At the time of the birth of my great-great-grandfather Robert Brackenridge in 1780 Scotland was still an agrarian, pre-industrial society. For most people, the texture of life was much as it had been in 1700. Nevertheless, social historians frequently cite 1780 as the beginning of Scotland’s rapid transformation from an agrarian to an industrial nation noted for linen and cotton mills, coal mining, ship building, and iron and steel industries. Catalyzed by the introduction of steam power and improved modes of land and water transportation, lowland Scotland assumed a position of prominence among European neighbors for its rapid adaptation to mercantilism and a production economy. Interestingly, the occupations of the Brackenridge males in successive generations–farmers, weavers, miners, and bricklayers–reflected the progression of nineteenth-century Scottish industrialization and its rapidly changing employment patterns.
Like many young men born into crofting families during the last two decades of the eighteenth century, Robert sought freedom from the soil and access to high wages that could be secured in the emerging industrial labor market. Handloom weaving was a comparatively easy trade to master and offered immediate opportunities for self-employment, especially in the burgeoning cotton-weaving industry. Operating out of a small cottage that doubled as workplace and home, Robert could participate in the lucrative cotton weaving industry and yet remain close to his agricultural roots.
In 1804 Robert Brackenridge married Margaret Cross, a resident of the nearby farming village of Bargeddie, in the Old Monkland Parish Church. When the first Scottish census was taken in 1841, the Brackenridge family was living in Luggie Bridge, a small village not far from Fullarton. The term lug is Scots for an ear but it was also applied to roots vegetable like potatoes and turnips which have too much leaf and stem, the result of being cultivated on land like a watery meadow or, bog. The bridge (unused) over the Luggie Burn, a tributary of a branch of the Calder River, still exists. It could have been on an east-west route between Glasgow and the Monklands or might also have been used simply for local traffic.
Margaret and Robert had a large family spread out over a number of years whose members formed the nucleus of our immediate family tree. Among their children were five sons, Alexander, Thomas, John (b. 1812, my great-grandfather),and William (b. 1819), Robert (b. 1830) and two daughters, Margaret (b.1805) and Janet (b.1832.10 Our family connections with Tom and Jean Brackenridge of Strathaven in Scotland, Thomas and David Brackenridge in Buffalo, New York, and Thomas Brackenridge in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, derive from the offspring of Robert Brackenridge and Margaret Cross.
By the late 1840s, Robert and Margaret Cross Brackenridge had settled into a cluster of thatched-roof cottages not far from Aikenhead Farm called “Little Up” situated at the entry road to the Newlands Estates. The name “Little Up” derived from its location on the crest of a rise overlooking the estate (referred to by locals as “up the hill”) and the surrounding territory of Tannochside. In 1850 the estimated population of “up the hill” was 50 persons consisting primarily of farm workers and weavers. Robert and Margaret were accompanied by daughter Margaret (40) weaver, and son Robert (21), an agricultural laborer.
In addition to their occupations as weavers and crofters, the Brackenridge’s served as gate keepers for the estate of Lord Newlands (James Hozier). This latter responsibility compensated for the declining hand loom weaving industry by providing acreage for gardens and farm animals, and social status in the community. It also gave the Brackenridge’s the right to occupy a small sandstone cottage that served as the estate gate house and family residence.
We know little about the later life of Robert Brackenridge and Margaret Cross. The 1861 census lists as the residents of Little Up Number 1 Robert, age 80, cotton weaver, and his daughter Margaret, cotton weaver age 50, indicating that his wife Margaret Cross had died sometime within the previous ten years. When the 1871 census was taken, the same two individuals are listed as residents in what is now referred to as 46 Edinburgh Road, Number 1. Robert Brackenridge died “of the infirmities of old age” on September 22, 1879. His lifespan embraced the reigns of four British monarchs: George III, George IV, William IV, and Queen Victoria and included such events as the loss of the American colonies, the French Revolution, the War of 1812, and the American Civil War, and the expansion of the British Empire. He also witnessed the rise and flourishing of the industrial revolution that ushered in a new way of life in Scotland. At the same time, he lived to see the virtual demise of his life profession. In 1840 there were 84,560 handloom weavers in Scotland. At the time of his death, there were only 4,000, and by the end of the century they were virtually non-existent.