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The Blaneys of Waterside


David Courtney McClure




Sarah News Jnr preserved two letters from friends in Scotland: the first from Mary Ewing of Wishaw, whom Sarah had known when the family were living in Newmains; the second from Nan (Agnes) Larmer, a neighbour at number 22 of the Blaney family at 17 Greenhill Row, Waterside. From these we see that although young Sarah lived in Newmains for most of her early years, her visits to her Aunt Nell Blaney in Waterside were sufficient for her to form a lasting friendship there too.

The letters differ in tone because of the intervention of war. Mary Ewing was writing in 1913, before the outbreak of the Great War. Mary was principally concerned with the affairs of people known to Sarah: their employment, marriage and death. Other serious matters do appear. She wrote about accidents at the pit: James Berry, whom Sarah would remember from school, was killed and "the man Kerwin got his leg broken." And she was excited about the improvement to her family home, part of the scheme to improve conditions in miners' rows. "We have got a boiler in the scullery now and a water closet and water in the house so we are getting gentry now." [my italics]

The letter from Nan Larmer was written in 1918, when the war had been dragging on for more than four years. The same issues of employment, marriage and death were there, but the war hung over everything. The "Lady and Gentleman" she was employed by at their villa in Ayr had lost a son, and another was about to go off to France. She lamented on the deaths of the men they had known as boys: "An awful lot of Waterside boys have been killed in the War. James Reid is home with one leg and Robbie Rowan has lost his right hand. It is a cruel war I wish it was finished. Eddie Thomson is killed and the others you will likely have heard about."


Letter to Sarah News Jnr in Australia from Mary Ewing in Wishaw, Tuesday 5th August 1913


Stinton Place
Belhaven Road
Aug. 5th 1913

I have numbered all the pages so you will know where to start and where to end. [But XI has to be read before X]

Dear Sarah,
Received your letter all right which I was very glad to get. It is such a long time since you wrote me I thought you had forgotten. I waited each morning in hope of getting a letter from you until I had almost given up hope of hearing from you again. I thought perhaps your mother was ill again or perhaps you were ill yourself, but glad to hear by your letter that such is not the case. Well I think that is enough for that so I will proceed. You were talking about Rosa Canavan coming home a nurse but I don't think so, she has left it long ago. I think she had too much work to do and it was telling on her health poor thing so she just left but she did not stay at home long for she is back in another place in Pollockshields and I suppose it is a awful good place. And Maggie is left school too and is started work in the factory. You were saying you were surprised when you heard about Letty Dillon, but you should be more surprised to hear that Bridget Doolan is getting married at the New Year, so what do you think of Biddy the darling getting spliced. She is getting a fellow McGee from Motherwell a brother to Mary Francis McGee that used to come to Dochertys, and I suppose Alice is that glad she is going about telling everybody and she has got the house all papered and painted for him coming up, but I suppose he is a very nice chap and he has given her a lovely engagement ring. You will be hearing about me getting my engagement ring next from John McGinn as you say, but its not John McGinn its John Cole I'm after. He was telling me he was going to get his photos taken and give me one so what do you think of that. I think you were dreaming when you asked if Jane Dillon was left school. Jane was left long before me and will be 16 her next Birthday. I think you were right when you said she wasn't very fond of work and it doesn't seem like it when she went to a place in Whiteinch near Glasgow on the Friday and landed back on the Sunday. It was a cousin of her Aunty Lizzie's that got it for her, and it was this cousin's chum who is a housekeeper in a Chapel house that Jane was going to. James went in with her and she was engaged at £1 a month and she got 5/- handed to her when she was coming away. She was in high glee about going, and she got every thing even a big basket trunk for her clothes. The time didn't go in quick enough for her to get away and still this was the upshot. I was saying I would have stuck in my month and got my pound anyway. Jeanie Campbell is sticking well to her place. You will likely have heard about Mary Ann Hendry. That's both Susan and her away. There was only 5 week between them. Poor big Paddy he doesn't know what to do. He has written away to his mother to come and keep house and she is coing as soon as she can. But all the same, she is an old woman and she won't be of much use. I was saying this would be Ellen Coles Chance, and Mrs Finlayson is dead too, her that stayed down Main Street. This holiday time there is a lot of accidents. James Berry was killed at the pit head. You will remember him he was at school with us he came from Waterloo, and the man Kerwin got his leg broken. He was carried into the house [on] stretchers but I think he is getting on all right. I see you are in a play well I hope it will be a success. I would have so much liked to see you, but if you do it as well as you did it up in the big school you will be all right. Well Sarah you will be greatly disappointed to learn I have nothing saved up as I thought you were only joking but I see you are in dead earnest so I will have to start and save up my £8 and come out to Australia. You were talking about getting your photo taken if I got mine taken so I will send you one but you send yours first. I would have got them taken long ago only I was afraid I might break the camera, well I will chance it this time. We have got all our holidays by. I got a week but I just stayed at home. Cassie was away at Inverness for 5 weeks and Lizzie was away at Strathaven for a month but she is leaving it. The changes on the house are not finished yet we have got a boiler in the scullery now and a water closet and water in the house so we are getting gentry now. Of course it will be two or three shillings more on the rent. I forgot to tell you about Johnny Buchanan. He is dead and buried. He took ill on the Wednesday night and died on the Thursday night. He was buried by the Wishaw Hibs of course some of the Newmains Hibs were there too. He was buried in Lanark. Of course the Hibernians only went the length of Bogside and then all the friends went in cabs the rest of the way.
I think this should last you for a while so I will draw to a close. I am sending on a photo of Jane Dillon and one of Jeanie Campbell. Jeanie is just taken in her afternoon dress. It was taken in Dunoon where they were for their holidays and Jane's was taken in Wishaw. I think this is all at Present for Goodbye till I hear from you again. Tell your mother and father I was asking for them and hope your mother's good health continues, also Chris and Aunt Nell not forgetting your ain sel. No more at present, write soon. From your old companion Mary Ewing. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

