections, and was cured, according to his records. This information is very important given what happens to Barbara next. We have to ask did Ernest tell Barbara about his condition? One thing is for certain, when Barbara returned to Britain at the end of 1919, she was most certainly infected with the disease. We also have to question if Maggie P had congenital Syphilis, which could have left her disabled in some way?

We next come across Barbara in April 1922, she is giving birth to a son, William David Inglett, named for his father. William David Inglett senior, was a stoker in the Royal Navy, having served with distinction throughout WWI and survived being in the thick of the Battle of Jutland. He had married a woman called Evelyn Holt at the start of 1920, but by 1922 he is living as man and wife with Barbara at 11 Stanhope Buildings, St Pancras. Unfortunately, their baby son died at 5 months old, of congenital syphilis and malnutrition. Barbara is present at the death but claims she is the child’s aunt giving her mother’s address at Drummond Street, and the child’s address as Stanhope Buildings, obviously to hide that she must be the carrier of the syphilis. Sadly, if she had admitted to being the mother she could have received treatment at this time, but due to shame, fear… whatever the reason, she chose to cover up the truth. It is possible for a child to not contract congenital syphilis from its mother, which was apparent when my grandmother, Barbara Inglett, was born in February 1924, closely followed by Olga Doreen in 1925, and Betty Joan in 1927. Sadly, little Betty Joan died aged 2 of meningitis, she was also suffering from rickets. The family are still at this time living in Stanhope Buildings, and William Inglett is working as a metal sorter, having left the navy before 1924 and taken casual labouring jobs ever since. The family move to Sydney Street in Somers Town, a notorious slum, which my nan had very vivid memories of, but they were fortunate to not be there very long, as they were scooped up as part of Father Jellico’s 1930s slum clearance (a very interesting topic I will blog about at a later date) – and soon not just they, but Barbara’s mother, and other members of the family, were living in nice new flats, with all the modern conveniences.

My nan’s recollections of her mother was of a very good-looking, clever and resourceful woman who worked extremely hard. My nan remembers her as being an exceptional cook – one famous story was that she cooked for Fortnum and Mason’s displays. My nan remembers her mum carrying a fully dressed boar’s head she had cooked and decorated for the store through the streets to the West End, in the very early morning – such a bizarre story it has to be true. She seems to have been a very kind woman, a typical Londoner who had little but was always ready to share with those who had even less. She brought my nan and her sister up with a very fierce moral code, and as young girls they would leave the house with her words ringing in their ears “If you wouldn’t want me to be seeing you doing it, then you shouldn’t be doing it!” – the seasoned voice of experience perhaps. That my nan had a great love for her mother, and that this was reciprocated, was very evident.

At the outbreak of WWII, the register taken on the 29th September 1939, shows that Barbara is a retired office cleaner, given she was only 45 at the time, it seems surprising she is retired, especially given their financial status – finding this was my first hint that she was unwell. Within months she would have been taken into hospital suffering the horrendous symptoms of tertiary syphilis. I won’t go into details here, the curious can Google them, all I will say is that it would have been horrific for her family to witness this decline. Her death certificate of the 8th of June 1940 says she died of cerebral thrombosis, unspecified disease – which was a kind doctor’s euphemism for tertiary syphilis. How much my grandmother knew of her mother’s condition it is impossible to say – though in hindsight I think she knew that her mum died of syphilis and possibly left to join up blaming her “sailor” father for her mum’s demise; my own first assumption was also that he had given it to her – that was before my research found Ernest C Bendle (who didn’t die till 1956, by the way). My nan was fully aware of her half-brother Frank, who lived down the road with her nan, but I am fairly sure she knew absolutely nothing of Maggie P in Canada, nor her mother’s marriage to Ernest (Maggie P lived all her life in London, Ontario. She never married and died in 1980). As far as my nan was concerned her mum and dad were married to each other, Frank’s father having died in WWI.

Barbara’s Death Certificate

I have mentioned my nan’s utter loathing of her father, and I had always accepted her view of him, but a few things have come to light which make me think he was actually a very nice man. For one thing he must have known about the syphilis but stayed and had a family with Barbara, and he gave up the sea whilst they were together – returning to the Merchant Navy after her death. On her death certificate he is named as “W D Bendle, widower of the deceased” – covering the shame of them not being married even after her death. There is also a record of him being a stoker on a boat which sailed to New York, not long after Barbara’s burial. Whilst there, he took shore leave and visited Canada. I don’t know for certain where he went in Canada, but I like to think he made his way to London, Ontario to tell Ernest Bendle that Barbara had died, though he could have done that by letter I guess – perhaps he went there to punch him on the nose? However it was, my great-grandmother had a very remarkable life, and if she had chosen to stay in Canada my family line may never have existed. Barbara Ross (Bendle) was buried in High Gate Cemetery, or so my nan used to tell me – finally laid to rest after a rather colourful life.


I have been researching my family tree since 2000 (according to my profile on Ancestry, I had no idea it had been so long!) As you can imagine, during this time I have accumulated a huge amount of information about my ancestors. Within these blogs I aim to share the tales of my ancestors, especially the more colourful ones, as I know it will be of great interest to other family members, far and wide. If you are related to any of my lines please do say “hello” in the comments section and/or via the contact page. I would also welcome guest blogs from any relations, however distant, to share on here. I can also be found under PeggyDot on Ancestry.com.

These blogs aren’t exclusive to the family though, the curious and the downright nosy are also most welcome.

