William Ferguson ~ the age of steam

William ‘s Ancestors

Evidence of the earliest traceable ancestor in the Ferguson line comes from William’s father’s death certificate. Dougald Ferguson was born in the mid 18th century probably in the small Argyllshire town of Lochgilphead which is where he lived with his wife, Catherine McNaughton. He worked as a handloom weaver. The main occupations of that area were crofting and fishing. Weaving  was considered a skilled occupation done by the men of the family whilst the women did the preparation and spinning. It is likely that he wove woolen cloth although the weaving of linen from flax grown locally was common in 18th century Scotland.
Unfortunately there are no records of Dougald and Catherine’s family except for that of their son Alexander who was born in 1792. Sometime around the early 1800s Alexander moved to Renfrewshire. Possibly after his marriage to Elizabeth Gillies around 1820 as Gillies is a name local to Argyllshire, but it may have been earlier. Weaving as a cottage industry began to decline in the early 19th century with the invention of power looms. Renfrewshire was the centre of the Scottish weaving industry and the fine woolen shawls of Paisley pattern were the height of fashion in the 1840s.

Lochgilphead, Argyll

The easiest way to travel from Lochgilphead to Renfrewshire was by boat landing at Greenock or Port Glasgow on the south bank of the Clyde estuary. At the time of their youngest son’s birth in 1835 the family were living in Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, a village about 3miles from Port Glasgow.

19th century Renfrewshire handloom weaver

Childhood in Renfrewshire

Alexander and Elizabeth had 4 children that are known of and whose names are recorded in the 1841 census. It is likely that there were others – one would expect their eldest son to be named Dougald as was the tradition of the time. Sometime between then and 1841 Elizabeth had died, Alexander remarried and the family moved a further 8miles to Lochwinnoch. The 1841 census shows the family living in Calder Street, Lochwinnoch. Alexander is working as a cotton handloom weaver living with his wife Agnes and his children Elizabeth 15, Catherine13, James 11 and William 6.

By the time of the 1851 census Agnes had died and Alexander had married for a 3rd time to Mary Turner from Paisley. The 1851 census shows that William,age16, was a weaver’s apprentice and was living with his father and step-mother in Allan’s Main St Lochwinnoch.

The 1861 census shows Alexander as a woolen weaver and living with Mary in High St, Lochwinnoch.


Calder St (right) and Main St (left)

Marriage to Mary

On the11th November 1859 at the age of 24, William married Mary Anderson. William’s address was given as 11 Main St Lochwinnoch and his occupation as weaver. They married in the Free Church in Lochwinnoch by the Rev Robert Smith who had broken away from the church of scotland and formed the Free church in Lochwinnoch in 1843.

Mary was aged 20 when she married and was working as a domestic servant in the church manse. Both Mary’s parents were deceased at the time of her marriage and I have not been able to find a definite record of her in either the 1851 or 1841 census. However there is a 2year old Mary Anderson living in 1841with 40 year old Martha McLay, a servant, and 80 year old Mary Crook in Adam’s Court, Argyll St, Glasgow and it is possible that if she was orphaned very young, she was taken in by a family friend. Mary was born in Glasgow where her father, Joseph, worked as a boilermaker. Her mother’s maiden name is thought to be Paton. Both parents were deceased by 1855.

    In 1861 William and Mary were living at 65 Main St Lochwinnoch and had 2 children, Alexander, b 7th June 1860 and Elizabeth Reid b 29th November 1861. Alexander is an obvious choice for a firstborn son being that of his paternal grandfather, and Elizabeth would be named after both grandmothers. However the bane Reid is interesting as an Elizabeth Reid was witness at their wedding and could have been either a close friend of Mary’s or someone who had cared for her.

An important decision

Around 1862 William made a career change. That was to affect the rest of his life. Weaving was very much in decline particularly as a cottage industry. This was the age of steam. Steam to power trains and ships and to work power looms and other mechanical devices. Perhaps it was the fact that Mary’s father had been a boilermaker that influenced his decision but by the time of their 3rd child, Agnes’ birth on 18th June 1865, Mary and William had moved to 105 Houston St, Glasgow and William had served his apprenticeship as a boilermaker.

  William and Mary had two more children born in Glasgow, William on 14th October 1868 and James on 4th March 1871. Sadly 2 year old William died on 30th  June 1871 following 2 days of diarrhoea.

The tenements of Houston Street have been demolished and today it is a small industrial estate.

The family move south

The next 10 years were eventful in William and Mary’s lives. During this period the family moved to Sunderland. The promise of employment can be the only reason for such a move. Their eldest son, Alexander, died of Typhus Fever on 6th November 1877, at the age of 17. At this time the family were living at 4, Ethel Street, Bishopwearmouth, Sunderland and were still living there at the time of the 1881 census.

     In the first quarter of 1882 Elizabeth married John Joyce whose occupation was a mercantile accountant. The couple set up home in Percy Terrace, Bishopwearrmoutn, Sunderland. Six months later, on 31st August, her sister Agnes died of enteritis, again aged just 17.

2 views of Lochwinnoch Parish Church, built in 1808

Sunderland Docks – hub of shipbuilding in 19th century Britain

Another move

On leaving school James must have got an apprenticeship as a boilermaker with his father. By the time James was 20 he had moved to Bristol with his parents. In the 1891 census they were living at 12 Camden Terrace, Clifton,,Bristol. To help with the family finance two elderly female lodgers were living with them. This was a common practice at the time.

Around 1898/9 James met and fell in love with a young girl from Glasgow, Maggie Andrew, who was living in Bristol. Maggie had been a pupil teacher and may have been teaching down in Bristol. However it is known from a letter that she sent to the minister of her local church in Glasgow that she planned to return ‘before the end of the century’ The courtship continued by letter. On 9th April 1901 the couple were married in Thornliebank on the south side of Glasgow and Maggie returned to live in Bristol for the next few years.

In the 1901 census, just 2 weeks before his marriage, James and his parents were living at 11, Christine Terrace, Clifton, Bristol and both  are described as ‘ Foreman Boiler Maker’. It would be likely that James and Maggie started married life in this house.

The Church in Thornliebank where James married Margaret Andrew ( now private apartments)

Full Circle

By the end of 1902 James and Maggie had 2 young sons and it was probably around this time that William decided to retire and he and Mary moved back to Sunderland to be near their daughter, Elizabeth and her family, William and Mary both died in Sunderland. Mary in 1903 and William five years later in 1908.

    James and Maggie stayed in Bristol until sometime between the births of their 3rd son in 1905 and their 4th son in December 1906. Maggie must have missed her family very much and so they moved back to Glasgow where James got employment in the shipyards of the Clyde. In December 1906 the family were living at 6 Edminston Dr and in 1911 at 61 Princes St - both addresses being in Govan close to the docks. Some 35 years after leaving Glasgow James was back and living less than a mile from where he was born.

Left ~ Margaret Andrew around the time of her marriage

Right  ~ Christine Terrace , Bristol

His Legacy

William recognised that there was little future in weaving as a cottage industry and chose to embrace the technology of the era. He also had the courage to uproot his family on three occasions in order to secure employment. In doing so his family was able to prosper and his 2 surviving children both made good marriages. Future generations have been able to build on this solid foundation.To find out what happened to Elizabeth and James Ferguson click here.