In the story of Samuel Ford, (now being re-written), I make the assumption that James’ father, Samuel Ford, was born in Ireland rather than anywhere else. I also draw what I think is an obvious connection between Samuel Ford and the crew of the revenue cutters, which were stationed at Millport from about 1750 to the 1820s to curtail smuggling. And that connection is established with Samuel’s marriage to Margaret Wright, the daughter of Robert Wright who is recorded as being a mariner on the Royal George, one of the revenue cutters stationed at Millport.
Through his marriage to Margaret Wright, Samuel, who had no known family living in the vicinity, or in Scotland (see The Story Behind the Story of Samuel Ford), might well have been embraced within the Wright family. This familiarity with the Wright family becomes apparent after Samuel’s death in 1836. With some valuable information provided by Margaret Kennedy, the proprietor of the present Royal George Hotel at Millport, the Millport Census records, the Valuation Rolls of 1872, and J.R.D Campbell’s Clyde Coast Smuggling (1990) we can better appreciate the importance of the marriage of Samuel Ford to Margaret Wright and effect it might have had on their own lives and the lives of their ten children.
Given the historical and social circumstances at the time the question is raised; how was it that a very ordinary man, probably from Ireland, arrives in an obscure Island in the middle of Clyde, marries, builds a house and raises a large family, all on the wages of a labourer working is a quarry? The answer is more than interesting but requires some research and archival digging.
In the following, I address a number of statutory and social issues that surround the circumstances of Samuel Ford and his residence on Cumbrae.
The inscription on the Ford memorial in the Mid Kirton Cemetery at Millport specifically mentions that Samuel Ford was a ‘feuar’. In other words, Samuel was not a tenant, he did not pay rent, he paid a ‘feu’. For those of us removed from such events the concept of ‘feu’ might seem strange.
Effectively, the island of Cumbrae was ‘owned’ either by the Earl of Glasgow or the Marquis of Bute and their descendants. Such was the state affairs at the beginning of the 19th Century. As noted in the publication Millport Conservation Area, (Peter Drummon, North Ayrshire Council 2013);
The feu superior, the Marquis of Bute, granted feus over the lands around the original settlement. It may well be that the factor for his estates had a hand in laying out the plan of the town – a plan indicating the setting out of the feus, as well as a brief written list of conditions or burdens, would have been required as part of this process.
The means by which farmers, workers, seaman, labourers, and shopkeepers used the land, housed themselves, and their families were either as tenants or as a ‘feuar’. Through a system of paying a ‘feu’ to the resident landlord, ‘the principal’, a system apparently unique to Scotland, a ‘feuar’ had the ‘right’ to do pretty much as they liked with the land within the restrictions of the local shire (Bute) regulations. Those who paid the ‘feu’, had the ‘right’ of possession which might be somewhat similar to the present-day concept of ‘freehold’ title. A ‘feuar’ had the ‘right’ to sell, rent or sublet his property if they so desired. Women, it is noted, were not included at this time where land and property were concerned.
The Revenue Service arrives in Millport
The first revenue boat, referred to as the Cumbrae Wherry, to arrive on the island of Cumbrae (1750) was skippered by Andrew Crawford and had a crew of ten (Campbell 1990: 13). Two things were acting against the initial stationing of the vessel at Millport, the lack of shelter for the vessel, and a lack of accommodation for the crew. Initially, the Cumbrae Wherry was beached at low tide which meant that it could not be ready for service if needed. The men, probably single men, were housed in what became known as the Garrison House. These arrangments held until about 1778 when a larger vessel was bought into service at the Millport station which demanded a crew of sixty men. The safety of the vessel and housing for the crew were now of priority. The result was the agreed 1779 Feu Plan which allowed mariners to take up plots free of any charge for 19 years. The plots were about 14 ‘falls’ is size, a fall being about 20 square yards. Campbell (1990) includes a list of those who took up plots. Plot number 40 is registered (July 1782) in the name of Alexander Wright and plot number 31 (October 1781) in the name of Thomas Hunter.
Ample use was now made of the ‘freestone’ available on the island for the construction of a quay, harbour, and houses for the crew. Of importance was the construction of the sea wall that protected the houses along Stuart Street from the full force of wind and tide. Stone was also exported from Cumbrae for the construction of ports, canals, and railways.
Meanwhile, their Lordships saw it fit to put the commander of the Cumbrae Wherry (Crawford) on the same footing as commanders of sloops in the Royal Navy (Campbell: 14).
Register of Sasines
The Register of Sasines for County of Bute (1782) records Alexander Wright, a weaver at Cumbray holding plan number 40. He died at Millport in July 1817. Further, which will become significant shortly, one Thomas Hunter is recorded as holding plan number 31.
Alexander Wright’s son, Robert Wright, is recorded as a mariner on the revenue cutter Royal George and is Margaret Wright’s father. Margaret Wright married Samuel Ford. Further, Margaret’s brother, William Wright is also inscribed as a sailor at Millport on the Wright stone memorial in the Mid Kirton Cemetery. The family connections seem to fall into place.
Although the map details of the sasines are not clear it would appear that ‘plan 40’ may well be within the dark blocked out section towards the School House end of Stuart Street. From the Register of Sasines, it is noted that there was one dwelling between the Wright residence and the School House (plan 42), that is, the plan numbers would run 40, 41, and 42 respectively.
