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Scotland/England migration


My great-grandmother 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


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