p.s [on first page] I forgot to tell you that Mary Ann McGerry has been at death's door but I thik she is keeping a lot better. Maggie Young is getting married this month.


Letter to Sarah News Jnr in Australia from Nan (Agnes) Larmer in Ayr, Wednesday 6th February 1918.

Note: on this day the Representation of the People Act 1918 received Royal Assent. Among other changes, the Act gave the vote to certain women over the age of 30.


30 Hollmston Road
6th Feb. 1918

My dear Sarah
I did get a pleasant surprise when I received your lovely P.C. last Thursday. I am glad you have not forgotten your old Friend. So glad to hear that you like Australia and you have got on so well. Many and many a time we have spoken about you all and the good times we used to have in No. 17 Greenhill. I could never forget my old friends especially your Auntie Nell who had a heart of gold. You will see by my address that I am in Ayr and have been here for 3½ years. I am working with a Lady and gentleman but she treats me like a daughter. You have no idea of her kindness to me. She had two boys the oldest one was killed two years ago and the other is leaving for France this month. I think having nobody but her husband in the house and having no girl of her own she has grown very fond of me. I got here through Walter Paterson the grocer. We still get our messages from him. All our ones at home are well. Jim is now at school and he is such a nice wee boy he is my favourite. Quint has not grown much he is a great wag he kills himself running messages for the store. Mother is very fond of him he has the kindest heart in the house. Davie has his time nearly out for a patternmaker and so very tall but very thin. Meg and Jean are both at home and Meg has an awful notion of dressmaking and I think she will be starting soon in Ayr. Nell Smith and nearly all the Waterside girls are working in Ayr. Nell is courting hard. I hear this week that Isa Frew is engaged to be married. Father is still working hard he is foreman now and Frew is ill and he has all his work to do as well as his own. Old Davie is still manager, and Father Murphy is still in Waterside. Both Canon Collins and Father O'Malley are dead. Father O'Malley's death cast quite a gloom over Ayr as he was only ill a day. He died before any of his friends got to see him. Tell your Aunty Nell that Davie Young that was Ken the stationmaster's daughter's husband died after two days illness. An awful lot of Waterside boys have been killed in the War. James Reid is home with one leg and Robbie Rowan has lost his right hand. It is a cruel war I wish it was finished. Eddie Thomson is killed and the others you will likely have heard about. An awful lot of girls are making munitions. I think I will close now as it is tea time. Do write me a long letter Sarah and tell me about Australia. Give my kindest regards to your mother and father Chris and your Aunty Nell and Johnny. With my love to yourself and do write me soon.
from Your loving Companion
Nan Larmer.


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