John Brackenridge & Christian Rhymer

Turning now to my great-grandfather John Brackenridge, we lack any correspondence or oral history that might shed light on his personality, but we do have contextual information that helps us flesh out his life story. As stated previously, John Brackenridge, a son of Robert and Margaret Cross Brackenridge, was born in 1812 in Old Monkland Parish on or in the vicinity of Aikenhead Farm.

Because weaving offered little economic security after 1840, males in the extended Brackenridge family elected not to follow in the footsteps of their fathers and uncles. Instead, they turned to the nearby collieries for gainful employment. As described earlier, these resources provided energy for the expanding iron and steel works and related industries in the Clyde Valley. Throughout the nineteenth century, Lanarkshire would be the largest coal-producing area in Scotland.

Lanarkshire coal mine 19th century

John Brackenridge married Christian Rhymer, the daughter of William and Jean Malcolm Rhymer, on 5 June 1849 in Old Monkland Parish. The Rhymers had come to Lanarkshire from Auchtermuchty in Fifeshire where William had been employed as a weaver. When opportunities for handloom weavers diminished after 1830, many unemployed weavers came to the Glasgow area hoping to find work in factories or doing specialty work for some of the larger mill operators. It is likely that the familes met through their common occupational interests or perhaps through attendance at Old Monkland Parish Church.

The newly-weds set up housekeeping in Whifflet where John Brackenridge worked as an engine keeper. When Christian became pregnant with her first child, the Brackenridge’s left Whifflet and moved to Little Up where they occupied a cottage (Little Up #2) adjacent to that of Robert and Margaret Cross Brackenridge who lived in the gatehouse (Little Up #1). On 25 July 1852, Christian gave birth to a daughter, Jane Malcolm who was christened in the Free Church, Bothwell. Two years later,on 20 February 1854, Christian gave birth to her second child, my grandfather, Robert Brackenridge. A third child, William, was born 21 October 1856.

After moving from Whifflet, John Brackenridge secured employment as an engine keeper at nearby Bredisholm Colliery, established in 1840 by a wealthy merchant, John Reid, who resided at Bredisholm House in Baillieston,. By the time Brackenridge joined the company there were four shafts in production. To counteract the prevalent excessive drinking that had an adverse affect on production, Reid and other coal and iron works owners encouraged the qualities of sobriety and thrift by establishing a Mechanic’s Institute and a Mutual Improvement Society.

Shortly after the birth of her third child, Christian died on 26 October 1858 at the age of 38. Two years later, son William, age four, also fell victim to tuberculosis on 17 May 1860 and was buried in Old Monkland Cemetary alongside his mother. Tuberculosis paid one more visit to Little Up cottage. In 1872 Janet Rhymer, Christian’s sister who had moved to Little Up to care for the children,  succumbed to the same disease that had claimed the life of her sister and nephew. Her death, however, took place not at Little Up but in the district Workhouse (or Poorhouse) in nearby Motherwell.

People usually entered the Workhouse because they were too poor, old or ill to support themselves. In this instance, with only John Brackenridge and his young son Robert in the household, there was no family member available to care for Janet during the last stages of her illness. Perhaps Janet Rhymer went voluntarily, not wanting to be a burden to the family. We will never know for certain. We do know, however, that for most residents, life in the Poorhouse was a distressing experience. The Poor Law Amendment for Scotland (1845) established that poorhouses be built in all major cities to care for the destitute. Such institutions were despised in a culture where people held an ingrained belief that only lazy or immoral individuals could become destitute. As a result, both inmates and their families were stigmatized for having to patronize the poor house. Inmates were strictly segregated into seven classes: Aged or infirm men, able-bodied men and youths above 13, youths and boys above seven and under 13, aged or infirm women, able-bodied women and girls above 16, girls above seven and under 16, and children under seven.                

