*****This is a labour of love but takes a great deal of time - any donations would be greatly appreciated*****

Sunday, July 12, 2015

#20 - Crathes Castle and Feugh Lodge

So Jack went to Canada ... and Nellie went to work.

I'm not entirely sure what Nellie was doing before Jack left for Canada, but I'm pretty sure she was working in the Aberdeen area as most of the postcards from her are postmarked from that city and her parents were living at Backhill of Bruntyards.  But the first idea of an actual place of work that I have seen is on this postcard of Crathes Castle:

from the collection of the author

Crathes Castle is located 15 miles West of Aberdeen and 3 miles East of Banchory.  It is a tower house built in the 16th century (started in 1553, completed in 1596).  King Robert the Bruce gave the land the castle is on as a gift to the Burnett of Leys family in 1323 (thank you, Wikipedia).  The Burnett family had originally constructed a fortress called a crannog in the middle of a nearby bog.  The castle served as the ancestral seat of the Burnetts of Ley until the National Trust was gifted it by the 13th Baronet of Leys in 1951.

It's location close to Banchory is no coincidence - this post card is postmarked Banchory, and on the back of the postcard, it is clear that Nellie has written it from Feugh Lodge.  Feugh Lodge is located on the Feugh River not far to the south of the town of Banchory.  It was at this house that Nellie was working.  The text on the back of the postcard reads:  "Feugh Lodge.  How are you liking Vancouver.  Hopes you will get on and be well and happy and are not feeling lonely.  N. Steele"  - the formal signature is due to the fact that this particular postcard was written to Mr. W. McCurrach - Jack's brother, William.  It was sent to a post office box in Vancouver.  

from the collection of the author

Now for the part of this little story that I find the most fascinating.  As mentioned, the postcard was sent from "Banchory S.O. Kincardineshire" and was written at Feugh Lodge - Anyone know why "S.O."?  I sure don't know.  

Anyhow, I looked up Nellie Steele on the 1911 census, and here is what I found (these would go side-by-side, but there isn't room here):

You'll note that Nellie (Helen Steele) is working as one of 4 servants at Feugh Lodge.  She is the kitchenmaid (if you look at the left-hand column in the second image).  She and the housemaid are both 21 years old.  I find it very odd that the Chauffeur, Alexander Brown, is considered a Lodger, not a servant, but is still noted as a domestic.  All of these entries are on the census for Banchory Ternan in Kincardinshire.

This tells me that Nellie was working at the bottom of the hierarchy, at this house of a wealthy chemical manufacturer and his wife (they'd been married a year, were 46 and 33 respectively, and had no children).  She was likely tucking away every penny she could so that she could help establish her life in Vancouver - her wages would likely have paid her way to the New Country.

This collection of postcards contains some that were not written on and obviously bought for memory purposes - in place of having one's own camera, people would buy picture postcards as keepsakes (or they were bought and simply never used) - well, in that part of the collection, imagine my surprise the other day when I found this one:   

from the collection of the author

The house is still standing - and looking very ritzy, thank you very much:

This view is from the opposite side of the house - you can just see the peak of the pointed roof beside the chimney in the other picture.  The satellite image shows this house being in the same location beside the bridge, and having the same roofline:

So that's it - Nellie was a kitchenmaid (something much more meaningful to me after watching Downton Abbey), in a relatively small upper class house, until she and Jack could make enough money to be able to marry and start a family.

#19 - S.S. Cassandra

And then Jack moved to Canada.

Jack McCurrach left Scotland June 4, 1910 on the S.S. Cassandra of the Donaldson Line.  The Donaldson Brothers had the S.S. Cassandra built in 1906 (by Scotts Greenock).  The engines were made by Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Co.  The ship was part of the Donaldson line (through various names) until 1925 or 1929 (the source isn't clear) when it was bought by a German company (Arnold Bernstein of Hamburg) who used her as a cattle carrier.  She was scrapped in 1934.

During World War I, the ship took part in the Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaign in 1915.  She rescued 700 passengers who were torpedoed on the California.

Jack travelled to Canada with his younger brother, William.  Their older brother, Alexander, had moved to Toronto in 1907.  By 1911 (probably in 1910), they were all in Vancouver.

In the collection I have this postcard sent from Jack to his mother in Nairn, it was not postmarked, but I found the passenger's list (at the Library and Archives Canada passenger list website) that tells us the day they left.  It also tells us that Jack was a printer, and William a postman.

