As a direct result of delving into our family history we came to meet Stuart’s great-aunt Isabella. I had a small genealogy website ten years ago, with his grandparent’s photos and a little of their story. Meanwhile over in the Scottish Highlands Isabella was being taken for a drive by her son. She asked him “So tell me, what good is this internet?” He explained that you could find out anything you wanted to know. “What do you want to know?” he asked her. Isabella replied “I want to know what happened to my second-eldest brother who went to live in Australia before I was born” They called into the post-office at the next tiny village and paid to use the computer. When the name “Mitchell Curr Whitelaw” was typed into the search engine my web page sprang up, and Isabella cried with joy! Her long-lost brother was found. Next day Stuart had a phone call from Isabella and it was his turn to be astonished. Since then Isabella has been here to visit us, and described her childhood home in great detail, so that Stuart was able to draw it very accurately.

Isabella's childhood home, Larkhall

Isabella’s childhood home, Larkhall

Isabella was the youngest of 21 children. Her father had seven with his first wife, and fourteen with his second wife. The family lived in the largest of three terraces built by the Silk Mill in Larkhall to house their most important employees. Isabella described how the front room was kept for visitors (older siblings and their families) but also had the organ around which the whole family gathered to sing on Sunday afternoons, opening the window so those outside could join in. The box room was on the right of the entry, where everyone had a box in which to keep their clothes and possessions. Straight ahead was the boys room, with three beds, with two or three boys in each bed. The kitchen room had two beds built into the wall, and two trundle beds that slipped underneath.

beds built into the wall, with trundle bed

beds built into the wall, with trundle bed

Her parents had one bed, with the latest baby, the girls had the other, and the two trundle beds. Isabella remembers lying on the low bed at night, gazing at the glowing fire through the chair legs around the kitchen table. We found this reconstruction of the inside of the house at New LanarkΒ just a few kilometres away from Larkhall. Here is the other photo showing the kitchen range and table.

fire for cooking and warmth in the same room

fire for cooking and warmth in the same room

Although the reconstruction looks cold and bare, I imagine Isabella’s home was noisy, busy, filled with laughter and song! She was born thirty seven years after Stuart’s grandfather, so it was remarkable that he had a great-aunt long after his grandparents,Β parents, aunts and uncles had all passed away. Isabella has joined them all now too, but we are still in touch with her son, who now lives in New Zealand.

I am sure you also wondered how big families could live inside those tiny cottages, and now you know!


33 thoughts on “Inside

  1. una storia e a completarla immagini veramente deliziose, io sono molto curiosa di questo e apprezzo di conoscere cose lontane,,,21 figli!!! dove li metteremo con le case moderne ha ha
    abbi una buona giornata mia cara

    a history and complete pictures really delicious, I’m very curious about this and I appreciate to know distant things, .21 children!!! where to put them with the modern houses ha ha
    have a good day my dear

    • It was a most extraordinary experience bb, but I find it strange that a man can leave his family to move overseas and so completely lose touch with them over the years … maybe a woman would have written more often or something? We did not even know his father’s name until I found him in Scottish census records! Now we have photos and family, a great bonus!

  2. I love the serendipities of family history. What a bonus that Stuart could draw from Isabella’s description. A fascinating interpretation of “inside”. Thanks for introducing me to another site for challenges!

  3. Great post. The family story was great ( I love the idea of big families) but the description of the sleeping arrangements made me feel better. We stack our children very much like you described in the post. We have 3 in a 9×9 room and 2 in an 8×12 room. By the way, I am stealing the box room idea, that is a brilliant way to handle kid “stuff”. I have a storage room in our basement that will work perfectly. Thanks for the post.

    • the box room idea is brilliant, and so easy to keep things under control … we did something similar for our three sons … a ‘clothes room’ next to the bathroom rather like a walk-in wardrobe … our boys all slept on an open mezzanine floor with just beds and playthings … of course we did not know abut the box room until we met Isabella!

  4. How wonderful to have made these connections Christine dear! Isabella’s father was quite a man wasn’t he? I always wonder how people managed to make so many babies in a house full of babies! WordPress chose a really brilliant theme this time that gave you reason for this amazing share, thanks so much and regards to Stuart for his artistic talents.

    • We were all so thrilled. We visited Isabella in Sheffield in 2006, when she was still fit and well. The other wonderful thing was that through her we got a picture of Stuart’s grandfather when he was a young man … important since we had three sons and wondered who each of them took after!

  5. How fascinating! And how wonderful to reconnect with long lost family.
    21 children…wow that is huge for a tiny cottage, even with those meticulously worked out sleeping arrangements!! πŸ™‚

    • there were never all 21 sleeping in the house at once, since one had gone to Australia, the others all had their own families in turn, and even took a younger sibling in at times … but even so I am sure the beds were full …. right down to the Hurley bed, that slid away during the day πŸ™‚

    • I am sure it was very noisy! Isabella was a remarkable woman, we were so privileged to know her πŸ™‚ We also met her son and his family, who came here too, so we had days to catch up on tales of long ago πŸ™‚

  6. What a extraordinary story, linking nicely with my recent thoughts about families and shared living arrangements, as well as love of family history. Wonderful that Isabella found Stuart. The G.O.’s great, great, great grandfather (who I wrote about in my convict post) also sired 21 living children – 7 from his first marriage and 14 from the second, and yes, not all of them would have lived under the same roof at the same time. Stuart’s drawing is marvelous πŸ™‚

  7. The marvels of the internet! How wonderful that Isabella and Stuart could connect as a result of things put out in cyberspace. πŸ™‚ 21 children!! My goodness…

  8. What a very large family! It’s fascinating to read how many people could all fit into one house. The sleeping arrangements were ingenious. How wonderful that through the internet, your aunt was able to connect with her childhood again, and also get up to date with the family tree. Stuart’s drawing is lovely, and I think that family sing-song around the organ must have been wonderful. πŸ™‚

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