         Physically able inmates were expected to work. Apart from a dining-hall for eating and dormitories for sleeping, Work Houses often had their own bakery, laundry, tailor and shoe shop, and a barn to contain animals such as sheep, pigs, and cows. They also had school-rooms, nurseries, infirmaries, chapels, and mortuaries. Once inside the workhouse, the inmates’ only possessions were their uniforms and an assigned bed in a dormitory setting. Rising, working, eating, and sleeping hours were strictly regulated and attendance at religious services was required of ambulatory residents. Inmates were not prisoners, however, and could leave whenever they chose to do so. But few had either the resources or the health to return to outside life. Janet Rhymer experienced her last days in such an impersonal environment. 

Despite his family misfortunes, John Brackenridge and son Robert adhered to their daily routines as colliery engine keepers that left little time for extended grieving. Sustained by the traditional tenets of Scottish Calvinism that affirmed God’s purposes even when they were enigmatic, the Brackenridge men moved forward with their lives. Even when religious faith dimmed, they possessed an inner strength to persevere in spite of adverse circumstances. Nevertheless, John must have been depressed following the death of his wife, infant son, and sister-in-law in a close succession. Forty-six at the time of his wife Christian’s demise, Brackenridge never re-married. He continued to live at Little Up alongside his father, siblings, and other kinfolk who resided in the area. In addition to relatives, John also joined his fellow miners in neighboring pubs where they could socialize after their twelve-hour shifts at the Bredisholm Colliery.

Tragedy again struck the Little Up household, this time without warning, on a snowy and foggy evening early in March 1876. After spending a convivial Saturday evening at a pub in nearby Uddingston, Brackenridge and a work mate, Robert Scott, left arm in arm and headed toward their respective homes in Tannochside. On their way they wandered off the snow-covered and fog-shrouded road and walked off a cliff and into a quarry pond and drowned. John’s death certificate reads, “found drowned in the Holm Quarry, Uddingston, age 64.” His son, Robert [my grandfather] was the informant of the death at the registrar’s office.

The local Hamilton Recorder newspaper gave an account of the tragic accident.

Distressing Accident Near Uddingston Two Old Men Drowned

 A great sensation was caused in Uddingston and neighborhood on Sunday when the melancholy news was spread abroad that two highly respectable members of the community–Robert Scott, blacksmith, Bredisholm forge, and John Brackenridge, engine keeper, Little Up near Uddingston–had been drowned the previous night. The two men left Uddingston together about half-past eleven on Saturday night for their homes which are situated in the direction of Nacherty. A dense fog threw a pall over the neighborhood and owing to the darkness and snow the road was very difficult to make out. At a point about a quarter of a mile distant from Uddingston, the road to Nacherty diverges to the right, straight on being the Holm Quarry, which is not fenced or closed in by any gate. The two men, in the dark, instead of turning into the Nacherty Road at the proper point, appeared not to have noticed it. Walking into the way leading to the quarry, they diverged at a track by the side of a heap of stones, which they had mistaken for the proper road. A short distance brought them to the face of the quarry, over which they walked, falling a depth of 60 feet and being drowned in 30 feet of water. Strange to say, the exciting occurrence was witnessed by a youth, who left Uddingston with his brother and others about the same time as the two men. Having missed his party on the road, he walked on after the two men, one of whom he mistakenly thought was his brother. When they took the Quarry Road, he shouted to them, “Where are you going”? Receiving the answer, “Home, he called to them to come back, but before another answer could be given, they disappeared from sight over the precipice.  In a distracted state, the lad ran back for help in the direction of Uddingston, but meeting at a short distance his brother, had his principle fear relieved. The two proceeded to the spot from which the men had disappeared but finding nothing, they came to the police at Uddingston, who reached the Quarry at about 1 a.m. A dark object floating on the surface of the water was brought to the side by means of a grappling iron and it proved to be the body of Robert Scott. Brackenridge’s cap was next found leaving no doubt that he had shared his companion’s fate. A raft was formed but proved useless. A small boat was then got from Clydenewk and launched. After an hour’s search, Brackenridge’s body was brought to the surface. Scott was 61 and Brackenridge was 64. They bore an irreproachable character for steadiness and were much liked in the district. Both were widowers. The scene of the fatal occurrence was visited on Sunday by large crowds.

Comments are closed.