The postcard reads:  "Dear Mother,  This is the boat we sail in.  We have been all berthed together and are just upon (?) starting.  I think will enjoy the voyage all right.  Will write first chance. Remember me to Mrs. Lim.  Love to all Jack.  Tell Belle to mind the spasms.  oXX to Mona."

I have no idea who the "all" are who have been berthed together.  In the second class listing of passengers, there are only a few people going to Vancouver.  One man named Peter Ross was single and about the same age.  But I just don't know who he meant besides him and William.

He left Nellie back in Scotland while he went to Canada to get established.  It would be over two years before they saw each other again.  Mail must have taken on an even greater significance with them being so far apart.  

#18 - MacLean Memorial Fountain, Burghead

This postcard is of the MacLean Memorial Fountain in Burghead.  As previously mentioned, Burghead is located on the Moray Firth about 8 miles northwest of Elgin.  It juts out into the sea and has ocean basically on three sides.  Burghead is also home to a malting factory and a Whiskey distillery.

Burghead was built in the early 1800s on top of an old Pictish Hill Fort.  Nearby excavations have also uncovered iron age structures, Pictish building foundations, and Roman coins.  

This drinking fountain was built in 1909 or 1910 - so was very recently built when this picture was taken (as the postcard was sent in April, 1910).

Here is a quote from an information sheet on Burghead: "The small memorial situated behind the war memorial, is to a local young man, Benjamin Maclean M.A. He was a student of Divinity and lost his life on 26th August 1909 in a successful attempt to rescue a young doctor who had foolishly gone swimming at a dangerous point near The Red Craig. The doctor had stated his intention of 'battling the waves' to Benjamin who had warned him of the dangers of swimming in that area, but the warning was ignored. Although Benjamin managed to save the doctor, the effort required caused him to become exhausted, resulting in his drowning. The memorial was erected by the people of Burghead. On the memorial it quotes from The Bible, 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man layeth down his own life for his friend' (John 15)."

The back of the postcard reads:  "Dear J, I was very please to have your PC from Aberdeen.  I hope you enjoyed going (?)  I am awfully sorry the (?) is not to be at Burghead this year.  Have the Nairn C.B. Tartans got their red tunics yet.  It will be very unnice if they have not.  This fountain is erected opposite our church in memory of Mr. McLean.  Hope your father and mother are well.  Kind love from Sarah."  This is the third postcard from Sarah.  She is obviously an important person in Jack's life, but I am no closer to knowing who she is from this postcard.  

I can only guess that the C.B. Tartans were a football (soccer) team - as Sarah is taking about tunics and Jack was an avid football enthusiast.  The trip to Aberdeen that she mentions was likely to visit Nellie.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

#17 - Ellon Bridge

As you can see from the front of the postcard, this is a photo of the Auld Bridge in Ellon.  Built in 1793, the bridge is category A listed and still used as a pedestrian bridge.  Ellon is a commuter community north of Aberdeen that also hosts the remains of Ellon Castle.  The river Ythan runs under that bridge and through the town of nearly 10,000 people.  

Here's a photo of Ellon Castle - just for fun:

Here's what the bridge looks like today taken from the other side - note the buildings on the right in this photo are the ones to the left of the bridge in the other (care of Google StreetView):

The reverse side of the postcard reads:  "DJ Thanks very much for PPC.  Glad to hear you arrived home all save.  I am feeling the effects of the granite too.  Nellie."  It is postmarked March 3, 1910 from Aberdeen.  I presume PPC is "Picture Post Card," though most frequently people have been shortening it to PC.  But that last line is a bit of a question mark for me.  I can only speculate, but I have to think that Jack had gone to Aberdeen (the Granite City) to visit Nellie and perhaps they had gone to the quarry?   Or if someone from the area has a better explanation, I'd love to hear it.

Jack was still in Scotland at this time, but preparing to head to Canada.  A visit (or several) to his fiancĂ© would make sense.

I hadn't really thought of it before, but Jack and Nellie hung onto these postcards for a reason (or two).  My Great-Uncle Jim, the last time I saw him, told me that they used to have these postcards in a big album on the coffee table in the living room - their own picture book.  I'm sure they were wonderful visual reminders of the home they had left forever, but also of that sweet time in a couple's existence:  courtship.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

#16- Logie Elphinstone

I just Love the name of this building:  "Logie Elphinstone."