My main family lines are:

Pegrum – Reach – Barlow – Inglett – Ross – Hogg & Silcock.


GENEALOGY by PEGGY-DOTAUG 18, 2019EDITPowered by WordPress.com.

Gone But Not Forgotten…

Westminster Abbey’s waxwork treasures as displayed C1900.

When I am researching for a novel I often come across the strangest of things. Recently, I was delving into the origins of wax effigies and found that their history stretches much further back than the person we all immediately think of with waxworks – Madame Tussaud. Heaps of small Egyptian, Greek and Roman wax figures have been found in the form of dolls or small statues, and the Romans had a tradition of taking a wax cast of a deceased person’s face – this would be worn by professional mourners at the funeral, then handed down the generations to be brought out on special occasions. This funereal rite seems to have filtered down into the Middle Ages when life-size effigies would often be displayed on top of the coffin or tomb of royalty and the wealthy. Then there was the Catholic tradition of preserving saint’s bodies in wax, like the little known one of Saint Victoria which is on display in a glass case, within the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, in Rome — she supposedly died in 306 AD


The relic of Saint Victoria in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome

The earliest surviving royal effigy left to us in England is that of Edward III carved from wood, at this time wood and boiled, shaped leather would create a base that would then be covered with painted plaster to give a good likeness of the face. Later, effigies would be of cloth stuffed with straw, the hands and face would be created from painted wax, the mould having been taken from the person’s face either in life or as a death mask. The effigy would look eerily lifelike, especially when dressed in the dead person’s clothes. Westminster Abbey still owns a startling number of these funereal effigies dating back to the 14th century. The last of these likenesses to actually be carried in a funeral procession was that of Catherine, Duchess of Buckingham, the illegitimate daughter of James II. She now stands on display in Westminster Abbey alongside her little son, the three-year-old Marquess of Normanby: a tiny poignant figure dressed in sumptuous garments, which include a unique tiny corset, and a beautiful golden velvet coat slit at the back to take a child’s walking reins. Many of the effigies would have been commissioned by the person in life, and would have cost a fortune to create. The Westminster Abbey effigies have been restored in recent years – at one time the effigies had been so neglected they became known as the ragged regiment and were a macarbe Victorian obsession, Virginia Wool gives a great account of visiting these relics, writing to a friend —

“… Yesterday I did a very melancholy thing—which was to take my working women over the Abbey. Only one came!—and we solemnly went round the Chapel and the waxworks together, and saw the mummy of a 40 year old parrot—which makes history so interesting …”

Elizabeth I’s original funeral effigy had deteriorated so badly by 1760 that it had to be remade. Many of these figures are disconcertingly lifelike, and their spookiness extends to the fact that they often have real hair and are dressed in the deceased’s clothing. You can now see all these amazing effigies in their new display in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Gallery at Westminster Abbey — see video below.

Westminster Abbey’s Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Gallery

Of course, it was Madame Tussaud who made the art of the wax effigy famous, although there were a myriad of lesser known waxworks before her who recreated tableaus of royalty, the famous and the infamous to thrill the curious masses.


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Sarah Hare’s effigy in Stow Bardolph Church

You can actually visit one of the most fascinating of these effigies for free, and she is well worth going to see. She is tucked away in the pretty Norfolk village of Stow Bardolph, which lays just off the A10 a little way beyond Downham Market on the way to King’s Lynn. Sarah Hare died of septicaemia in 1744, aged 55, legend has it that

“Sarah liked to sew on a Sunday and as a punishment pricked her finger and died”.

In general, a woman like Sarah would have passed forgotten into the dust of history, but Sarah assured her memory by insisting that her likeness should be made in wax for posterity. This spinster daughter of Sir Thomas Hare of Stow Hall, must have had a premonition of her death, as in August 1743 she wrote:

“I desire six of the poor men in the parish of Stow or Wimbotsham may put me in to the ground, they having five shillings a piece for the same. I desire all the poor in the Alms Row may have two shillings and sixpence each person at the grave before I am put in. This I hope my Executor will see firstly performed before Sunset…..I desire to have my face and hands made in wax with a piece of crimson satin thrown like a garment in a picture hair upon my head and put in a case of Mahogany with a glass before and fix’d up so near the place were my corps lyes as it can be with my name and time of Death put upon the case in any manner most desirable if I do not execute this in my life I desire it may be done after my Death.”

We do not know if the wax impressions of her hands and face were taken in life or after her death, but her wishes were most certainly carried out. Sarah Hare has the honour of leaving us the only such wax mortuary statue of its kind outside of those at Westminster Abbey. Within the tranquil coolness of the Holy Trinity church at Stow Bardolph, Sarah Hare’s likeness has sat for 275 years in its mahogany cabinet, waiting for the occasional visitor to open the doors and gaze upon it. Having seen it myself, I would say that nothing can prepare you for coming face to face with this unnervingly honest likeness of a woman who died nearly three centuries ago. She is as vivid as the day she was first stood there, and the whole experience is rather ghoulish if not a little frightening, opening the doors of Sarah’s cabinet is most certainly not for the faint hearted, and is a great way to give small children nightmares for life. I am in no doubt that a local child or two has been brought up in the fear of Sarah Hare coming to get them in the middle of the night if they were not good!

If you do decide to take a trip to Stow Bardolph I can highly recommend the Hare Arms for a fortifying pint or two of Dutch courage before you venture off to visit Sarah, and as Nick Ross used to say on Crimewatch “don’t have nightmares “;)