#52 Ancestors 52 Weeks:
Out of Place
Jane Hodge Laird, one of the McCullochs’ great-grandmothers, was born on May 5, 1856, at Island Farms Cottage in Bothkennar, Stirlingshire. Bothkennar is no longer listed as a separate town, it is part of the area north of Falkirk now known as Grangemouth. Places that feature in this story include Airth, Falkirk, Polmont, and Slamannan.
This is a beautiful part of Stirlingshire county which is bordered by the Firth of Forth. You may have heard of or seen the famous iron bridge of Firth (mouth) of the river Forth. The Firth of Forth (Scottish Gaelic: Linne Foirthe) is the estuary, or firth, of several Scottish rivers including the River Forth. It meets the North Sea with Fife on the north coast and Lothian on the south.
Having children and taking care of them in Bothkennar, Scotland, in the 1800s would have been hard. Most women gave birth at home, with the help of a midwife or family member. But there was a high infant death rate because people didn’t have access to health care and clean water. Jane’s older sister Margaret, who was one year older, only lived until she was a few months old. She died of convulsions. Many women and babies died because of problems with childbirth or diseases like pneumonia or tuberculosis. Jane’s mother, Margaret Cowan, was relatively fortunate; having given birth to 11 children between 1853 and 1871; with only one infant death.
Raising children would have been difficult for many families as they were poor and had limited resources. Many families lived in small, cramped cottages with limited access to sanitation and healthcare. Jane’s family lived in a private house in Skinflats, a small village near Bothkennar. Probably a cramped cottage with limited access to sanitation and healthcare. The weather was often cold and damp, with heavy rainfall and strong winds, making their living conditions miserable.
Jane may have attended one of the public schools during her childhood in Bothkennar. But by the age of 15, she was employed as a weaver in the textile mills. Jane was out of place again as she had to begin her work in the textile mills outside of Bothkennar.
For most children, education was not a priority, as families were focused on survival. Many children did not attend school and those who did often only attended for a few years. Literacy rates were low, and most people were not able to read or write.
However, some families were able to send their children to school, and there were a few schools in Bothkennar that were run by churches or other organizations. These schools provided basic education such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. These schools were typically small and overcrowded, with few resources and inexperienced teachers.
There were a few private schools in the area, but they were more expensive and only available to wealthy families. These schools provided a better standard of education, but access to these schools was limited.
Jane is Out of Place again! There are no records for Jane’s education, as school records usually started in or around 1873, following the Education (Scotland) Act of 1872. This act established the first compulsory system of state education for children aged 5–13. Prior to 1872, education was provided inconsistently across the country by various bodies.
During the 1800s, the industrial revolution had a big impact on Bothkennar’s economy and way of life. The coal mines in the area were expanding, bringing in a large number of migrant workers from other parts of Scotland and Ireland. This led to overcrowding in the towns and villages and a strain on already limited resources. The mines were dangerous places to work, and many miners got lung diseases like black lung as a result.
Jane’s brother James Laird McCulloch, died at the age of 40, from coronary thrombosis and congestion of lungs. However, her other siblings lived long lives.
Jane married Alexander McCulloch, a coal miner, from Skinflats in 1875. She is listed as a Coalminer’s wife on the 1881 Census with four of her children, Margaret, David, Mary, and Jane.
Alexander’s occupation as a coal miner was a grim prospect. Deep shaft mining in Britain began to develop extensively in the late 18th century, with rapid expansion throughout the 19th century and early 20th century when the industry peaked. For coal mining, you had to go down into the earth, sometimes as far as 300 meters, on lifts that were little more than open cages and were powered by pulleys. By 2000 the industry that once employed 800,000 – four percent of the UK’s workforce – has disappeared.
When the mines were nationalized in 1946, the new National Coal Board acquired 958 pits, concentrated in the north of England, Scotland’s central belt and Fife. There were 55 coke ovens and 30 smokeless fuel plants. All gone.
House of Water, an open-cast mine in east Ayrshire, is now all that remains of the Scottish coalfields. https://youtu.be/g9VTSFK_Nvk
During this era, the agricultural industry also had problems, because, as industrialization grew, there was less need for people to work by hand. Many farmers had to change what they grew or look for work in the mines or in the textile mills.
Jane and Alexander had nine children between 1876 and 1896. Large families were prevalent, and it was not uncommon for women to be giving birth to children for 20 years or more. There were no safe sex practices or contraceptive methods in this era. Two of their children, David and Jane, had short lives, both died in their twenties, but their other children lived well into their seventies and eighties.
I believe that Jane would have liked being Out of Place and probably would have preferred a gentler life. Being a coal miner’s wife in 1870s Scotland was a difficult and challenging role. While their husbands worked in the mines, the wives of coal miners had to take care of the household and raise the children. This often meant long hours of hard work, with little help or support. As Jane’s tribe of children grew, each one of them would have had to help out in the household, both with housekeeping and putting food on the table.
Jane was not Out of Place at all, many coal miners’ wives lived in poverty and had limited access to food and other necessities. They had to stretch their money to make ends meet, and they often had to go without basic things to take care of their families. They also had to deal with the constant fear of accidents in the mines, and many children were left without a father or breadwinner.
The living conditions for coal miners’ wives were often cramped and overcrowded, with limited access to sanitation and healthcare. Many families lived in small, damp cottages, which were prone to flooding and other hazards. The wives had to work hard to maintain their homes, often with little help or support.
Island Farm and Island Cottage were listed as number 1 in their street according to the NRS Scotland archives.
The wives were also responsible for the education of their children, and many had to teach their children to read and write at home. They also had to work hard to ensure that their children were healthy and well-fed, which was often difficult given the limited resources available to them.
Despite the challenges and difficulties, coal miners’ wives were strong and resilient women. They worked hard to provide for their families, and they did their best to ensure that their children had better life. They were the backbone of their communities, and their hard work and sacrifice helped to keep their families together.
Jane died at the age of 43 in 1900, from Uterine hemorrhage and cardiac failure. Abnormal uterine bleeding is bleeding between monthly periods, prolonged bleeding, or an extremely heavy period. Possible causes include fibroids, polyps, hormone changes, and in rare cases, cancer. Pregnancy and difficult births also cause uterine hemorrhage, but I can find no evidence that Jane was pregnant at this stage of her life. Her last child, David, was born in 1896 and no other children are recorded for this couple between then and 1900. She died at home at 11.30 pm on the 8th of November, with her husband by her side.
The cause of her death seemed out of place until I finished researching all her children born between 1876 and 1896 and realized the toll this would have taken on her body.
Jane Hodge Laird McCulloch was a strong woman of the McCulloch Clan, giving birth to nine children, and supporting her coal-miner husband Alexander. As part of the Scottish practice of patronymics, each of her children has the last name of an ancestor as their middle name. I was curious as to where her own middle name came from, and with a little more sleuthing, I uncovered more of her ancestors and the name Jean Hodge, her grandmother, born in 1797 in Slamannan, near Falkirk. The surnames of her paternal and maternal ancestors live on in her children and their descendants, and help preserve the McCulloch family history and maintain a sense of connection to their ancestors
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