And oh, how easy the research is when you find that the Lodge/House/Castle is indeed still there.  Apparently lots of weddings happen there, and if you want to stay you need to book well in advance (try a couple of years).  You can read all about it here, but the Coles notes version is that it is located about 16 miles west of Aberdeen, and was originally a fortified tower house built in the 1670s and extensively modified in the 1700s.  The property it sits on was originally purchased by Laurence Elphinstone in 1492.  It was at one time on an estate of 7542 acres and now is left with about 130.  A fire in 1975 left much of the house in ruin, but it was restored in 2009.  (They probably didn't have the 9-metre infinity pool that's mentioned on the website when this picture was taken).

Here's what it looks like today:

For more photos, check out the gallery at their website!

Here are the floor plans (how about bedroom 1 with a round ensuite?):

The back of the postcard reads:  "DJ Got your letter this evening, your letter will be late this week will explain why when I write, very stormy.  Nellie"  So it was to Jack in Nairn from Nellie and it was postmarked from Aberdeen.  I don't for a minute think she stayed here.  Not sure she even visited, but she bought the postcard.  Now, by this time Jack was a printer, and since all of the postcards are to him in Nairne, it would make sense that he was a printer there.  Nellie was a servant somewhere - by 1911 she was in Banchory working for a married couple there - with 3 other servants.

By the way, here's a photo I found of her on

Not sure I've seen this one before, but I've certainly seen one like it (love the hair).

#15 - Ivy Leaves - a love note?

Not all of the post cards in this collection are photographs of places.  This one is rather a love note - at least with the words on the front - the written note is not at all indicative of a woman who, three years later would leave her life and family and travel to another continent to marry this man.

Written on November 12, 1909 the postcard is postmarked November 13 from Macduff to Jack in Nairn.  For those of you not familiar with Scottish geography, Macduff is located directly to the east of Banff:

On the back it reads: "Backhill Bruntyards 12/11/09 DJ I am just here for the week end but I am not getting very fine weather not at all good for footballers NS".  (Jack was big into soccer).

"Backhill Bruntyards" - this was, at this time, the home of Nellie's parents.  When he passed away in 1939, Mr. Alexander Milne Steele had been living at Ivy Cottage, Backhill of Bruntyards - he was 84.  He had moved to the small cottage after an accident left him unable to blacksmith any longer.  In 1939, the obituary stated that he had been living here for "over 30 years," implying they had moved there prior to 1909.

Before then, the Steele clan had lived for a couple of generations at Blairshinnoch.  Scotland's Places lists Blairshinnoch as "term pending" - meaning there is no definition on whether it was a farm, croft, etc.  However, in the 1861 census, the owner, Alexander Milne, is listed as a farmer of 260 acres; this is the main farm house he most likely built (but definitely lived in).

It's a beautiful stone building.  The age is unknown, but the upper story windows have recently been replaced.  

My Great-Great-Grandfather (Alexander Milne Steele - named after the his father's employer) inherited the blacksmith job from his father and lived in slightly more modest accommodations:

This small, one-storey shack with a loft was where Alexander and Helen Steele raised their 8 children.  I was lucky enough to visit when I was 17 in 1986.  I took a picture back then when some relatives took me to see it:

A lot has changed about his building since 1986.  The chimney has been moved, and it looks like the building may have been shortened on the right hand side.  So I had to take a closer look.  When you compare the stones on the left side of the building, you can see they are the same:

The blacksmith shop, located to the left in the pictures above, was more commodious than the house.  Here it is in full view with the little house to the left:

(Thank you Google Street View - what a wonderful research tool)

(thank you,

Here's the family with Alexander Steele being middle rear (obviously), and Helen beside him to the left.  Nellie, as you can see, is bottom right.  My Great-Grandmother.  I can imagine that this picture was taken against the wall of the smithy that we see above (although I cannot prove it).

And here is a map of Blairshinnoch back in "the day":

Big, beautiful farm house ... itty bitty smithy 
Scotland's Places, Ordnance Survey Six-inch To The Mile, Banffshire, Sheet X.

Why the move from a lucrative blacksmith where "Mr. Steele was one of the best known blacksmiths in these parts" to a small cottage on another landowners farm?  At some point prior to 1909 (and seemingly after 1897 - the photo above), Alexander Steele had been out shooting crows and the barrel of his gun burst.  He ended up losing his left thumb, which ended his career as a blacksmith.  So he took the holding of Backhill of Bruntyards which he worked as a farmer until 1927 or so.

As you can see below, Backhill of Bruntyards (towards the bottom right with a blue pin in it) is located to the southeast of MacDuff and Banff.  

Here is a map of it historically:

And here it is in relation to Bruntyards - which I assume was the main farm:

So there you have it - research led from a rather subdued love note to the locations of my Great-Great-Grandparents homes.