Plan Number Holder
40 Alexander Wright, Weaver, Cumbray.
41 John McCallum, Mariner, Cumbray
42 School House and Yard
The sasines plan numbers prove consistent with the records of the 1841 Census which I will address below.
Further, the holder of plan number 31 located further along Stuart Street was Thomas Hunter, a mariner on the revenue cutters.
The relevant question is raised; how was it that very ordinary wage earners afford such dwellings? Given the circumstances surrounding the regime of smuggling taking place up and down the Clyde, leads J. R. D. Campbell to observe;
The fact that these ‘ordinary working men’ could afford to build their own houses shows just how much they must have been earning by way of ‘Bounty’ on captured vessels and their cargoes. (Clyde Coast Smuggling (1990) page 11).
Wages and Bounty
Campbell addresses this issue in his publication (1990). Ordinary mariners on the revenue cutters in 1750 could expect to be paid 15/- (shillings) to 30/- per month, say about £20 (British pounds) per year. Captains and mates would be paid substantially more. But wages were not all that a mariner could expect. With the capture of vessels used for smuggling and their contraband goods, a bounty was paid to all concerned in accordance with strict rules and regulations. Campbell (1990) notes that in one month alone (1750) the revenue cutters mariners received £2/3/8 each from the value of goods seized and a further £2/6/9 from the value of the vessel seized. Masters, Captains, and mates received considerable more to the effect that the Crawford family could make loans to farmers and finance their own vessels. Quite simply, in today’s terms, the revenue cutters were a million-dollar industry.
Given the above and the family connections between Margaret Wright and her grandfather Alexander, her father Robert, and her brother William, and their association to the revenue cutter and hence the distribution of bounty and allocation of sasines in Millport, it is probably the case Samuel Ford in a similar fashion to the mariners of the revenue cutters, enjoyed the benefits flowing from the activities of the revenue cutters. His marriage to Margaret Wright was, therefore, both socially and financially rewarding.
The 1841 census was taken on Sunday 6 June under provisions in the Census Act 1840 (3 & 4 Vict c.99) and Census Amendment Act (4 & 5 Vict, c.7). In Scotland enumeration duties were carried out by the official schoolmaster [see further below] in each parish and the sheriff deputes (for counties and stewartries) and provosts (for burghs). (Nation Records of Scotland).
The 1841 Census, taken five years after the death of Samuel Ford and twenty-four years after the death of Alexander Wright, Margaret Ford’s grandfather, shows that Margaret Ford, now widowed, is living in her Stuart Street residence. Also recorded are her four youngest children, two single men, masons by trade, and a married couple with two small children. Margaret’s occupation is recorded as ‘flowers’ which was a home industry undertaken by many of the island’s women.
With the aid of Google Maps, and the details of the 1841 census record obtained from Freescan web site I have tracked down Margaret’s Stuart Street address. The 1841 census record does not record any numbers in the street address probably because in a small community there was no need for such identification, everyone knew everyone. From the census record, the census officer collecting the information can be tracked moving along Guilford Street towards Stuart Street. There are two census records in Stuart Street after the last Guilford Street record before that of Margaret Ford’s indicating that her residence was three doors from Guildford Street.
The Feu-Plan of 1779 is difficult to read but adds support to the existence of a ‘schoolhouse’ at the further end of Stuart Street. In the 1841 Census, the resident at this location was inhabited by a ‘Schoolmaster’, Robert McGrigor and his family. McGrigor was probably the census collector.
Although McGrigor was born outside of Buteshire, his eldest child, aged 10 at the time of the census, is recorded as being born in Buteshire which suggests that he had been the schoolmaster before 1831. It is more than probable that the Ford family attended school here. Being but one next door to the school there would be no excuse for being late for classes.
The 1841 Census also records Thomas Hunter, now an 89-year-old pensioner of the Revenue Service, living ten houses along from Margaret Ford’s residence which just happens to dovetail nicely with the record of the Register of Sasines of 1781-1782, plan number 31.
The connections between the land and census records serve to confirm that Margaret Ford had probably inherited the Stuart Street residence through her Wright kindred relationships and their connection with the revenue cutter, the Royal George. The nexus of the information as recorded on the 1841 Census and the details of the Register of Sasines (1782) upholds the likelihood that the three-story Stuart dwelling was the residence (pictured above) of Samuel Ford’s family. The tenement looks trim and neat and the view from the upper story must be spectacular looking down the Firth of Clyde.
We can safely assume that through his family connections, particularly with his father-in-law Robert Wright, James Ford was able to build his own house on Stuart Street which after his death, allowed his widow, Margaret and her children to live in some security. However, Margaret, unlike the men of the now de funk Revenue Service (the Royal Geoge having sailed away for the last time from Millport in 1820), would not have received a pension. To make ends meet it is apparent that Margaret Ford did some home embroidery work at home and took in boarders to pay expenses.
The next census, 1851, has Margaret living in Crichton Street, Millport apparently alone while her youngest, James Ford, is recorded as living and working in Kilmarnock as a wright. With all her children gone, it would appear Margaret has sold her larger house on Stuart Street and moved into a smaller dwelling.
A few years later the 1861 Census records Mary Jack, now widowed herself, living with Margaret at 12 Crichton Street where she was paying a ‘feu’ as recorded in the Valuation Records.
By the time of the 1871 Census both widows have moved to 24 Crichton Street where they remain for the rest of their lives.
Copyright John Ford 2019