Margaret Gordon and her sons were somewhat famous, or more properly
infamous in Glasgow at the turn of the 19th century. Margaret sold
second-hand clothes at Barrowland and was famous for knocking out a man
with one punch.
My granddad Philip Brannan, (born in 1887) was the eldest of her three
surviving sons, and he was a tall, red-haired, immensely powerful man.
As a youth he was the leader of a razor gang, but later joined the army,
where he put his fighting skills to better use by becoming a boxer,
turning semi-professional. He married a local woman Susan Otterson, and
they had four children when the First World War broke out.
He went off to fight in France and, being badly wounded, was sent back
to Britain and ended up convalescing in Stockport, Cheshire, where he
became friendly with a 16-year-old girl, Ethel Taylor. So friendly did
he become that after he’d returned to France she had a stillborn child.
Susan in Scotland found out about this, and the combination of this,
losing two of her children within weeks of each other and possible
postnatal depression led her to commit suicide by jumping into the River
Clyde one night in 1916. She must have been truly desperate as she was a
Roman Catholic and suicide was considered a mortal sin.
Philip continued to see Ethel whenever he could, and managed to get her
pregnant again in 1918. When his father found out, he sent Philip to
England, insisting that he marry her, which he did on Christmas Day
1918. His children from his first marriage remained in Scotland and were
brought up by Margaret and other relations.
Ethel and Philip had two children in England, and then the whole family
moved back to Scotland. Philip was homesick, but there were also
practical problems in that he found it difficult to get a job in England
as being a Scot he was considered foreign, and bosses preferred to
employ their own ie Englishmen.
My mother (Flora) was born in Scotland, but Ethel could not settle
there, mainly because all the Scots side of the family hated her as they
held her partly responsible for Susan’s death, and because the Scots
side were all RC and Ethel was an Anglican (she later converted to RC).
After a huge argument Ethel came back to England with her two sons,
leaving my mother to be brought up by her grandmother in Scotland.
Philip followed his wife a few days later, and my mother was finally
brought to England when she was 8, in 1930.
The depression was in full swing, and my grandfather found it impossible
to get any regular work. There were no equal opportunity laws then, and
he suffered a great deal of prejudice, something which isn’t really
documented as it relates to England and Scotland at this period.
With a growing family to feed, he then spent some time working as a
strongman in a small circus. His partner was a black man whose name I
know only as Black Bob. They all lived in a big house in Stockport, and
my mum told me great tales about life with the circus people. Once the
circus disbanded, Philip, in spite of his great strength and willingness
to work, still couldn’t get anything and took up bare knuckle fighting,
at which he did quite well, the money being good if very erratic. The
family never saved anything, so if he won £5 they’d live like kings for
a week, and would virtually starve after that until he won some more.
They lived all over Manchester, and moved house some twenty-five times
in ten years, probably because they couldn’t pay the rent. It was a very
meagre existence, but they were trapped in a way, because although
Philip could have worked with his mother in Glasgow (she was doing very
well in the clothing trade), Ethel would not move to Scotland and he
wouldn’t leave her, even though their relationship was not a happy one.
My mother was hated and physically abused by her mother, and the family
feud caused by the death of Philip’s first wife split the Scottish and
English sides of the family completely, with my mother and her dad in a
bad position, being Scots stuck in England!
The repercussions are still ongoing. The Scots and English sides of the
family still hate each other, although most of them don’t know why any
more. My mother grew to distrust the English and have a general dislike
for England, although she never went back to live in Scotland after
having met my father (an Englishman) and married him in Manchester. He
was the son of emigrant Welsh people.
When my mother found out she was pregnant, she wanted to have me in
Scotland, but I foiled her (unfortunately) by being born early. I was
then brought up in England as a fervent Scot, complete with all the
Highland heritage and Jacobite loyalties, songs, stories etc handed down
through the generations. The Scots considered me one of them, as they
felt it was not my fault I was born in England. Which has left me with a
very strange sense of being a Scot, although legally I have no right to
say it. I feel at home in Scotland, as I never did in England, am
learning Gaelic, and although I live in Wales at the moment, would like
to return to Scotland to live one day. At least I can say with complete
truth that I’m a Celt!
It’s strange how chance meetings of ancestors can affect the lives of
all those following, for sometimes hundreds of years!
Our thanks to Julie
Roberts for sending this in to us