Monday, July 6, 2015

#14 - Troup House Gamrie

This postcard has a photo of "Troup House, Gamrie" on the front of it.

Troup House is a Category B Historic Scotland Building that was listed as such in 1990.  According to the British Listed Buildings website, the building was constructed in 1897 and was designed by architect R.G. Wilson from Aberdeen.  They call it a 3-storey house, although I would maybe call it 2 1/2.

There seems, however, to have been a house there earlier (possibly the smaller buildings seen on the later maps below).  This map from 1822 clearly shows a Troup House in existence (thanks to the National Library of Scotland):

Troup House is now used as a specialist day and residential school for kids aged 8-16 who have emotional and social difficulties, including autistic spectrum disorders and behaviour issues.

As far as the rest of the building's history, I know only a little.  The house was apparently the seat of the Garden family who purchased the lands of Troup in the 17th century.  The family established Gardenstown in 1720 as a fishing port.  A service wing was demolished around the 1920s and replaced with a service court.

This was the back of the house - if you look in the aerial shot below, you'll see the three gable windows.

This is the south side or front of the building.  You'll see the large gable central to the building in the aerial shot as well as the small one and the chimneys.  If I didn't have the aerial view, I would not really believe these were the same building.

These map sections were found at Scotland's Places, thanks to a reader:

Gardenstown in relation to Troup House:

The back of the postcard reads "Kind regards, This would be a nice place to spend a week end.  Yrs etc. Lizzie Steele".  Lizzie was Nellie's older sister.  In 1901 she was a servant to the Melvin family in Banff.  Not sure what she was doing at this time (November, 1909), but she was likely still a servant. In 1912, she became ill while pregnant, and Nellie delayed her trip to Canada to take care of her.  Lizzie died on May 10, 1912.  When the baby was adopted out, Nellie came to Canada in October that year.  My Grandmother told me that the baby was named Peggy Black.

#13 - The Seaforth Highlanders

This postcard is not really location-based, but shows the colours (flags) of the 6th (Morayshire) Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders.

The Seaforth Highlanders regiment was formed in 1881 with the amalgamation of the 72nd Highlanders (Duke of Albany's Own) and the 78th Highlanders (Ross-shire Buffs) - names of both can be seen on the flags - and was located in Morayshire (or Elginshire) - where the community of Elgin is found (Elgin is where the McCurrachs lived before moving to Nairn).  The Seaforth Highlanders were combined with Jack's regiment, the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders (written about previously here) to form the Queen's Own Highlanders in 1961, which in turn was combined with the Gordon Highlanders to form "The Highlanders" on September 17, 1994 (as an aside, the day I turned 26).

The 6th Battalion, from what I understand, was a reserve battalion - as Jack's regiment would also have been.

This postcard was sent October 27, 1909 from Burghead, Scotland.  Burghead is located to the northwest of Elgin and is in Morayshire, where this battalion was located.

The Postcard was sent to Jack McCurrach in Nairn and was from Sarah - a name we've seen on this other postcard.  It would seem that previous postcard was also sent from Burghead.  Here is the Burghead Post Office.  I can't imagine that it's changed much in 100 years:

Written on the back is: "Your photo was awfully good Jack.  Thanks very much for it.  You see my space is limited as I cannot write more.  Sarah"

I do wonder who Sarah was.  Was she a relative, or another sweetheart?  Was he trying to decide between his future wife (my great-grandmother, Nellie) and Sarah?  Maybe we'll find out at some point, but right now I don't know.  There are three Sarahs living in Burghead in the 1901 census who are around Jack's age.  Sarah Robertson is the daughter of Donald and Mary, Sarah Sandeson is the daughter of William and Isabella, and Sarah Stewart is the daughter of Alexander and Sarah.  We'll see if there is any clarification with future postcards.

You will also note that the postcard is referring to something that happened on September 18, 1909 ("... and presented to the Battalion in the Cooper Park, Elgin, on Saturday, the 18 September 1909 ...") - and it was sent only a little over a month later.  You can see by this postcard that this type of communication was used not only to pass personal messages, but in a way to pass along news.  This also indicates to me that there was probably a local photographer making postcards that were of local interest.

As an aside, Jack had his birth registered in the Parish of Rafford.  

His father, John, was listed as a farm servant and they lived at the Leys of Hillhead in Rafford.  Hillhead was a large farm on the property of the Earl of Moray (who still has farms and properties managed by Moray Estates).  Ley farming consisted of growing grain crops on pieces of land and letting it ley (lay) fallow at times.  

In 1901, the family lived in Elgin and John was a Railway Plate Layer.