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 in Greenock
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II My father's family

The Blain family in Greenock

My father has less information about Peter Blain's ancestry than about that of Maggie Knaggs. William Blain, Peter's father, died shortly after Peter's marriage. He and his first wife, Mary Philip or Phillips, whom he married in 1860 (NRH, ML) had at lest eleven children, of whom one appears to have died in infancy, the name listed in records, Allan McLean Blain, being given again to a later-born child (ML). My father's letter to John Maxwell Geddes gives some information as to the remaining ten: with the exception of John, the eldest, whom he describes as "a wastrel and a drunk, regarded with shame as himself and as husband of one Mary Hunter, even more a drunk, it would seem" (WMDoc), the elder children did somewhat better for themselves, on the whole, than the younger. My father would attribute this to the death of their mother, Mary Philip, and the later presence of the stepmother, Mary Grant. [Ed. note: The stepmother's name is more likely to be Margaret Thomson, from a note of her death at Caddlehill Home, Greenock, on 5th March 1911, unless there was a second stepmother.]

My father recalled a photograph of William Blain and his family.

Grandfather William Blain was seated with his second wife, Mary Grant. My grandfather was a broad-faced, heavily bearded man in the photo, of period around 1885-6. His wife, with an elderly women's 'mutch' headgear and black bombazoon dress, was a stern, unbending-looking person, fully matching the reputation Aunts Mary and Kate gave her. The younger sons and daughters of Mary Philip were ranged around. (WBDoc)[Fn 13a]

The eldest four had at the time of the photograph already left the household, Mary and Kate (Catherine) marrying skilled craftsmen, of whom Mary's husband, Robert Fleming, was a Scottish International footballer. Peter Blain's playing for third-rate clubs should be contrasted with this. Robert, five years Peter's senior, emigrated to Montreal, where (at least by 1912, whe he visited Scotland) he became owner of a linoleum factory.

William Blain's occuption, as shown on his son Peter's marriage certificate, is that of 'Boilermaker'. His son James also became a boilermaker, but with a difference in status.

In the 1840s and 50s, boilermaking was a much more highly-paid job han in son James's time. Stephenson of 'Rocket' fame was the inventor, not long before Grandfather's birth, of the quick-steaming boiler, full of narrow-gauge copper tubes. Grandfather worked at a craft still being developed, with good wges for those who could learn the intircacies. Uncle Jim worked at what had become merely a 'trade' among the underpaid shipbuilding trades.

William Blain was not always a boilermaker: on his son Peter's birth certificate he was recorded as 'Spirit Dealer'. He is said to have brewed beer, and I cn recall my father telling me how his grandfather had been responsible for the invenionof 'export'. that is, for a beer that would not spoil when exported by sea to India (WB). His listing as 'boilermaker (journeyman)' on Peter's marriage certificate may indicate Peter's wish for respectability - or it may bear out another story from my childhood, that William Blain's business failed when he attempted to move into the manufacture of aerated waters, and that he had to return to his original occupation (WB). Despite his involvement with the business of seling alcohol he was a churchgoer, in the days when many churches supprted the temperance movement, a member of "the only church that would have a publican" (WBDoc): both his marriage and his son Peter's birth were recorded at East Parish Kirk, Greenock, with Church of Scotland on the record (NRH).

William Blain's marriage certificate lists his parents as William Blain, gardener, and Mary, maiden surname Thomson [Fn 13c], both having died prior to his marriage in 1860. Mary Philip's parents were John Philips, carpenter, and Catharine Renton (for whom my father's Aunt Kate was named), only her mother remaining alive at the time of the marriage. In that year, 1860, he was 23 years of age, and describing himself as a boilermaker: she was 22, with no occupation listed.

[Ed. note: more information about the earlier Blains and Philips is available in the 'additional' part of this website. See the pages on Blains in Wigtownshire and Greenock and Wigtownshire Blains, Farming and Change, and forthcoming pages on the Philips.]


[13b] This photo may have been slightly later - Mary Philip died in 1886. Unless of course it is her in the picture!

[13c] I have still not discovered why it should have said 'Thomson' rather than 'Maxwell' - but it does! It is probably a simple error: William Blain was a late-born child and may have mis-remembered on that occasion. William Blain's parents, William Blain gardener and Mary Maxwell, were married in 1812, lived in Inch parish in Wigtownshire, then in Stranraer, and William was the youngest of their family, born in 1837.

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