Rocklyn, 11 Murrayfield, St Abbs

11 Murrayfield
11 Murrayfield between 1978 and 1985 via Canmore

I believe the first family to live at 11 Murrayfield were the Wilsons. William Wilson was born on 9th April 1872 in St Abbs, one of eleven children, two of whom died at age nine and age seven. His father was also William Wilson, a fisherman, and his mother was Jane nee Colven.

By 1881 the Wilson family were living at 3 Upper Row. On 14th October 1881, when young William was nine years old, a terrible storm claimed the lives of many East Berwickshire fishermen. It was known as ‘Black Friday’. Thankfully William’s father was not amongst those who lost their lives.
On 22nd Oct 1897 William married Sarah Nesbit at St Abbs. Sarah was born on 15 Nov 1872, the daughter of Wiliam Nisbet and Jane Wilson. By now William was a fisherman, like his father before him, and Sarah was a domestic servant. The witnesses were Robina Wilson (William’s sister) and William Craig (Sarah’s nephew).

Andrew Usher the whisky brewer, distiller and blender, and owner of the Northfield estate, had been carrying out improvements in the village since his arrival in 1885. He commissioned the building of numbers 7 to 12 Murrayfield some time between 1891 and 1899 (probably after 1897).
It seems likely that William and Sarah were the first tenants at number 11, moving in after their wedding. I hope to establish this with further evidence in due course.

William and Sarah were recorded at 11 Murrayfield in the 1901 census.
At that time 11 Murrayfield was simply a two up, two down cottage, with no extension at the back. It is difficult to imagine how crowded it became over the years, with William, Sarah, and their family of eight children. The first three were girls. Jeanie was born in 1897, Sarah, who was known as Sally, was born in in 1900, and Elizabeth was born in in 1903.

I’d love to know more about how the cottages were used in those days. Peter Nisbet tells me that numbers 7 to 12 Murrayfield where built with two rooms downstairs,

Downstairs there were two main rooms, a front hall, a back hall, and a scullery off the back hall, which is probably the present bathroom. The two halls were separated by a wall, so the main living room had two doors in it and the route from front door to back door was via this room. Peter says that everyone seemed to knock this wall out very quickly forming one hallway right through. Caroline believes that one of the front rooms would have been a kitchen with a fireplace or stove, and she remembers that the other had a big bed recess in it.

Peter explains that upstairs, there was a small bedroom with dormer window and a fireplace. The larger room, open to the stairs, was built as a net loft. In some of the cottages you may still see scratches on the top landing from the nets. The net loft in number 11 was converted into a bedroom, and a new dormer window was added.

Did one of the living rooms later become a guest room? Did the children all sleep upstairs in one tiny bedroom, or did the younger children share one of the downstairs rooms with their parents?

On the afternoon of 22nd August 1902, when William was 30 and his father was 67, a William Wilson (father or son), was proceeding on his lugger ‘Janet’ to North Sunderland with a shot of herrings, when the mast was carried away, near the Longstone. The lugger was described as a “fishing vessel of the first class”. He was towed into Eyemouth by the fishing boat Ebenezer from Berwick.

A William Wilson (most likely our William) and his fellow fishermen often sailed to Great Yarmouth, to take part in the fishing season there. In 1905 William was master of the ‘Jennie’ on one of those trips. On Thursday 20th November he took the Jennie in to moor overnight at Hewett’s Quay, in Yarmouth, owing to the dreadful weather. On the next day Friday 1st December, William reported that one of his crew, Robert Cormack, had been suddenly been taken ill on board. A local doctor, John Barclay, attended him at the boat, and under his care Robert seemed to get considerable relief, but the next day his condition worsened. He had a “violent paroxysm” early on Saturday or Sunday morning. The crew gave him a little brandy, but he passed away a few moments later. It must have been a very subdued crew who returned to St Abbs with their tragic news.
Four more children followed. William was born in 1905, James in 1907, and Alice in 1910. The last to arrive was Hugh Shields Wilson in 1912.

Another little boy was born in 1903 or 1908. Tragically he died very young. This was either Thomas 1903-1904, or John 1908-1908. (I will research further to confirm).

Not only were there children at the cottage, but also summer visitors. Several of their names and home towns were published in the local paper’s Visitors Lists. In September 1904 there were Mr and Mrs Inches from Edinburgh, in July 1905 there was Miss Flockhart from Stirling, in August 1905 there were Mr and Mrs Insch from Edinburgh (perhaps the same couple with a different spelling), in August 1908 Mr and Mrs Inches from Edinburgh returned, in July 1909 there were Miss M Brown and Miss J Brown from Greenock.

Rocklyn was recorded in the 1911 census as having four rooms with windows. If this referred to the two living rooms, the scullery and an upstairs bedroom, then the net loft had not yet been converted. However, if the scullery had no window (which seems unlikely), then the conversion might have taken place.

In July 1913 there were another visitor, Mr Anderson from Edinburgh. In July 1913 there were Miss Peden and Miss Pettie from Glasgow, and in August 1913 there was Miss Fleming from Edinburgh.

At 42 years old William was a too old to play an active part in WW1, and his sons were still too young, but two men from next door and next door but one did: Alexander Dickson, from 10 Murrayfield, and Alexander C Hood, from 9 Murrayfield. They are both named on the St Abbs United Free Church Roll of Honour, which recorded both those who died and those who fell.

