Artisans in Industrial Scotland

Jenny Blain.
Copyright © J. Blain 1988, 2005
II My father's family
  1. William Blain and his parents and siblings
  2. The Knaggs line
  3. The Blain family
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II My father's family

William Blain and his parents and siblings

My father William Blain, in 1981, performed some investigation into his family history at the request of John Maxwell Geddes, a relative by marriage. His letter to Geddes reflects his lifelong interest in social history. Most of my information about his side of the family is derived from this document: I also have some information from my mother, and a little, remembered, that my father told me several years ago. Aside from Geddes, members of the Blain family have not apparently wished to share what information they possessed: reasons for this may become clear in the course of the remainder of this paper. [11a]

William Blain was born in Gourock, Scotland: when he was three year old, his parents moved to Glasgow, seeking work for his father, Peter Blain, an unskilled engineer's machinist.

Both my parents would seem to have come down in the world from what they had known as young children. Their own parents never were affluent, I can estimate, but there were quite good craft wages coming in to each household, and maybe, for some years at least, my father's father could be regarded as somewhat above that level. There were many more children to feed and clothe in both families than even good wages could cope with. There could have been times of unemployment for both fathers, And, above all as a cause of both Peter Blain and Maggie Knaggs having little education and no real training for adult occupations, there was for each of them the early death of the mother, in childbirth. (WBdoc)

Peter Blain, born in 1871, was 29 at the time of his marriage. Margaret Grant Knaggs, born in 1878, was 23, and a domestic servant, an occupation which probably ended, on a regular basis, with her marriage. They had in all seven children, the elder two born in Gourock, the younger five in Shettleston, which in 1912 was incorporated into Glasgow.

Maggie Knaggs had left school when her mother died, she aged then about eleven, to become her father's housekeeper and look after younger siblings: her entry into domestic service, the only occupation for which she could be said to have any training, represented in amy father's words an attempt to "get away from being an unpaid slavey to being a paid one, leaving the next sister to take on the duties of little mother" (WBdoc). Peter Blain's mother died when he was ten or eleven, and his father remarried. The stepmother, Mary Grant [Ed. note: likely to be Mary Thomson, not Grant] was "the villainess in all Blain relatives' conversations that I later heard" (WBdoc), and Peter Blain apparently left home at about 17 or so, to escape her influence. My father comments that his movements and occupations from then until his marriage are obscure.

He probably lived for some time with his married sister, Mary. Then he wandered from one unskilled or semi-skilled job to another. He played football for some third-class clubs, paid only a few shillings (WBdoc)

His address at the time of his marriage was in Paisley, where he must have gone in search of work. Later he moved, with Maggie, to Gourock, then with Maggie and sons William and George to Shettleston, pursuing that elusive commodity, work. In Shettleston, "a job did turn up, but only after some weeks, perhaps months of real privation. He was with Alley and McLannan's at Polmadie for a brief spell, then found something better paid and more conveniently placed at Beardmore's Parkhead Forge" (WBdoc). At some point in their marriage my mother asked my father how his family had survived that 'real privation' and he told her: "sometimes we begged" (JPB).

In Beardmore's, Peter Blain must have been performing semi-skilled or unskilled machining work. His shop steward was David Kirkwood, of 'Red Clydeside' fame. My father rememberd the strikes at Parkhead Forge during World War I, when Beardmore's was making army equipment. At one time, probably February 1915, he remembered his father being on strike, and then on a cold Sunday asking him to come for a walk. He put on a muffler, and went. They visited various other houses, and at each his father said something like, "Davie Kirkwood says we should strike, but there's boys dying over there. I'm going back to work this week." That week, the strike ended (WB).

Peter Blain died, aged 47, in 1918. His seventh child, Peter, was born a few weeks later. My father was aged 15, and still at school, doing well at Eastbank Academy, where th headmaster had taken an interest in his work, to the extent of going down to Parkhead Forge (where my father had attempted to start work) and telling him to return to school. He did manage to remain at school long enough to win a bursary to the Technical college, to study chemistry, although chemistry was not his strong point: words and history were. During school holidays he did various vacation jobs at Beardmore's, at one point serving as Thomas Lynch's office boy (JPB).

After Peter Blain's death there may have been several, undestandable, attempts by my grandmother Maggie Knaggs to persuade my father to leave school. She must have once again been near destitution, with a young baby in addition to the six older children, and apparently took various cleaning jobs to make ends meet (JPB). Once at the technical college, my father supported himself by writing for various Glasgow newspapers (the bursary only covering the cost of books and other materials, not general living expenses). He was offered a job on the Glasgow Eastern Standard and worked there as a reporter, giving up chemistry, now able to contributetowards family finances. Some years later he replied to an advertisement for a sub-editor of children's papers with D.C. Thomson and Co. of Dundee. He had in the meantime met my mother, a fellow reporter on the Standard, and in 1926 they were married and she also moved to Dundee. From the start of the Dundee job my father sent regular payments to his mother, until her death in 1942. The payments started at five shillings weekly, a considerable sum in these days, and these, plus contributions form my uncle George Blain and his sisters, most of whom were now earning, freed Maggie Knaggs from the extreme poverty she had known (JPB).

All the Blain children did reasonably well for themselves. The headmaster who had taken an interest in my father saw brother George place with a bank; Daisy became a nurse, Nana (Hannah) a dressmaker with a large Glasgow dressmaking house. Mary may have worked in an office. Lily also worked, tough my mother does not know her occupation. All married, and all had children. Peter, the youngest, eventually became a hospital administrator, and applied for a job in Uganda, where he stayed for several years, leaving when Idi Amin came to power: he returned to Scotland, still as a hospital administrator, on the reorganisation of Scottish Local Government in the 1970s becoming an administrator for Strathclyde Region. Later he emigrated to Australia, where he and his wife Betty now (Ed: in 1988) live.

Footnotes: [11a] This statement, written in 1988, is still in general applicable for the Blain family: however various distant cousins have contributed to knowledge further back about Mushet and Knaggs and Philip lines.

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