By the 1930s William and Sarah’s children had begun to leave home and eventually to marry.

James married Mary Winifred Barnes of Piper’s House, Chirnside, in October 1930. They were married at the Manse by Reverend M R Nicolson. Mary’s sister, Miss K Barnes, was the bridesmaid, and James’s brother William was the groomsman. William Craig carried out a traditional ‘creeling’ to bring health and prosperity to the newlyweds. This was probably the same William Craig who was Sarah’s nephew and a witness at her wedding. He would have hung a creel onto the groom, then the bride cut it off and the basket fell to the ground. The reception was held “at the bridegroom’s home”. ( I suspect he had moved out of 11 Murrayfield by now, but it may have been held there. In the evening a dance was held at the Public Hall.

William of 11 Murrayfield, either William senior (now aged 68) or his son William (now aged 33) was the skipper of the Billows Crown in December 1938 when they had a run-in with a man named Jamieson who was seine net fishing.

William and Sarah’s youngest son Hugh married Margaret (Maggie) Lapata Bolan in about 1935. They had a son, William, and a daughter, Margaret. Hugh was a joiner for Messrs Wyllie and Lochead. He had an accident and suffered years of ill health, and was admired for his “cheerfulness and courage in his fight against suffering and increasing weakness. From 1941 onwards he was an agent for the St Abbs fishermen, expediting their fish sales. In 1944 he was accused of illegal fish trading but with evidence given by the fishermen he was found not guilty. Hugh died aged 32 on Tuesday 23 Jan 1945 at his home Mafeking House, Briery Law. His funeral took place at Coldingham Churchyard and was conducted by Reverend Archibald Inglis.

Little more than a year later William died aged 74, at 11 Murrayfield at 6.20am on Thursday 2nd May 1946. He had been in failing health for some time, and eventually died suddenly from a coronary embolism. He had spent all his active years as a fisherman, and was the oldest member of the local lifeboat committee. His funeral took place at Coldingham Churchyard on Saturday 4th May, and was conducted by Reverend J B Davie of Coldingham.

William and Sarah’s daughter Sally (Sarah) was married on Thursday on 27th May 1948 at the bride’s home – if still living with her mother this would have been 11 Murrayfield. The groom was Thomas Wilson from Iona Cottage, St Abbs.

In 1949 the Northfield estate was taken over by a company, and this was probably the catalyst for selling off individual properties as freeholds. I do not yet know when number 11 was first sold, but I suspect it was in the 1950s.

Sarah died from coronary thrombosis at 11 Murrayfield on 19th May 1950. Her death was reported by her son William.

Jeanie Wilson a daughter one of the eight children (I believe William junior, but this is not yet confirmed), kept the family home but went to work in Edinburgh. On Monday 1st June 1953 Jeanie married David Shanks at St Abbs Church. David was from Sydney, Australia, the son of the late Mr T Shanks and Mrs Shanks from Edinburgh. The bride wore a lime green two piece suit. She was given away by her brother, Mr J Wilson. Another brother, Mr W Wilson, was the best man. The bridesmaid was Elizabeth Shanks, the groom’s sister. After the wedding the groom was creeled by William Craig. The reception was held at 11 Murrayfield, after which the couple left for a short honeymoon, with Jeanie wearing another green outfit. Jeanie and Dave spent their married life at Mooltan. Dave named the house Mooltan – I believe this was the first name it ever had.

The next residents were Jean and Alec Ross who had moved to St Abbs from Eyemouth. (There may also have been a Margaret Ross).

The next resident was Edie (Edith) Gibson, widow of Cpt Peter Gibson. [See comments].

The next owners were Peter and Jo Gibson. They bought number 11 and moved to Allanville in 1980.

The next resident was Helen Quarry known as Nellie, who was previously the landlady of the Anchor public house in Coldingham. She bought number 11 after the death of her husband, in about 1982/3, and lived there until her death in August 1997.

The next residents were the Maxwell family.

The next residents were a family from Newcastle – perhaps Michael Grant and family?

The cottage is now owned by Annabel Gordon who lets it out as a holiday cottage.


2 thoughts on “Rocklyn, 11 Murrayfield, St Abbs

  1. What amazing research. My mother’s name was spelt Edie as she was Edith. She met my father who was born in the Anchorage. My paternal grandmother then must have moved to Sulby House my Great grandparents house and let it out. My maternal grandmother came on holiday with her school friend and family. My paternal grandmother allowed the two girls to stay on to see the launching of the lifeboat – they were 16 at the time. The friendship continued and my grandmother brought her children on holiday, that’s how my parents met. I think the marriage caused a bit of controversy as my mother was 18 and my father 29! They seemed to have a happy marriage though. I was brought up in Gravesend as my father left the merchant navy as a Captain and became a pilot on the Thames. When Seaview Terrace was sold by Jim Chisholm (a local builder) in 1956 my father bought No 7 as holiday house!
    Good luck

  2. The William Wilson born 1872 was my Grandfather and his eldest son, also William, born 1905, my Father who died in 1956. Some small details in your account need correcting. If you are interested, let me know. I also have a photo of the Wilson clan taken c1948/9 from Granny Sarah to great-grandson Peter.

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